March 20, 2008, 12:00 AM

Sun sets on e-commerce and catalog retailer BlueSky Brands

BlueSky Brands appears to have closed its doors. The company sold through four e-commerce sites and catalogs, and its AB&C Group subsidiary fulfilled orders and operated call centers for other direct-to-consumer retailers.

BlueSky Brands Inc., which sells through e-commerce sites and catalogs and provides services to other direct-to-consumer retailers, appears to have closed its doors.

While company officials are not commenting, customers of its AB&C; Group subsidiary have confirmed that AB&C; has gone out of business. “AB&C; closed their doors Friday at five,” says a spokeswoman for Barrie Pace, a unit of apparel manufacturer HartMarx Corp. that used AB&C; to operate a call center. Barrie Pace is No. 211 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

The Smithsonian Institution says it is seeking a new fulfillment house following AB&C;’s closing. A spokeswoman says AB&C; has sent back checks received in the mail, e-mailed customers who placed credit card orders saying there will be a delay in shipping the order, and secured the Smithsonian’s inventory held in an AB&C; fulfillment center in West Virginia. AB&C; was shipping about 3,000 packages a week for the Smithsonian during a slow season, the spokeswoman says.

As for the four e-commerce sites BlueSky brands operates, none is taking orders. Those sites include gift retailer The Paragon; puzzle merchant Bits and Pieces; the National Wildlife Catalog; and Winterthur, a retailer of housewares, jewelry and collectibles. All those brands sold online and through catalogs.

BlueSky is owned by Reliant Equity Investors LLC, a Chicago-based private equity firm. Reliant Equity bought Paragon Gift Holdings Inc., parent company of The Paragon and Bits and Pieces, in 2005, and AB&C; a year later. Reliant Equity’s managing director, Thomas E. Darden Jr., sits on the board of BlueSky Brands. He did not return calls for comment.

AB&C; grew into a major provider of fulfillment and call center services for direct-to-consumer retailers from its beginnings in 1972 as a one-man printing and computer supplies operation started by Michael O’Hara in his apartment. By the time O’Hara retired in 2006, following the acquisition of AB&C; by BlueSky Brands, the company had more than 600 employees and five facilities in Virginia and West Virginia. Besides the Smithsonian Institution and Barrie Pace, its clients included Healthy Directions, the U.S. Golf Association, Junonia, Bra Smyth, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Geographic Society and the National Rifle Association.

Callers to AB&C; this week heard a taped message saying, “AB&C; is currently closed.”

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