Author:
Peter Stross

Brand Families, Megacorporations and the Role of Investors

Family Companies and Megacorporations: This Is How the Outdoor Industry Works

The outdoor industry is complex. Takeovers, mergers and new cooperations are the order of the day. ISPO.com uses a few important examples to illustrate which brands in the outdoor industry are connected to each other and how - and what role investors play.

The headquarters of the German outdoor company Vaude.
The headquarters of the German outdoor company Vaude.

They do exist in the outdoor industry, the independent family businesses. Shoe producer Meindl, for example, is run in the ninth generation by the Meindl family, currently by the brothers Lukas and Lars. Outdoor supplier Vaude from Tettnang on Lake Constance is also 100 percent family-owned. Since 2009 Antje von Dewitz took over the company her father Albrecht von Dewitz founded in 1974.

On the other hand, many complex company constructs and brand families operate in the outdoor industry.

Some strictly cover the outdoor or even a certain segment in it, others comprise a heterogeneous portfolio. In the German-speaking countries, the outdoor and sports brands Deuter, Maier Sports, Ortovox and Gonso belong to the Franconian Schwan-Stabilo Group, which also has two completely different product categories with the stationery brand Stabilo and the cosmetics brand Schwan Cosmetics.

The Oberalp Group in South Tyrol, on the other hand, has a common core across all brands: mountaineering. The latest addition, Evolv, a climbing shoe manufacturer from the USA, therefore fits perfectly into the company's portfolio with Salewa, Dynafit, Pomoca and Wild Country.

With the Salewa Cube, the climbing giant Salewa has a gigantic climbing hall in Italian Bolzano.
With the Salewa Cube, the climbing giant Salewa has a gigantic climbing hall in Italian Bolzano.

Mega Group VF Corporation

Both groups of companies are family-owned, behind Schwan-Stabilo stands the Schwanhäußer family, Oberalp is still managed by founder Heiner Oberrauch. With annual sales of around 700 million euros (Schwan-Stabilo 2017/18, of which approx. 170 million in the "Outdoor" division) and just under 200 million euros (Oberalp 2017), however, they are still comparatively small players compared with major international groups such as the VF Corporation founded in 1899. in the USA

It currently holds the rights to around 20 clothing brands, divided into "Outdoor", "Active" and "Work". The best-known outdoor brand is The North Face; Timberland, Eagle Creek and Icebreaker are also among this mega-company, which in the 2018/19 business year will have around 12.5 billion euros turnover generated.

VF Corporation is the parent company of outdoor brands such as Altra and Jansport.
VF Corporation is the parent company of outdoor brands such as Altra and Jansport.

China is Gaining a Foothold in the Outdoor Market

The Amer Sports Group with a turnover of approximately 2.7 billion Euro is significantly lower. The Finns have twelve outdoor and sports brands, including Peak Performance, Arc'teryx, Salomon and Atomic. There is no doubt that Amer Sports is a heavyweight in the outdoor and sports business, but the group was acquired in the spring by a consortium led by Anta Sports, China's largest sporting goods manufacturer.

One of the largest European groups is Fenix Outdoor AG, now based in Switzerland, with an annual turnover of around 600 million euros. Its owner, with a shareholding of 53 percent, is Martin Nordinson of Fjällräven founder Ake Nordin. Fjällräven is one of ten Fenix subsidiaries - along with other outdoor brands such as Primus and Hanwag.

In 2015 Fenix also "swallowed" the crisis-ridden German outdoor dealer Globetrotter: "If we hadn't done that, Globetrotter would no longer exist today," says Nordin. Globetrotter made a U-turn under Fenix, and in 2019 it made a name for itself with new openings as part of its "City" concept.

The outdoor specialist retailer Globetrotter belongs to Fenix Outdoor AG.
The outdoor specialist retailer Globetrotter belongs to Fenix Outdoor AG.

Financial and "Strategic" Investors

Germany's market leader Jack Wolfskin was in a difficult phase when a group of hedge funds took over the Idstein company in 2017. It provided debt relief and capital in the amount of 25 million euros. Jack Wolfskin achieved the turnaround and reported sales and profit increases again for 2018.

The German outdoor brand was only bought by US investor Blackstone in 2011 and then - according to the analysis of many industry observers - came into trouble because the internationalisation strategy driven by the investor did not work.

In the meantime there was the next change of ownership. US golf supplier Callaway bought Jack Wolfskin at the end of 2018 for 418 million euros. After pure financial investors, there is now a "strategic investor" with a long-term interest in the helm: a manufacturing company that wants to expand its product portfolio in a targeted manner.

This is also the background to the recently completed Acquisition of the small Austrian outdoor shoe brand Dachstein by the Finnish Luhta Group, which wants to expand its range, which previously focused on clothing, by adding a shoe brand. Conversely, Dachstein hopes to benefit from Luhta's international sales network with its own organizations in many countries and to be able to expand more strongly beyond the German-speaking region.

How Much Influence Do Investors Have?

The different variants "financial investor" and "strategic investor" can also be well illustrated using Ledlenser as an example. In 2013, the US cult multi-tool brand Leatherman took over the Solingen-based specialist for headlamps and flashlights. At the end of 2018, Leatherman withdrew again and the investment companies Afinum and Invision entered the market. Marketing Director Oliver Keßler explains that both the takeover and the withdrawal of Leatherman - in addition to the assumption of synergies, which could not be realised as desired - were also associated with the person of the Leatherman founder and boss: "Tim Leatherman had long wanted to have lamps in his portfolio and was the driving force behind the takeover," explains Keßler. Now the 71-year-old wants to gradually withdraw from the business.

The new investors, on the other hand, are "private equities that invest in companies that do well. They believe and expect that in the end they can pull out more than they have invested in investment. Because, that's just reality, after a few years they'll sell the company again."

The perspective of such financial investors is usually rather short-term. "Of course, they observe and inform themselves precisely about the company's strategy, but they give us a free hand in developing the brand," says Keßler, describing the cooperation.

Author:
Peter Stross
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