HITS president Tom Struzzieri announced last week that he’d bought back the shares of HITS held by Leonard Green & Partners, LLC (LGP) since 2006, when the private equity firm purchased two-thirds of the company founded by Struzzieri in 1981. Saugerties has been its home base since 2004.
Struzzieri said the decision “mutual” and declined give any figures for the transaction – including how much it cost him to buy back 2/3 of the immensely successful horse show company, which stages events in Saugerties, Florida, Arizona, Virginia and Nevada.
But he did say that HITS’s decision to expand into triathlons may have been a factor because the private equity firm was not enthusiastic getting involved in endurance racing, which is not considered a particularly lucrative sport.
“We came to a mutual agreement that it would be best if I were to take control of the company back,” says Struzzieri. “Obviously we’ll lose some of that financial strength that they brought to the party, but maybe decisions can be made in a little less of a bureaucratic way now. We’ll be a little less well-financed, but we’ll be a little more nimble, a little hungrier.”
He credits the alliance with LGP as being “a game changer” for his company, enabling the expansion and growth of HITS, Inc. nationwide, but says changes in the private equity world over the last seven years were one factor causing him to feel that it made sense for him to regain control of his company.
HITS, Inc. is now planning a series of triathlon competitions locally and nationwide, as well as a company-sponsored training camp at Diamond Mills to take place in August to prepare athletes to compete in another HITS Triathlon at Hunter Mountain in September (the first in June attracted around 500 participants).
Next year, triathlons are set to take place in Florida, Texas, Colorado, and California, and will return to Hunter Mountain next June. “We’re expanding that part of the business pretty dramatically next year,” says Struzzieri.
Taking the company in this direction was “something that LGP was perhaps a little more reluctant to be involved in,” he says, and that lack of enthusiasm another reason to take the company back.
“I’ve always treated it as if it were mine, anyway,” he says, “so I don’t think it’ll change anything. They owned the majority of the company for a while, so obviously they had something to say, but they really were good enough partners to realize that I was the one with the expertise in this particular field, and typically their M.O. is to allow the people who presently run a company to continue on in that capacity, and they did that with me.”
He has no plans to cut back on the horse show part of the business, currently in the midst of planning the final events of the season in Saugerties. “We’re sold out for next week, right around 2200 stalls, which is right around where we like to be,” he says. “That’s the number we had last year and for that facility it works out just right.”
Struzzieri plans to improve the horse show facilities in Ocala, Florida, adding a new outside course, and to continue to offer over 50 Grand Prix events over the course of 37 weeks of horse shows each year. “I expect HITS to continue to be the industry leader,” Struzzieri says.
As of press time, LGP still includes HITS, Inc. on their website as part of that current portfolio of investments. Erika Spitzer, head of investor relations for LGP, said that the firm has “no comment” on why the shares in HITS, Inc. were sold back to Struzzieri.
Prior to expanding into triathlons, Struzzieri also got into the hospitality business with the opening of the Diamond Mills Hotel and Conference center on Partition Street at the end of 2011.