Swiss Colony Acquires Ashro Lifestyles

Monroe, WI-based multititle mailer Swiss Colony announced this week that it has acquired Ashro Lifestyles, a Downers Grove, IL-based cataloger of apparel and accessories geared to African-American women. Terms of the deal, which marks Swiss Colony’s first acquisition in 20 years, were not disclosed.

President John Bauman says that Swiss Colony will be able to lend some of its strengths such as catalog production to Ashro, which will reduce overall costs. But Ashro president/CEO Rajiv Khartau will remain in his current position, and the cataloger’s headquarters will stay in Downers Grove.

In addition to its food gifts titles Swiss Colony and The Tender Filet, the company mails apparel catalogs Monroe & Main and Midnight Velvet; home decor books Through the Country Door and Room for Color, which launched in February; and general merchandise titles Ginny’s and Seventh Avenue. The $500 million-plus mailer in February launched a direct selling arm, Swiss Colony Occasions, and in the fall it plans to introduce the Durdy Looks catalog of clothing for young adults.

The 80-year old Swiss Colony had long been renown for its food offerings, but the company’s growth in non-food areas in recent years in part led to the Ashro acquisition. “Our desire is to expand our product offerings and overall customer base,” says Bauman. “We’re open to both food and non-food growth.” Swiss Colony hadn’t seriously looked at acquisitions until now, “because we had enough of a challenge just trying to keep up with organic growth,” he says.

In particular, Bauman thinks Ashro Lifestyles will complement Swiss Colony’s Midnight Velvet catalog, which also targets African-American women. Founded in 1987, Midnight Velvet is already established, Bauman notes, “but Ashro has more depth than our catalog. The style and flair of Midnight Velvet can flow into Ashro, and hopefully Ashro will further strengthen Midnight Velvet.”

Bauman adds that the Ashro acquisition may help Swiss Colony’s other apparel and accessory catalogs become more sophisticated from an internal sourcing standpoint. And he hopes that the new property will help enable Swiss Colony to eventually launch a Hispanic catalog. “At this point we’re just in the concept stage,” he says. “But we do intend to explore this market seriously.”

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