The largest Canadian-owned daily deals site is looking to finalize its acquisition by an Atlanta-based firm after filing for a legal and financial restructuring process, according to legal documents from MNP Ltd. Meanwhile, some merchants that haven’t been paid for deals sold through the websites are fuming over the situation.
A motion has been filed by the legal representatives of Couch Commerce Inc., the group that owns TeamBuy Inc., Dealfind.com Corp., and MenuPalace.com Corp., to approve its sale to nCrowd Commerce Inc. on Sept. 22. If the sale is not completed to nCrowd, the motion states, then Couch Group’s assets will be liquidated “leading to a very significant loss of value.” The Couch Group already received a bridge loan from nCrowd on Sept. 11, following an Aug. 29 announcement to customers it was entering into a legal and financial restructuring process.
While some blogs and postings to social media and forum sites have warned against buying coupons on TeamBuy or Dealfind, sources familiar with the operations of the firm say those deals are still valid and merchants are currently being paid for sales made. But merchants that sold deals on the sites prior to Aug. 29 have their pending payments frozen at the moment due to the legal restructuring process, and it’s not clear how much, if anything, they will receive for the debt they’re owed.
That doesn’t sit well with Calgary-based The Locked Room, an interactive entertainment experience that tapped TeamBuy and Dealfind to launch its new business in August.
“It sucks. They haven’t been transparent and we’re pissed off as a startup,” says co-founder Adil Hooda. “We don’t think they are operating fairly when they are still operating. That’s what bugs us, that they are still selling vouchers.”
The Locked Room, which offers its customers an entertainment experience in which they work as a team to escape a locked room – themed in the style of Harry Potter or a zombie apocalypse – started running deals on both Dealfind and TeamBuy on Aug. 25.
As a new business, Hooda saw it as a good way to get exposure and was willing to earn just 25 per cent compared to a normal sale for the opportunity. Things started well with 100 customers coming through his doors with the vouchers in short order. But after not receiving the first cheque for sales made on the sites, things quickly took a turn for the worse. The account manager responded to an inquiry for payment with bad news.
“He just sent a canned email back to use. He said we wouldn’t be getting paid for awhile,” Hooda says. That left The Locked Room founder looking for an escape himself.
In the end, he elected to call customers, 500 in total, and explain the situation to them. Most were understanding and made efforts to reverse their purchase with TeamBuy, or to file a request with their credit card company.
TeamBuy and Dealfind continuing operations
Sources says that Couch Commerce companies are only currently working with merchants that understand the transitional period it’s undergoing. When merchants say they won’t honour the coupons, their postings are being removed from the site.
TeamBuy and Dealfind merged to form the largest Canadian-owned group deals site in early 2013. TeamBuy was formed in 2009 when Groupon was in just 12 cities across the U.S., and was a fast follower to the group buying model that unlocked steep discounts at retailers, restaurants, and services when enough customers bought in. Dealfind was formed in April 2010 and used an affiliate-style program to provide incentive for users to share deals.
Neither Dealfind or TeamBuy have been active on Twitter or Facebook since Sept. 11, whereas their feeds are normally busy posting new deals available for customers. That’s the same day a court order was filed to consolidate legal proceedings for companies owned by the Couch Group, and the same day John R. Sharpe was appointed as its director.
DealFind.com’s list of claimants prior to Aug. 29 comes to a total of almost $10.9 million. The claims for Couch Commerce, which include Teambuy, total more than $10.3 million and MenuPalace.com adds another $5.4 million. The long list of creditors to the different sites include familiar business names, small merchants, and service providers, and are mostly in amounts of hundreds to a few thousand dollars.
The one creditor that stands out head and shoulders above the rest is B.E.S.T Total Return Fund Inc. at $5.4 million. The technology investment firm is specifically mentioned in the court filings made on Couch Group’s behalf, with statements arguing an acquisition by nCrowd would be in the best interests of this biggest creditor.
New owner has work cut out for it
Prospective buyer nCrowd has announced a string of acquisitions in the deals space reaching back to April 2011. It has expanded quickly across the U.S. by acquiring sites located in different states. The intention of its acquisition of Couch Group is to continue to operate TeamBuy and Dealfind from the improved position of a larger company that has better cash flow. But they are going to have to do a lot of work to win back the trust of merchants, according to Albert Bitton, the founder of Canadian Deals & Coupons Association.
“TeamBuy is going to lose a whole lot of merchant faith across the country,” he says. “They’d better have a plan in place or else they’re going to dig themselves a hole that may be hard to get out of.”
The Locked Room isn’t the only merchant to voice frustration over lack of payment from the Couch Group. Montreal restaurant owner Trattoria La Villetta told radio station CJAD that it did not receive payment for coupons sold on TeamBuy and had to stop honouring them as a result. Another business reached by ITBusiness.ca that is a creditor of TeamBuy, but asked not to be named because it is in a legal dispute with the company, said it had trouble being paid by TeamBuy for the past year and a half.
For the Couch Group, the acquisition by nCrowd may represent the light at the end of the tunnel. But for merchants wondering if they will ever get paid, they still feel left in the dark.
“It is pretty cut and dried that we’re not going to get anything,” Hooda says. “It looks pretty bad.”
It’s expected more will be known about the future of TeamBuy and Dealfind next week, with the pending sale set to be approved Sept. 22.