St. Paul leather-goods brand J.W. Hulme has been sold to iMedia Brands Inc. in a deal that returns ownership of the 114-year-old retailer to Minnesota after a decade under private-equity control.
Eden Prairie-based iMedia, which operates cable TV shopping network ShopHQ, purchased Hulme and all of its assets from Olympus Capital Investments of Morristown, N.J., in exchange for 2.9 million shares of iMedia common stock, according to regulatory filings posted earlier this week.
The deal stitches together another chapter in J.W. Hulme's sometimes tenuous history, and is another move by iMedia to inject high-profile brands into its lineup as a new leadership team seeks to turn its fortunes around.
IMedia, formerly known as Evine, earlier this month signed a deal with former NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal for a one-hour weekly cooking show called "In the Kitchen with Shaq." The broadcast is expected to launch in March. Tim Peterman, iMedia chief executive, said he believes Shaq will "rather quickly" become the company's largest brand, with potential to exceed $200 million in sales for products associated with the partnership.
O'Neal has opened Big Chicken in Las Vegas and Shaquille's in Los Angeles and hosted a reality show on Facebook Watch.
The iMedia announcements come on the heels of a $6.7 million net loss for the company in the third quarter. Its stock, in danger of being delisted in January, is trading at about 50 cents. IMedia plans a 10-for-1 reverse stock split of its outstanding shares after the markets close on Dec. 11 to boost the price above Nasdaq's $1 minimum.
J.W. Hulme will have its own programming on ShopHQ. It also will build on Hulme's existing supply-chain expertise to create private-label accessories for other ShopHQ brands, Peterman said in a statement.
J.W. Hulme has a retail store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul and has opened a pop-up store at the Galleria in Edina. But most of J.W. Hulme's sales come through e-commerce and catalogs.
The retailer's line of handcrafted leather and canvas goods have generally benefited from the American heritage movement, with Barneys New York and other exclusive retailers carrying items in the past. But the J.W. Hulme name also has struggled to stand out from a crowded field of luxury designers.
Olympus Capital Investments sunk $500,000 into the company in 2009 for a 49% stake, after Hulme's Twin Cities co-owners were caught in a credit crunch during the Great Recession. Olympus Capital is now the majority owner.
In October 2018, Olympus Capital shuttered J.W. Hulme's St. Paul manufacturing plant and began globally sourcing and manufacturing.
Dean Vanech, Olympus Capital's chief executive, said that iMedia brings a fuller complement of sales platforms to the table, including ShopHQ, digital shopping, the Bulldog Network that launched last Friday and recent investments in streaming services. He declined to say whether J.W. Hulme was profitable.
Separately, iMedia announced it has purchased technology company Float Left Interactive, which works with NBC, Comcast, CBS and Fox to stream via such media players as Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.
"Going forward, we're looking at a broader mix of ways to reach our customers," said Vanech, who as a significant iMedia shareholder plans to remain involved in J.W. Hulme's strategy. "Herein lies the sensibility of this transaction with [iMedia Brands]. It allows Hulme to reach a much wider audience given their resources."
J.W. Hulme was founded by St. Paul canvas maker John Willis Hulme in 1905. The company sold tents to the U.S. Army during World War I. Hulme later specialized in leather briefcases and luggage for men.
The merchandise mix now includes a wider assortment of items for women and men, including smaller leather accessories. About one-third of sales now come from women's handbags, Vanech said.
Vanech said Peterman, whom he met through a mutual acquaintance, was one of several suitors interested in the J.W. Hulme brand during the past six or seven months. He said he was impressed by the potential for fast growth (87 million homes have access to ShopHQ, according to iMedia). But Vanech also had a soft spot for the hometown team.
"The fact that iMedia Brands is a Twin Cities company was also a terrific outcome for me," he said. "It's great to have a local company own this local brand."