Ronco Sales Pitch Fails

Stalking horse wins the bid for the maker of the Veg-o-matic and other household gadgets.
Stephen TaubAugust 6, 2007

Ronco Corp., best known for popularizing its kitschy, but persuasive, brand of TV infomercials, is having trouble peddling itself. The bankrupt company said in court papers that it expects to clear about $6.5 million in cash from selling its business to private equity firm Marlin Equity Partners, according to the Associated Press. However, it had hoped to make enough to pay off secured lender Laurus Master Fund Ltd., which is owed $8.1 million, the wire service noted.

Marlin’s offer was supposed to be a stalking horse bid, used to smoke out rival offers. But, no other offer came in before the July 30 deadline, so Ronco was forced to halt the auction, the AP explained. Under Chapter 11 bankruptcy rules, companies that want to sell their assets must conduct an auction, even if there is an interested buyer. The stalking-horse bidder is generally used to set a minimum price and make sure a company receives a fair price, the AP report.

Even Ronco’s secured credit backed out of the auction. Bankruptcy law entitled Laurus to bid the amount it was owed by Ronco. And while the lender did submit a “back-up credit bid” in case the Marlin Equity deal fell through, it subsequently withdrew the offer, added the AP.

Ronco filed for Chapter 11 on June 14. The company was founded in 1958 by Ron Popeil, who sold the company for about $56 million two years ago.

Currently, a heated court battle between a former CEO and current executives is bubbling over at the company. In a June court filing, one-time CEO Richard Allen, who is a shareholder and the company’s second-largest unsecured creditor behind Ronco founder Ron Popeil, accuses former and current executives of inflating their salaries at the expense of creditors. Allen claims that Ronco owes him $1.5 million. Furthermore, Allen says Ronco executives and its investment bank pushed through the earlier sale without conducting the proper due diligence, thereby setting up the company for a fall into bankruptcy.

Allen was fired last August for cause, according to court documents filed by Ronco. The company says he misused his travel-and-expense account and improperly booked about $150,000 worth of expenses. Allen rebuffs the charges, noting it is not uncommon for a CEO to spend that much on international and domestic travel and entertainment during the course of a year.