Searchlight slips into Hunter Boots

Searchlight, a private equity firm founded by ex-KKR partner Oliver Haarmann last year, has bought fashionable boots manufacturer Hunter Boots.

Searchlight Capital Partners has acquired a controlling stake in well-known wellington boot-maker Hunter Boots, according to a statement from the firm. The deal value was not disclosed. A source with knowledge of the matter revealed that it was a “prudently leveraged deal”, with a debt to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation ratio below 2x. 

The UK-based business has experienced substantial growth in the past few years, generating followings in countries like the US, Italy and Spain, according to the source. The firm’s plans for the business are to invest in its international expansion but with no specific country focus.

According to the statement from Searchlight, Hunter already operates in 30 countries and at the year ending 31 December 2010 it reported a turnover of £56 million and profits of £16 million. The origin of the Hunter ‘welly’ dates back over 150 years, but today Hunter sells a wide range of other footwear in addition to outdoor products including bags, socks and related accessories.

Oliver Haarmann, partner and co-founder of Searchlight, said in a statement: “Hunter is exactly the kind of high quality investment opportunity that we are looking for. Hunter is an iconic brand with excellent growth potential and we look forward to working with the company’s management to drive further growth from product line extensions and geographic expansion.”

The deal comes at a time when consumer spending is plummeting due to economic conditions. A number of high street brands and retailers have either fallen into administration or been forced to refinance in recent months. Earlier this week for example, Exponent Private Equity, owner of lingerie retailer La Senza, was forced to appoint  KPMG to conduct a strategic review of the business and investigate refinancing options.

However, some brands like Permira-owned Hugo Bross have thrived despite the economic downturn by selling into new markets like China. Hunter offers the option of global expansion into more attractive consumer markets outside the UK, diminishing its reliance on one distressed market.