Miles Kimball Parent Adopts Walter Drake

A year ago, home fragrance and decor manufacturer Blyth’s only involvement in the catalog industry was as a supplier. But today the Greenwich, CT-based company is a prominent player in the lower-end housewares and gifts sector — with catalog sales of roughly $200 million — thanks to two acquisitions. On Jan. 29 it completed its purchase of Walter Drake for $53 million. Ten months earlier, Blyth had acquired Drake competitor Miles Kimball.

In addition to its core catalog, Drake mails Walter Drake Directions, which sells ease-of-living products for seniors; Walter Drake Homewares, which sells more kitchen items than the mainline book; Walter Drake Christmas Cards; and Home Marketplace. Aside from Home Marketplace, which targets women with an average household income of more than $50,000, the other Drake books target women ages 55-65 with an average household income of $40,000 and up — almost the same audience that Miles Kimball targets. Another Miles Kimball catalog, photo and archival accessories title Exposures, goes after an appreciably more upscale audience: women with an average household income of at least $150,000.

Despite the similar audiences, says Blyth spokesperson Tyler Schuessler, the house files of Miles Kimball and Drake don’t have much overlap. Walter Drake has a 600,000-name six-month buyer file; Miles Kimball president/CEO Mike Muoio would not disclose the size of the Miles Kimball house file. The company plans to “exhaust all mailing strategies” for cross-promotional opportunities between Kimball and Walter Drake, Muoio says. “We’ll certainly test our way through it.”

There isn’t much merchandise overlap between the core Drake and Miles Kimball books either, Schuessler says. Both catalogs already carry some Blyth products, such as scented candles and holiday decor. Schuessler says that offering more Blyth merchandise in the Drake and Miles Kimball books “is clearly an opportunity” the $1.5 billion Blyth will pursue.

Skeleton crew in Colorado

While Miles Kimball has a higher proportion of gifts and holiday decorations in its merchandise mix, Drake features more housewares. As Schuessler says, “Drake’s line is more of an everyday line.”

Blyth hopes to take advantage of the fact that the Drake business is less seasonal than Miles Kimball, which earns all of its profit during the second half of the year. Although Miles Kimball doesn’t necessarily have a lot of excess warehouse capacity, Schuessler says, “the excess capacity is more seasonal,” which clears the way to integrate nearly all of Drake’s fulfillment, warehousing, personalization services, database management, and administration into Miles Kimball’s Oshkosh, WI, and Las Vegas facilities during the next few months.

In fact, Drake will become a division of Miles Kimball. Muoio, who is also operational president of Blyth’s catalog and Internet distribution channels, will oversee Drake. Jon Medved, Drake’s president for the past seven years, left the company on Jan. 29 after the deal was finalized, Muoio says. (Medved did not return phone calls.)

Blyth will lay off up to 350 of Drake’s 375 employees. Only a smattering of merchandising and marketing staffers will remain in Drake’s Colorado Springs, CO, headquarters. Among those remaining are vice president of merchandising and creative services Tim Littleton, vice president of merchandising Mary McClain, director of creative services Barb Krystyn, and product development manager Joyce Martin. Chief financial officer Pat Buxton and vice president of operations Jim Gaston will remain with the company until the Colorado Springs warehouse is closed on May 3, Muoio says.