New exhibit is starting to inflate Skyline sales

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PCL Construction executives Paris Otremba and Don Fromme, top, worked on a north Minneapolis house along with husband and wife Temesgen Lakew and Etagn Gudiso and their children.

Photo: Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity,

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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.

BUILDING HABITAT

It’s a busy year for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit builder and renovator of homes for working-class buyers who must put in up to 500 hours of “sweat equity” in return for no-interest financing and sometimes a discounted price.

Habitat, often backed by business contributions and employee volunteers, finished its 1,000th Twin Cities home this month. The nonprofit has completed a $36 million capital campaign that helped it step up its work during the several-year housing recession during which it emerged as one of the several biggest builders in the area. And construction is underway of a new headquarters on University Avenue in St. Paul.

Twin Cities Habitat will build up to 60 houses this year and do about 150 painting-and-renovation projects with low-income seniors and other qualifying families.

Twin Cities Habitat, whose largest corporate underwriter long has been Thrivent Financial, is one of the more active U.S. subsidiaries and also is the second-largest U.S. Habitat in supporting low-cost housing in struggling countries such as Mozambique and Haiti. In slowly rebounding north Minneapolis, Habitat will build and remodel about 15 homes. Details at www.tchabitat.org.

CHARITABLE BICYCLING

Kudos to more than 3,500 business and other volunteer cyclists who pedaled to Duluth last month in the MS 150 ride and raised nearly $3 million for multiple sclerosis research, support programs and services.

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