Time’s up for Affinity Media International Corp.
The shareholder meeting for the special purpose acquisition company May 28 will be a live-or-die moment. It must buy another enterprise by June 8 or return its total assets of $18.5 million to investors and vanish into the mist.
Shareholders will vote on the proposed acquisition of Hotels at Home Inc., a New Jersey-based company that sells hotel amenities and furnishings via in-room catalogs and e-commerce sites.
It’s an unusual business and a big question mark for L.A.-based Affinity.
Founded in 2000, Hotels at Home puts out catalogs to sell hotel towels and bathrobes, even beds and desks. Guests can buy through the catalog or a companion Web site. Hotels at Home has deals with about 2,400 properties with about a half-million rooms.
“Ten years ago this business didn’t exist. There was nothing in a hotel room you’d want to buy,” said Howard Cohl, president of Affinity. “But the hotels have upgraded, so now it’s not just a hotel room, it’s the best sampling experience imaginable. Hotels at Home has very little returns because the customers have tried the product.”
Cohl said that partnerships with hotels allow for bulk purchases of items, lowering the cost of the products and giving Hotels at Home flexibility with its inventory, a major financial nightmare for most direct marketers.
Chekitan Dev, associate professor of marketing at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, said that until a few years ago all hoteliers bought furniture from the same company.
“When you got up in the morning, you didn’t know if you were in a Hilton, a Hyatt or a Sheraton,” he said.
That changed under competition from boutique hotels, and now some chains have emerged as trend-setters in the d & #233;cor market.
But retailing in this manner does have some risks. Hotels don’t redecorate as often as upscale homeowners might. So leaders can become laggards very quickly.
“Hotels don’t make money replacing rooms frequently, unlike a home where you could have a shorter replacement cycle,” Dev said. “Obsolescence is always an issue. These items could become commonplace commodities.”
To buy Hotels at Home, Affinity has offered $15 million in cash and $13 million in stock. Shareholders must approve the acquisition. Most shares are held by hedge funds, Cohl said, and he seemed confident that the vote would go well.
Affinity is among a wave of Los Angeles-area companies to play the “Spac” game. In January, Consumer Partners Acquisition Corp. in Santa Monica filed papers to raise $125 million to invest in retail companies. A month earlier, Endeavor Acquisition completed its takeover of downtown clothier American Apparel Inc.
But not all Spac stories end happily. Under Securities and Exchange Commission rules, a Spac must consummate a deal within two years or return the IPO money plus interest to investors. Earlier this month, HD Partners Acquisition Corp., another Santa Monica-based Spac, missed its deadline and had to liquidate.
Affinity hopes to beat the clock, but in the hunt for good companies, Cohl admits that Spacs can’t move as fast as private equity funds, their main competition.
“The market for Spacs is very difficult right now,” Cohl said. “You have to negotiate the deal, file with the SEC, go on the road show and then hold the voting process. It can take a long time unlike a private equity deal.”