Ibex lands venture capital funding, opens first retail store

Within a week’s time, Ibex received an influx of funding from private-equity firm North Castle Partners and opened its first retail store in Boston. SNEWS gets insight on the company’s strategic business plans.
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Within a week’s time, Ibex received an influx of funding from North Castle Partners, a private equity firm focused on investments in consumer-driven product and service businesses, and opened its first retail store on historic Newbury Street in Boston.

“We’ve been growing over the last several years and that growth has actually accelerated,” John Fernsell, founder and CEO of Ibex, told SNEWS®. “Business has been growing really well and we now have the funding to continue that growth."

The new relationship will allow Ibex to manage and finance new multi-channel sales and marketing initiatives. Terms of the deal were not released.

“We were tight on working capital,” he said. “We need to finance the inventory and build out the infrastructure to support that growth.”

North Castle Partners (www.northcastlepartners.com), headquartered in Greenwich, Conn., specializes in investing in “healthy living and aging trends” in the fitness, recreation and related industries. It has a controlling interest in Performance Bicycle, Octane Fitness, Cascade Helmets and World Health, and has had prior investments with Equinox Fitness and EAS.

Ibex (www.ibex.com) plans to benefit from the expertise of North Castle’s team in the areas of strategy, marketing, operations and information technology.

“They have some good people on their advisory board who can help us,” Fernsell told SNEWS. “We have mutual respect. There’s no compromise in what we’re doing, and we complement each other quite well.”

The management team will remain unchanged, and staff will be added as needed. Prior to the deal, the company added nine new positions -- a 35 percent increase in staff -- this year alone, and, we were told, it plans to build out its infrastructure moving forward.

Just days before North Castle’s investment, Ibex opened its first store in the Back Bay of Boston, choosing the location based on its relative proximity to its company headquarters in White River Junction, Vt. The new 1,000-square-foot store complements the company’s multi-channel approach of wholesale, web and now brick-and-mortar retail, Fernsell told SNEWS.

Ibex_Boston_store.jpg

“Introducing a store in Boston was a natural evolution for Ibex as we continue to expand our presence,” he said. “It’s a good market for us, it’s nearby and we don’t have a lot of retail exposure down there.”

Ibex hired Vinita Goswami, who opened Lululemon Athletica’s first mall-based store in New York and its first city-central location in Boston, to serve as general manager of the company’s retail store operations.

Fernsell added the company has no firm plans for more stores at the moment. “We’re going to walk before we run. I do think there’s a future for brick and mortar.”

The store opening and influx of capital are part of a larger strategic business plan intended to support corporate growth and expansion of Ibex in 2010 and beyond. As far as growth plans, Fernsell said he anticipates “more of the same.”

“It is very gratifying to experience strong growth during difficult times. We needed the capital to achieve that kind of growth we’ve had over the last couple years,” he added. “Obviously, (North Castle) wouldn’t have invested in us if they didn’t think we were going to continue to grow at a healthy pace.”

--Wendy Geister

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