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Fingerhut Return: Focus on Growth

NEW YORK — Scorned by its former parent, Fingerhut is back in business.<br><br>The general merchandise catalog was mailed out to customers in November 2002, and six more editions have since been mailed. Before November, Fingerhut’s last...

NEW YORK — Scorned by its former parent, Fingerhut is back in business.

The general merchandise catalog was mailed out to customers in November 2002, and six more editions have since been mailed. Before November, Fingerhut’s last mailing was in January 2002, the same month that Federated Department Stores announced it was selling the entire Fingerhut unit.

As reported, Thomas Petters of The Petters Group and Ted Deikel, Fingerhut’s former chief executive officer, joined forces to form FAC Acquisitions to buy the core Fingerhut catalog operation from Federated. Their purchase was announced in June 2002. The price wasn’t disclosed at the time, but investment bankers pegged the value of the core Fingerhut operation at no higher than $100 million.

The former Fingerhut operation contained assets such as the family of catalogs operated under the Arizona Mail Order division, which included Figi’s, Bedford Fair, Willow Ridge, Old Pueblo Traders and Brownstone Studios. The Arizona division was purchased by J.P. Morgan Partners, the private investment arm of J.P. Morgan. Terms were not disclosed, but investment bankers pegged the J.P. Morgan purchase at no more than $150 million.

Popular Club Plan, the last of the Fingerhut components under Federated jurisdiction, was sold to management last year. The only other direct-to-consumer catalog operation that Federated has is its Bloomingdale’s by Mail catalog.

Under terms of the Petters/Deikel purchase agreement, the two acquired the Fingerhut name, Web site, inventory and miscellaneous equipment as well as its distribution center and other facilities in St. Cloud, Minn.; the Minnetonka, Minn.-based headquarters, and the data center in Plymouth, Minn.

Federated bought Fingerhut for $1.7 billion in 1999, but the acquisition never impressed investors and later proved costly when credit delinquencies surpassed expectations. In January 2002, Federated announced it would either sell or close down the operation.

According to a spokeswoman for The Petters Group and Fingerhut, “This is still very much a start-up operation. The company was completely shut down when we bought it.”

She said the new Fingerhut was targeting the same customer base as before, but not necessarily the identical customers who bought from the old operation.

“Some we can’t mail to because we did not purchase the accounts receivables. That was sold to someone else,” she explained.

Fingerhut.com is a live site that went into operation in November, and sells “pretty much everything” offered in the catalog, she said.

The company is hoping to increase the frequency of its catalog, now sent out about once every two to three weeks. The company does not disclose the total count of its customer base, but the spokeswoman described the catalog’s circulation as “significant.”

Earlier this month, Fingerhut said it received a $100 million senior secured line of credit from CIT Business Credit’s Retail Finance Group, made up of a revolving line of credit secured by inventory and a bridge loan for consumer installment receivables.

Gary Prager, executive vice president at CIT, said in a statement: “We are delighted to work with Fingerhut in supporting this acquisition. This transaction reinforces CIT’s commitment to support the catalog and retail industries.”

Fingerhut said the financing facility will be used to finance inventory and receivables and for working capital.

Deikel said in a statement: “Now we can focus on growth and profitability.”

Fingerhut still offers credit to its customers, only now those credit accounts are managed by CompuCredit.