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Sale of Osprey Packs marks yet another public-company acquisition of a Colorado-raised outdoor company

Mike Pfotenhauer, Marilyn Jones and one unknown person at the Dolores Factory circa 1990.
Courtesy Osprey
Mike Pfotenhauer, Marilyn Jones and one unknown person at the Dolores Factory circa 1990.

This story was originally published in The Colorado Sun.

Osprey Packs, a 47-year-old pack maker in Cortez, has sold to publicly traded consumer company Helen of Troy for $414 million.

It’s the latest in a growing list of out-of-state, publicly traded companies buying Colorado outdoor businesses since last year. Compass Diversified spent $454 million to buy Denver-based Boa Technology last fall, marking one of the largest ever deals for a Colorado outdoors company. Earlier this year, outdoor conglomerate Vista Outdoors acquired Eagle electric bike maker QuietKat for an undisclosed sum. And Camping World Holdings, the country’s largest RV dealer, bought Montrose’s Nomad Reservations, which offered both travelers and RV park managers an online reservation system. (Terms of that deal also were not disclosed)

Nathan Fey, the director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, said outdoor-minded consumers have never been more tuned in to companies that practice the sustainability and social ideals that mirror their values.

“And companies are wanting to establish themselves in communities that reflect those same values, and where built or natural recreational assets are accessible,” Fey said. “We continue to see outdoor recreation businesses of all sizes choose to plant their stake in Colorado and grow into global leaders. We also see successful acquisitions of these businesses which in many cases benefits the owners and employees as well as the stature of Colorado as a global leader.”

Mike Pfotenhauer has approved every hiking, biking, backpacking and hydration pack design offered by Osprey Packs since he founded the company in 1974. Back then he was building packs out of his rental home in Santa Cruz. As demand increased he moved Osprey Packs to Dolores and then Cortez, where he employed dozens of skilled Navajo workers. In the early 2000s, Pfotenhauer moved production — and his family — to Vietnam, where the company employed thousands of people.

Osprey was founded “with the dream of creating the perfect pack,” Pfotenhauer said in a statement announcing the sale.

“Osprey’s top-quality, high-performance, innovative gear is a reflection of the brand’s love of adventure and devotion to the outdoors,” Pfotenhauer said in the statement. “Today’s announcement is a natural next step as we look to build Osprey further. I know it will be in good hands with Helen of Troy, with its proven stewardship of outstanding brands and global scale. Its culture and values are highly consistent with Osprey.”

"The Osprey sale validates something many of us inside rural Colorado have known for a while — we produce outstanding outdoor industry companies."
Jamie Finney, Greater Colorado Venture Fund

(Executives from both Helen of Troy and Osprey Packs are unable to comment as they are in the so-called quiet period while the deal is finalized, which is expected by the end of December. It is unclear if Pfotenhauer will remain with the company in any capacity or if Helen of Troy plans any changes to Osprey’s Cortez operations or distribution center in Ogden, Utah.)

Helen of Troy told investors that Osprey would generate $155 million to $160 million in net sales revenue in the coming year. Helen of Troy said the $414 million price tag for Osprey values the pack-maker around 13.5-times its projected earnings for next year. The company’s sales announcement said that multiple “compares favorably” to Helen of Troy, which is valued around 17.5 times its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA. Helen of Troy, which owns one other outdoor brand, Hydro Flask, as well as OXO, Vicks, Braun, Honeywell and PUR, reported $353.6 million in earnings for the year ended Aug. 31.

Mike Pfotenhauer in 1974.
Courtesy Osprey
Mike Pfotenhauer in 1974.

About half of Osprey’s sales are outside the U.S., which expands Helen of Troy’s international reach, company CEO Julien Mininberg said in the sale announcement, noting that Osprey’s Vietnam operations helps Helen of Troy diversify beyond production in Mexico and China.

Mininberg also cited benefits from Osprey’s commitment to sustainable design and manufacturing, with recycled materials and low-impact chemicals, as well as its use of renewable electricity at its Cortez and Utah facilities.

“This commitment extends to enhancing the well-being of their employees and communities through efficient building design at their Cortez … headquarters, and contributing to environmental conservation,” Mininberg said in the statement. “This business philosophy and practice is very much aligned with Helen of Troy’s ever-growing ESG (environmental, social and governance) ambitions.”

“The Osprey sale validates something many of us inside rural Colorado have known for a while — we produce outstanding outdoor industry companies,” said Jamie Finney, a partner in the Greater Colorado Venture Fund that directs venture capital into rural Colorado startups.

The Greater Colorado Venture Fund has invested $10.2 million in 25 companies since August 2018. That investment has enabled the companies — all of them located outside the Front Range — to hire 350 full-time workers and raise more than $30 million in equity capital. The recent acquisitions of Osprey, Boa, QuietKat and Nomad prove not just the strength of the state’s outdoor industry but the fertility of rural Colorado when it comes to growing outdoor powerhouses, Finney said.

“The various public company acquirers show how others are noticing too,” Finney said. “Rural Colorado is already an advantageous place to start an outdoor business and that will continue to compound as the wealth and experience created by these sort of events recycles into our communities and future Ospreys.”

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