Target Sells Signals, Wireless Catalogs

In late April, four months after announcing that it was retreating from the catalog business, Minneapolis-based Target Corp. sold its Signals and Wireless gifts catalogs to Universal Screen Arts, the parent firm of gifts titles What on Earth and Art & Artifacts. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The four titles “are very special in terms of their growth opportunities and identities,” says Universal owner Jared Florian. “There are unique list synergies among all the brands.”

Although Signals has been mailing regularly, Wireless has been dormant since early last year. Florian won’t say whether his company plans to revive the title, but he notes that the company is “very excited about getting the Wireless database.”

Universal will operate its acquisition out of its Hudson, OH, headquarters with its own staff. No Target Corp. staffers will be brought over, Florian says. Philadephia-based investment banking firm Libey-Concordia represented Target in the sale.

Larry West, president of New York-based acquisition intermediary West Cos., which advised Universal on the deal, says the new owner “already has merchants who are well equipped to handle the Signals business going forward. This is a natural acquisition not only due to that but also because the Signals and Wireless open up new markets to Universal Screen at higher average orders.”

According to its data card, Art & Artifact, has more than 97,000 12-month buyers who spent an average of $100 an order. Its average order size is slightly larger than that of Signals, which has nearly 278,000 12-month buyers and an average order size of $90. But What on Earth’s nearly 346,000 12-month buyers spent a more modest $48 an order on average. Before it stopped mailing last year, Wireless had 356,615 12-month buyers and a $69 average order value. Last year Signals had annual sales of more than $40 million; during its last year Wireless took in an estimated $35 million in sales.

Florian, who launched Universal Screen Arts in 1983 with What on Earth catalog, had worked with West to buy Art & Artifact from Barnes & Noble in 1994. He had been seeking another acquisition during the past year and “stepped up the minute he became aware of the potential for a transaction,” West says. “He aggressively pursued it and aggressively financed himself.”

A bit of history

Signals and Wireless were two of the 10 titles that Target — or Dayton Hudson Corp., as it was then named — acquired with its purchase of the $190 million Rivertown Trading Co. in March 1998. Target paid Minnesota Communications Group, a for-profit arm of Minnesota Public Radio, $120 million for the business.

Within two years, Target had discontinued four of the Rivertown titles. Several others were folded into the Marshall Field’s catalog that Target relaunched in August 2002.

But apparently Target wasn’t satisfied with the performance of its Marshall Field’s apparel and home decor books. This past January, Target announced it was getting out of the catalog business altogether, putting Signals and Wireless on the block and suspending Marshall Fields Direct. Unless a buyer is found for Marshall Fields Direct, its final edition is slated to mail this month.