Exclusive: Q&A with CBC’s Doug Emslie on Raccoon Media Group’s Acquisition of Abilities Expo

January 30, 2024
abilities expo

Raccoon Media Group, which was acquired by Cuil Bay Capital (CBC) in September 2023, has expanded in the U.S. with the acquisition of Abilities Expo, a series of seven exhibitions owned by industry veterans Lew Shomer and David Korse. In 2023, Abilities Expo attracted more than 30,000 attendees to its events in seven U.S. cities last year.

The announcement brings Raccoon’s U.K. and U.S. show portfolio to 17 events, and the purchase bolsters Raccoon’s footing in the health and wellbeing market, joining Snowbound Expo, The Boston Run Show and The Boston Outdoor Expo in the company’s U.S. portfolio.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Raccoon was advised on the transaction by Mayfield Merger Strategies.

We caught up with CBC Chair Doug Emslie, former CEO of Tarsus Group, which sold to Informa for $940 million in 2023, to find out the scoop on the acquisition. In our exclusive interview, Emslie shared his goals for diversifying Raccoon and expanding its reach from predominantly B2C exhibitions to include a strong B2B offering. We also find out how he plans to drive the company on an aggressive growth path in both the U.K. and U.S., with more launches and acquisitions to be announced later in the year. 

Read highlights from our conversation or watch or listen to our full interview here

CBC's Doug Emslie

Trade Show M&A in 2024: “I've been in the industry for 30 years, and I've never seen the dynamic that we're currently experiencing now in terms of the supply — people who want to sell their businesses. It's never been this high,” said Emslie.

CBC’s business model: “At Tarsus, I had 25 years of incredible experience of working with entrepreneurs. It was our chosen model. A lot of [other] people would buy 100% of businesses. We were always happier to keep the entrepreneur than actually get rid of everybody and own 100% of it. We just saw that as being less risky — and that continues to be my thinking,” said Emslie.

Growth strategy: “Our strategy is quite clear … to diversify. We want to be more in the U.S., and we want to move into the B2B space,” said Emslie. “I'm looking to build, and there are no short-term pressures [because we are not publicly traded or owned by private equity].”

Why it matters: Abilities Expo provides solutions for people with disabilities, their families and their carers. The show offers disability-focused products and services — ranging from adaptive sports and wheelchair dancing to service animal demonstrations and hot button workshops such as travel and home design, financial planning and more.

sports zone
Sports Zone at Abilities Expo

What’s next: The first event under Raccoon’s ownership will be Abilities LA on March 15-17 at Los Angeles Convention Center. Its staff and service providers will be retained under the new ownership. The company will go on to run events in New York, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., culminating in Dallas in December 2024.

What they’re saying: “This acquisition ties in with our desire to grow in the U.S., tripling the number of events we have there,” said Mike Seaman, Raccoon Media Group CEO. “The Abilities CEO Lew Shomer will remain with the business and will ensure a smooth and effective transition. Lew is a brilliant entrepreneur and well-respected by the community, so it was important to us to keep him involved in order to develop the event sensitively and within the best interests of the disability community.”

Looking ahead: “Our goal is to work alongside entrepreneurs who, like Mike with the launch of National Running Show, have spotted a gap in a market and have built exciting products in the healthy, activity and mobility industries,” said Emslie. “We see more of these acquisitions taking place over the coming year and look forward to working with entrepreneurs like Lew and David who I’ve known for over 20 years to help take brands and businesses to the next level with our experienced team behind us.”

Main photo: Adaptive climbing wall at Abilities Expo


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