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Hunter’s New Investor Bets on Expansion

Searchlight Capital Partners nabs a majority stake of the British boot company, and maps out brand's growth.

Rubber “wellies” are going global.

This story first appeared in the December 19, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Known for its rubber boot, Hunter Boot Ltd. said Friday that it has a new controlling shareholder that is ready to help grow its business with everything from product line extensions to geographic expansion.

New majority shareholder Searchlight Capital Partners LP, a private investment firm operating in North America and Europe, would not reveal the percentage of Hunter that it acquired, but said that the brand’s existing shareholders, including its chairman Peter Mullen, would retain a “significant” investment.

“This transaction and future support from Searchlight will help us to capitalize on the growing demand for Hunter-branded products as we look to increase our presence in existing markets and expand in new regions around the world,” said Mullen.

As part of the expansion, Searchlight will beef up Hunter’s management team, which includes searching for a global chief executive officer and a creative director, according to a Hunter spokesman.

Mullen, who founded London-based haberdashery Thomas Pink with his brothers before selling it to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, will remain chairman of the Edinburgh-based Hunter. Wendy Svarre, ceo of Hunter USA, will also retain her role.

Hunter products, which are sold in more than 30 countries, include rubber and leather boots, wedges, heels, ballerina flats and accessories such as tote bags, umbrellas and socks. But with the new investment, Hunter will develop categories such as apparel and other products intended to remain true to the brand’s DNA.

“Hunter is exactly the kind of high quality investment opportunity that we are looking for,” said Searchlight partner and co-founder Oliver Haarmann, who hinted at expansion into new and existing markets. According to Hunter’s spokesman, this includes Europe, North and South America and Asia.

Eric Zinterhofer is also a co-founding partner of Searchlight. A veteran of Apollo Management LP, he is the husband of Aerin Lauder, who remains the style and image director of the Estée Lauder division of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. since forming Aerin LLC, of which she is chairman and creative director, earlier this year.

Last year, Hunter posted net income of 16 million pounds, or $24.8 million at current exchange, and sales of 56 million pounds, or $86.7 million.