Mills Fleet Farm finds buyer to help grow its supply business

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Brainerd-based Mills Fleet Farm has found a buyer that plans to grow the supply business.

KKR, an investment firm, announced Tuesday it has agreed to purchase Mills Fleet Farm at an undisclosed price after the Mills family put it up for sale this fall. At that time, experts estimated the company could sell for more than $1.2 billion, Reuters said.

Henry Mills II and Stewart Mills Jr., co-presidents of the 35-store chain that sells farming, hunting and other goods in four Midwestern states, said partnering with KKR will "take Mills Fleet Farm to the next level of growth for the future," the announcement says.

The Mills say KKR is the "best fit," noting they wanted to find a partner that shared "our values and would preserve the legacy the Mills family has built."

The agreement means KKR has acquired majority control of the company's stock, but the Mills family will retain a small ownership stake, the Star Tribune reports, and Mills Fleet Farm is expected to operate independently from KKR's other holdings, which include Toys 'R' US and US Foods, the paper adds.

Nate Taylor, a member on KKR's private equity team, said in the announcement that KKR will invest in Mills Fleet Farm's continued growth, and they remain committed to the company's founding values.

"We anticipate investing significantly in the business, adding infrastructure, stores and local jobs," Taylor added.

Stewart C. Mills Sr. founded Mills Companies in 1922 when he bought the Lively Auto Company in Brainerd, the Brainerd Dispatch reports. The first Mills Fleet Farm store opened in Marshfield, Wisconsin, in 1955, the Wall Street Journal notes.

Several members of the Mills family are expected to leave their management positions following the acquisition, but will contribute to the company in an advisory capacity, the Star Tribune notes.

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