Brand Velocity Partners (BVP), a private equity firm formed last year, acquired BBQGuys (No. 345 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000) an online retailer of barbeque grills, smokers, and outdoor kitchen components and related accessories.
As part of the transaction, BVP also acquired Blaze Outdoor Products, an affiliated company that designs and sells barbeques and accessories. The purchase price was about $140 milion, according to a person with knowledge of the deal who requested anonymity.
In a statement, BVP says it found BBQGuys, attractive in part because it averaged 27% annual growth over the past 15 year. The statement also says the retailer, founded in 1998, offers excellent customer service and “online content and subject matter expertise, married with its scaled, sophisticated infrastructure that enables rapid order fulfillment.” Blaze Outdoor, a separate entity that shared overlapping ownership with BBQ Guys, averaged 50% annual growth over the last seven years, BVP says.
Russ Wheeler, former president of Build.com, recently joined BBQGuys as CEO. He says the retailer has thrived during the pandemic. Year-over-year sales growth during March through July was 185% and year-to-date sales are up 80%, he says.
As an acquirer, BVP was a good fit in several ways, Wheeler says. “We were looking for a partner who shared the same vision and values as BBQGuys,” he says. “As a company, we establish meaningful relationships with our customers, and we take pride in operating as a family-oriented business.”
Wheeler says the BVP team shares the same mentality and brings financial and marketing expertise and experience working in the entertainment, sports and media worlds. Notably, Steve Lebowitz, a BVP founding partner and the firm’s managing partner, formerly was co-founder and managing partner for a private equity fund focused on small and middle-market companies in the consumer and information service sectors. Drew Sheinman, founding partner, had been senior vice president of brand ventures at WME-IMG, a talent agency and sports marketing firm now called Endeavor Group Holdings.
Another factor that helped the deal come together: BVP believes the barbeque and accessories market is poised to grow more than $11.7 billion by 2024, up from $9.7 billion in 2019.
In February, BVP made another outdoor-cooking-related deal when it acquired Magma Products, a manufacturer and marketer of high-quality cookware products designed for harsh marine and outdoor environments. In January, BVP made its first-ever acquisition when it bought Original Footwear Co. With its Altama and Original S.W.A.T. brands, Original Footwear is known best for its military and law enforcement footwear. Shortly after BVP acquired it, Original Footwear launched an expanded line of active and fashion footwear aimed at consumers.
A one-stop shop
“For BBQGuys, we want to be the one-stop shop when it comes to your outdoor living needs,” Wheeler says. “We’re creating an all-encompassing lifestyle brand for everything in the outdoor products and services market.”
Right now, the retailer is focused on expanding its product line within the Blaze Outdoor brand. “We have a lot of exciting news in our products pipeline to share with customers and greater outdoor enthusiasts,” he says without sharing specifics.
A few years ago, BBQGuys entered negotiations with another suitor, but broke off talks. Mike Hackley, BBQGuys founder and former CEO, pulled out of the deal because the fit was not right, Wheeler says. BVP started having conversations with BBQGuys in January when COVID-19 was beginning to emerge in the United States.
“When the pandemic hit, Mike had unfortunately contracted COVID,” Wheeler says. “At this point, he reevaluated some of his priorities and wanted to spend more time with his family.” But, he says, BVP’s vision for the company, not the pandemic, is what drove the deal to its conclusion.
Eric Roth, managing director at investment firm MidOcean Partners, agrees BBQGuys is likely profiting from growth in the market for grills, smokers and outdoor kitchens during the pandemic. While those are items consumers don’t purchase often, the retailer offers a wide variety of related products—such as replacement parts, grill thermometers cookware and utensils. Those products provide BBQGuys opportunities to market to existing customers and raise the lifetime value of those relationships, Roth says.
Roth also praised the depth of content on the BBQGuys website and the retailer’s ability to deliver assembly services—something buyers of high-end grills typically want—using vendors across the country. “These guys have done a good job, I think, of creating networks in certain suburban areas of folks that can do that kind of last mile,” Roth says. “There’s a lot of value in that.”
The fundamental challenges for BBQGuys are growing its network of vendors to serve a growing customer base and building its brand at a time when manufacturers it deals with are increasingly selling directly to consumers, Roth says. MidOcean Partners is not an investor in the BBQGuys deal.
BBQGuys was formerly a part of ShoppersChoice.com “family” of brands, which also included UltimatePatio.com and GasLogGuys.com. Early last year, the retailer consolidated the three ecommerce sites under the BBQGuys brand.
“A credit to the company’s truly impressive management team, the decision to consolidate has created a materially stronger brand capable of driving significant additional traffic to their primary domain, BBQGuys.com,” says Austin Ramos, a founding partner with BVP.
Retired pro football stars join the deal
BVP focuses on acquiring businesses it deems to be well-positioned to benefit from its in-house marketing capabilities resources and influencer networks. On its website, the firm says it has “vast sports and entertainment networks” and can create deals that include athletes, teams, leagues, celebrities and other businesses. Those connections are evident in the BBQGuys deal, which includes backers familiar to National Football League fans.
Investors include four members of the Manning football and broadcasting family:
- Former New Orleans Saints quarterback and broadcaster Archie Manning.
- Peyton Manning, a former quarterback who played for the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.
- Eli Manning, a former quarterback for the New York Giants.
- Cooper Manning, host of “The Manning Hour” TV show on the Fox Sports channel.
LaDainian Tomlinson, a former running back who last played for the New York Jets, and former guard Steve Hutchinson, who last played for the Tennessee Titans, also invested.
“We have big plans [for] both organic growth and strategic add-on acquisitions, but important to note is that our ‘plans’ always come back to supporting great management teams in their efforts to build great businesses,” Ramos says.
In addition to the NFL-associated investors are Aberdeen Capital Management, ACE & Company, BPEA Private Equity, Cardinal Capital, The Cordish Cos., Darco Capital, Hermes GPE, and Landon Investments LLC, among others. Whitehorse Capital invested and provided term loan financing for the acquisition.