Horizon Hobby being sold to investors

CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign-based international developer, marketer and distributor of radio-controlled hobby products is being sold to an investor group.

Horizon Hobby Inc. announced Monday that its board of directors signed an agreement to sell the company to an investor group led by Joe Ambrose, Horizon's chief executive officer.

The group includes:

— Armory Capital LLC, a Champaign-based family investment office founded by Jacob Ambrose, Rusty Freeland and Greg Lykins, in association with the August C. Meyer Jr. family.

— Mill City Capital L.P., a Minneapolis-based private equity firm.

An employee-owned company, Horizon employs nearly 700 people and sells products in more than 50 countries around the world.

The transaction, which is expected to close in January, is subject to regulatory approval.

Financial terms of the agreement were not released Monday.

"We are delighted to announce this transaction, which will help us grow and provide continuity," Joe Ambrose said in a written release. "Both Armory Capital and Mill City Capital are long-term investors who are uniquely aligned with Horizon's culture, core values and strategy. This transaction will give us a capital structure that will enable us to pursue our growth strategy well into the future."

Ambrose said Horizon's current management team will be retained.

"We believe that this transaction will be seamless to our retail partners and consumers," Ambrose said. "We intend to continue to focus on providing our many hobby enthusiasts with exciting and innovative hobby products. This acquisition will provide us with the capabilities to help us grow, ensuring a bright future for our employees."

Horizon Hobby's corporate headquarters, main distribution facility and product service center are in Champaign. Other distribution centers are in Ontario, Calif.; Harlow, England; and Elmshorn, Germany.

The company's RC car design center and a model train group are also located in California.

Horizon Hobby founder Rick Stephens said when he founded the company, he sought to instill a culture of respect for its employees, customers and partners.

"Over the years, we pursued our mission 'to help people have fun with hobbies' by providing our consumers innovative products backed by the highest levels of service," Stephens said in a written release. "My brother Larry and I are pleased that our new investors agree with our approach, and we believe this transaction presents a tremendous opportunity for our employees."

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increvable wrote on December 10, 2013 at 9:12 pm

"An employee-owned company, Horizon employs nearly 700 people and sells products in more than 50 countries around the world."

When the equity of a company is held by an ESOP, who makes the decision to sell the company? Do the employees vote? Is each employee's share redeemed for cash? I'm curious about the extent to which ownership confers control in this situation.

cam11 wrote on December 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm

I work for horizon and the employees had no say so in it being sold

increvable wrote on December 14, 2013 at 11:12 am

Then this episode's worth keeping in mind when you see that line about an employee-owned company in advertising. When the rubber meets the road, that ownership doesn't really matter.

killerut wrote on December 13, 2013 at 10:12 pm

When I had the misfortune of working at Horizon, this "culture of respect for its employees" was just a line said by the company.

They really treated us like crap.