Searchlight Captial

At 160 Years Old, Maker of Green Welly Boots Continues to Evolve

As featured in The Wall Street Journal

Earlier this month, Vincent Wauters, former president of Canadian outdoor lifestyle company Arc’teryx Equipment, began his tenure as chief executive at Hunter Boot Ltd.

His appointment was one of several changes that the 160-year-old rain-boot maker made since Searchlight Capital Partners took a 52% stake in Hunter in early 2012. Searchlight, which in December increased its stake by 10%, continues to drive a multifaceted expansion plan that has been central to its investment thesis.

That thesis relied on a high degree of customer affinity and awareness of the Hunter brand globally, said Oliver Haarmann, a founding partner of Searchlight.

“The brand is bigger than the company,” said Mr. Haarmann.

Since early 2012, Hunter has significantly expanded its international sales. Markets outside of the U.K. generated 30% of global sales in 2012, while last year, the U.S. and Canada alone accounted for about 50% of such sales.

The company also increased its online revenue to more than 20% of total sales last year from 2% of sales in 2012. It entered the retail store space for the first time, and now owns a flagship store in London, two outlet stores in upstate New York and outside of London, along with a concept store and an outlet in Taipei.

Hunter also diversified its offerings beyond the tall rubber boots the company has become known for, launching two new lines of products. Hunter Original, consists of boots, clothing, and accessories; and Hunter Field is a collection of higher-end, specialized boots for such activities as riding, hunting and boat racing.

Wendy Svarre, chief executive of Hunter’s North American operations, described Searchlight’s approach as “holistic.” Ms. Svarre said when she started at Hunter about eight years ago, the company did little marketing of its boots.

“The marketing came with the rain,” she said.

Under Searchlight’s watch, Hunter launched marketing efforts. The Hunter Original line was unveiled during the 2014 London Fashion Week, where a runway was transformed into a waterway on which models donning Hunter boots trod down. In November, the company hosted Hunter Rock, a one-day music festival, in Taipei.

Adam Padilla, co-founder and president of brand consultancy Brandfire LLC, said when a brand is as well-known as Hunter, it is natural for the brand to expand into other products “as long as the products stay in line with that utilitarian feel and are made with the highest-possible quality in the classic English style.”

Mr. Padilla said Searchlight has done a good job with marketing. “They have not diluted that legacy one bit,” he said. “They’ve been very strategic about not letting the brand becoming over saturated. That’s a five-star job.”

Hunter’s expansion has attracted interest from strategic buyers and other buyout firms, but Mr. Haarmann said Searchlight is only “halfway” through its business plan.

“We are in the middle of an exciting journey,” said Mr. Haarmann. “It’s too early to sell. There is a lot of upside to this company.”

Searchlight Capital Partners UK, LLP is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
for its activities in the UK and EU.