Otter Co-op Acquisition: Diversifying Business, Growing Community

For Otter Co-op, growth and impact are the name of the game.

So when they had the opportunity to acquire 19 Liquor Depot, Liquor Barn and Wine Cellar stores across the Lower Mainland and Okanagan, they not only considered the diversification of their business lines, but also how it could grow their community reach and membership benefits. The acquisition was expected to bring an additional $85 million in sales to the Co-op in the first year and would allow Otter to offer employment to the 217 team members currently working at these locations.

While Otter had a strong and long-established lending relationship with their local credit union and Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), the lending requirement for this acquisition was outside of the parameters and scope of FCL and their existing lender. Otter was in a position that required them to go to market, evaluate financing packages, and establish a relationship with a new lender all while facilitating a complex, time-sensitive transaction.

Fortuitously, Otter CEO Jack Nicholson and Ashdown Capital Partner Brad Kiendl had built a trusting working relationship through their time on the board for the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce. Nicholson understood how Kiendl and his team conducted their business, with a strong emphasis on client needs.

“Otter Co-op was pleased to partner with Ashdown Capital to find the best solution for our major acquisition financing, along with opportunities to finance other parts of our operation and growth,” said Nicholson.

Kiendl and fellow Ashdown Partner Ryan Turner were trusted to begin sourcing lenders from their established network that could provide competitive, flexible terms to support the transaction, and Otter Co-op’s growth going forward. But importantly, they also worked with Otter Co-op’s vision top of mind – to be the consumer’s first choice by connecting community, service, satisfaction and profit sharing where they live, work and play.

While seven lenders ultimately provided viable offers, there was one whose values mirrored Otter’s own – Envision Financial, a division of First West Credit Union. First West Credit Union strives to offer members the financial strength, comprehensive product selection and extended branch network of a large financial institution while maintaining local brand identities and a unique grassroots approach to service. Their offer was competitive on price and flexibility, and vitally, contained financial covenants that were structured to support Otter Co-op’s continued growth and impact in the communities it serves.

The positive potential of this partnership was underscored by Dave Lanphear, President of Envision Financial.

“As two member-owned organizations with shared values, I’m proud that Envision Financial and Otter Co-op have come together in this partnership that will benefit members and communities,” said Lanphear.

Ultimately, the transaction proved to be the largest in the credit union’s history, making it a big win for the client, lender and community. The deal escalated from Ashdown engagement to fully funded within a swift, 16-week timeline. “The entire experience was such a positive interaction,” said Nicholson, “I’m proud that Ashdown Capital was able to partner us with another Co-operative to grow our needs and community together.”

Otter is now in the process of transitioning stores in Vancouver, Kamloops, Surrey, Coquitlam, Kelowna, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, and West Kelowna to the Angry Otter Liquor brand.  The Co-op looks forward to continuing to grow and offer new products and services to their growing membership base.