Lakeshirts/Blue 84 — started in 1984 by two teenagers in a Detroit Lakes basement — makes branded T-shirts, sweatshirts and other merchandise for vacation resorts and colleges around the country.
Now Mark Fritz and Mike Hutchinson, still co-CEOs 35 years later, are based in a 325,000-square-foot production and warehouse facility and employ 700 — and they have a new partner in Carlson Private Capital Partners (CPC), the middle-market investment firm of the Carlson family, to help them expand.
“We have been fortunate to build an exceptional business in our hometown through commitment to our people and our community and wanted to find a partner who shared our values,” said Lakeshirts co-CEO Mark Fritz in a release. “Carlson Private Capital’s investment will help us accelerate our business growth and, options for capital partners.”
The Carlson family is known for a variety of business holdings starting with Curt Carlson’s Gold Bond stamps business which started in 1938 and grew to include international hotel, travel and restaurant chains. In 2018, the family formed CPC and hired private-equity veterans Andy Cantwell and Taylor Moore to run it.
The plan was to make investments of $20 million to $100 million in family-owned middle-market companies, giving those companies a long-term investment partner.
Cantwell and Moore spent the past two years building their team. This isn’t their first investment but they looked at nearly 1,000 investment options before making Lakeshirts/Blue 84 their first “platform” company, an indication it plans to help Lakeshirts/Blue 84 grow through future investments.
Cantwell did not disclose the amount of money that CPC is investing but did describe their shared goals.
“It’s investing in additional equipment, additional resources and capacity to expand,” Cantwell said. “It’s a super-fragmented market. There are a lot of great companies, albeit at a smaller scale than Lakeshirts, but founder/family owned that can become part of a bigger idea by becoming part of Lakeshirts.”
Private-equity investors can offer cash and expertise but generally expect to flip their investments in five to seven years to provide their investors a return. Strategic buyers might not share the same values of companies they acquire and often replace management or cut employees to make them fit their systems. Family offices, like CPC, are a third option for business owners looking for patient long-term partners.
Family offices can hold companies indefinitely and often look to maintain the values and people who made their businesses successful while providing them with capital for additional growth or acquisitions.
Cantwell noted that Fritz and Hutchinson will remain co-CEOs and the current management team at Lakeshirts remains in place.
“This is the prime example of that, it really allows the founders not have to sell to a competitor or sell to somebody that might have a shorter-term mind set,” Cantwell said.
Part of the appeal to CPC is that Lakeshirts is a family-run company deeply entwined in a small Minnesota community. Not only is CPC supporting the company they are also supporting the Detroit Lakes community through the jobs and philanthropic activities of Lakeshirts.
“This is just a perfect investment for us,” Cantwell said. “We are not just making an investment in the company, we are making an investment in the bigger idea of helping these communities to thrive and be successful.”