Bill Dierberger, the president of Skyline Exhibits, had a moment of panic recently over a four-year, seven-figure investment in an inflatable exhibit technology that his management team hoped would pump up sales. The exhibits are durable, permanent-looking, easy to collapse and carry, and come in 46 shapes and sizes.
“I was worried that maybe we’d drunk our own Kool-Aid,” Dierberger said. Would the conference and trade-show industry — still recovering from the recession — show interest in the new product?
The answer started to come two days after the Eagan-based company announced its Skyline WindScape technology on Wednesday. Dozens of orders came in for the units that sell for up to $6,000 for a 10-foot exhibit.
“You picture ‘inflatable’ as a gorilla above a car dealership, but this is not cheap or cheesy,” Dierberger said. “It’s a quality exhibit. You can’t tell it’s inflatable. We think we’ve got a winner that’s going to really encourage exhibitors to spend money.”
WindScape systems cost as much as comparable permanent systems but are designed to reduce the expense of storage, installation and shipping.
The privately held company doesn’t disclose sales. But Dierberger doesn’t dispute that they top $100 million, and growing. The company employs 350 people in design, sales and manufacturing around the globe, and last year won a national corporate innovation award from the Product Development and Management Association.
DEAL OVEN WARMING
The merger-and-acquisition trade revved up in the second quarter after a slow first quarter, said veteran investment banker Chip Fisher of Greene Holcomb Fisher.
GHF represented Denver-based CorePower Yoga, a fast grower with several Twin Cities locations, in its sale to private equity buyer Catterton Partners.
The price, which was not disclosed in the private-hands transaction, was speculated by the trade press to be up to $150 million.
Fisher would only say that the CorePower deal was sweeter than last year’s most-expensive transaction in the retail-fitness industry. Massage Envy sold for 13 times annual cash flow.
“Right now, the market is as strong for good companies as we’ve ever seen it,” said Fisher, who cites plenty of available capital, low interest rates and banks being more willing to finance successful ventures.
“We’re headed for a very good year,” he added. “We’ve got some good businesses in the pipeline.”
CorePower was founded in 2002 by an injured athlete who used yoga to recover. CorePower says it’s the largest, fastest-growing yoga-shop operator with 80 studios and 20,000 members. CorePower has cut spiritual themes from its yoga, and focuses on fitness in upscale studios.
PRIVATE EQUITY GROWS
Minnesota ranked 15th in the nation for the number of private equity investments in 2012, according to new data from the Private Equity Growth Capital Council.
Private equity invested $4.9 billion in 41 Minnesota-based companies last year. The private equity trade group says there 369 private equity-backed companies based in Minnesota that employ about 114,000 people in the state and elsewhere. And there are nearly three dozen private equity firms based in Minnesota that pool investor dollars and make direct ownership investments in companies, typically for three to seven years.