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Retailer I.O. Metro acquired by equity firm

Says investment will help it speed up growth plans

LOWELL, Ark. — Lifestyle specialty retailer I.O. Metro has been acquired by private equity firm Consumer Growth Partners and other investors in a deal the company says will speed up its expansion plans.

The already fast-growing retailer did not disclose the terms of the deal with CGP and an investor group that includes Banyan Mezzanine Funds and Diamond State Ventures.

The Lowell-Ark.-based home furnishings specialty store was founded in 2005 by CEO Jay Howard and Bill and Helen Benton, and has quickly grown to 21 stores in eight Midwest and Southern states. All current owners and management will be part of the new company.

"I.O. Metro is incredibly excited about the opportunity to partner with such experienced retail investors," Howard said. "This collaboration will allow us to accelerate our expansion strategy, which includes plans to triple the company size in the next five years."

With offices in Kansas City, Mo., and White Plains, N.Y., CGP is a private equity sponsor focused on investments in specialty retail and branded consumer products. It says it "seeks to invest in companies that have a compelling proposition, proven economics, significant profit growth potential and an experienced management team."

According to its website, GCP's investment portfolio includes B Cellars (boutique winery), Baskins (work, western and weekend wear stores), Peruvian Connection (luxury apparel), Wild Things Gear (mountain climbing apparel and gear) and Shoe Sensation (footwear).

"I.O. Metro has a tremendous opportunity to expand an already proven and unique home furnishings retail concept," said CGP Partner Jeff Teeven.

He added that his firm is excited to partner with Howard and his management team noting, "Howard has been successful in positioning I.O. Metro as a category leader in a relatively short period of time."

Miami-based Banyan Mezzanine Funds, with more than $250 million in capital under management, provides mezzanine financing and equity capital to lower middle-market companies primarily based in the Southeast. Diamond State Ventures invests in the same types of companies in Arkansas and across the Midwest and Southeast currently out of a $125 million fund.

I.O. Metro operates 21 stores Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. The company hasn't disclosed sales figures, but in September 2010, Howard said same-store sales in 2010 were running about 3% ahead of last year.

I.O. Metro is listed in Furniture/Today's Beyond the Top 100 report with 2009 sales estimated between $20 and $25 million at then 15 stores.

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