Formerly Fingerhut Direct Marketing, Bluestem Brands offers private-label and brand-name merchandise, including apparel, appliances, electronics, furniture, health and beauty items, jewelry, kitchenware, sporting goods, tools, and toys through its Fingerhut catalog and e-commerce site and via Gettington.com. It offers credit in partnership with Santander Consumer USA and WebBank through 2020. Bluestem also owns PayCheck Direct, an employee purchase plan whereby employers offer high-ticket items to employees, who pay for them interest-free via payroll deductions. Investment firm Capmark Financial Group paid $565 million in cash for Bluestem in 2014.
Change in Company Type
Bluestem Brands' investment firm owners, Bain Capital, Battery Ventures, and Brookside Capital Investors, sold the company to Capmark Financial for $565 million in late 2014. The sale followed a failed attempt at an IPO (filed in 2011 and withdrawn in 2012).
The Fingerhut and Gettington.com sites are operated by Bluestem Sales, Inc. PayCheck Direct is a brand of Bluestem Enterprises. Both companies are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Bluestem Brands, Inc.
Fingerhut has grown to become the third-largest ecommerce retail site in the Twin Cities, behind behemoths BestBuy.com and Target.com.
Bluestem's Fingerhut FreshStart allows customers to pay for their purchases in installments if they cannot qualify for a revolving credit account.
Minnesota-based Bluestem sells its merchandise across North America.
Sales and Marketing
Across Bluestem's three brands, the retailer counts more than two million customers nationwide. In 2014, specifically, the company handled more than 14.5 million phone calls and mailed an average of 100 million catalogs. That year it also launched a national TV campaign. Bluestem also reaches customers through its personalized web site and through its mobile site.
Bluestem spent $170.53 million on sales and marketing expenses in fiscal 2014 (ended January), up from the $158.18 million it spent in FY2013.
Bluestem Brands's sales swelled by nearly 20% to $838.9 million in fiscal 2014 (ended January) thanks to increased sales from its home, entertainment and fashion merchandise.
Despite higher revenue and higher gross profit in FY2014, the company suffered an overall net loss of $126.85 million (compared to a profit of $36.15 million in FY2013), mostly due to a $177.29 million loss from derivatives on its own equity. The company also paid $12.3 million more toward sales and marketing expenses and roughly $5 million more in early debt extinguishment charges as it worked to pay down its long-term debts.
Bluestem's operating cash rose sharply to $326.13 million in FY2014 despite lower earnings, mostly because the company significantly reduced its customer accounts receivables balances.
To move its bottom line back into positive territory, the company is building its brand among its target demographic of low- and middle-income Americans (about one-third of the US population). Bluestem has been boosting its Internet marketing and prospecting efforts, as online shopping becomes more the norm. Its Gettington.com site, launched in 2009, is helping to attract a slightly younger, more Web-centric audience, as well. Indeed, as Bluestem's customers make more of their purchases online, the firm has been reducing its expenses for catalog mailings and printed marketing materials.
Developing new credit programs are also key to growth. Bluestem inked a seven-year private label credit program in 2013 with Santander Consumer USA (SCUSA) and WebBank for its two brands that extends through 2020. As part of the deal, SCUSA purchases new and existing revolving credit receivables from Bluestem while WebBank continues to make installment and revolving credit accounts available to Bluestem customers for financing merchandise.
Fingerhut Companies' own roots reach back to 1948, when founder William Fingerhut started making automobile upholstery.The company changed its name to Bluestem Brands in 2010 to reflect its evolution from a catalog retailer to a multi-brand, multi-channel merchant. The business was established in 2002 when it bought the assets of Fingerhut Companies (mainly inventory and intellectual property), which had been disposed of by Federated Department Stores (now named Macy's).