Internetstores, the European online retailing group for cycling and outdoor products, is to be taken over by Signa Retail, the Austrian holding company that controls Karstadt and Karstadt Sports. Signa is acquiring a stake of 87 percent in Internetstores by buying the share of 42 percent held by EQT Expansion Capital II, the Scandinavian investment fund, along with packages sold by Marius René Köhler, the German-based group's founder and former chief executive, and other managers.

Internetstores is the company behind Bikester, Campz, fahrrad.de, Brügelmann and Addnature, a Swedish online outdoor retailer that was purchased and integrated under the ownership of EQT. The group's sales should reach about €170 million this year, with €55 million coming from the outdoor business and the remainder from bicycles. With sales of about 150,000 units this year, Internetstores is a leading online player for this market in Europe.

After the start of business in Italy and Poland earlier this year, the company is active in 14 countries. The German-speaking and Nordic countries account for the largest share of sales, and the U.K. is the only large European market so far not covered by Internetstores, for competition reasons. The company prides itself on sustainable and profitable growth, helped by sales of private label products making up about 20 percent of its turnover.

Internetstores said that the tie-up with Signa Retail would help it to reinforce its multi-channel strategy, while Internetstores will support Signa Retail in its international online strategy. Internetstores is to remain an independent entity but it should act as a technology hub for the multi-channel sector within the Signal Retail group.

Köhler has become the chairman of Internetstores' advisory board. The company's chief executive from the start of October is Markus Winter, its managing director in charge of e-commerce and internationalization since 2013. The two other managing directors, Bernd Humke for finance and Ralf Kindermann for purchasing, will remain on board.

Signa Retail is part of Signa Holding, an Austrian company specializing in real estate. It previously acquired Dress-for-less and it bought a majority stake in Outfitter, a multi-channel sporting goods retailer, as a means to support Karstadt Sports' online retail business. The Austrian company stated that Signa Sports Group, with Karstadt Sports, Outfitter and Internetstores, would become the new German market leader in the multi-channel sports sector.

The agreement comes at a time when Karstadt Sports is preparing to expand its current network of 28 stores. Michael Rumerstorfer, the group's chief executive, told the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) that it wanted to add five to six stores in the coming years, with the aim of becoming the clear market leader. A dedicated management team was appointed for Karstadt Sports earlier this year, marking a clearer split from the department stores.

Separately, it has also been reported by Textilwirtschaft that Signa intends to acquire a building of 20,000 square meters that forms an extension of Oberpollinger, a Munich establishment that was acquired by Signa in 2011. Should the buy be approved by the German competition authorities, Signa would then own the entire Oberpollinger complex, which includes a Karstadt Sports store.

Internetstores was established by Köhler in 2003 and a majority stake was purchased by EQT four years ago. In the interval, the company has achieved annual sales increases of 30 percent on average. It has invested in technology and logistics, and it has opened stores in seven new European countries.

Addnature, a leading Swedish online outdoor retailer, was taken over in 2013. While it previously focused on the Swedish outdoor market, the extra resources provided by Internetstores enabled Addnature to expand rapidly, by starting sales of outdoor products in other Nordic countries and then adding bikes in all of them. This Nordic business now makes up an over-proportional and profitable part of Internetstores.

Matthias Hedström, the co-founder and former chief executive of Addnature, sold a share package as part of the latest transaction as well. He was Addnature's chief executive until the start of 2015, then eased the transition by taking a step back, covering purchasing, sales and marketing. In September 2015 Hedström relinquished his operational duties but he remains a board member of Internetstores. Daniel Hörnqvist became regional Nordic manager for Internetstores in January.

Started in the bicycle business, Internetstores moved into the outdoor market in 2011 and only made a small share of its turnover in this category when EQT came along a year later. The rapid expansion to the current level of about €55 million was driven by resources from the bicycle business and the acquisition of Addnature, along with support from EQT. It has continued to expand at a rate of about 24 percent this year, despite the unfavorable spring weather. The outdoor arm of the group sells most of the larger outdoor brands, with the exception of Deuter and Ortlieb.

The deal with Signa Retail was sealed at an undisclosed price and is subject to approval from Germany's anti-trust authorities. The remaining 13 percent in Internetstores are still held by managers.