Italian international outdoor footwear specialist Asolo SpA has acquired Lowe Alpine Holdings from William Baird plc for GBP 13.45 million (USD $21.33 million). Baird shareholders officially approved the deal last night and, in 16 days, Asolo owners Marco, Luca and Anna Zanatta will officially assume management control of Lowe.
The announcement was made just days before Lowe Alpine began its international sales meeting with sales managers, company presidents and sales reps from all over the world gathering in the UK.
Marco Zanatta, Asolo chairman, told SNEWS that both he and Luca (his brother and CEO of Asolo) believe deeply in the future of the outdoor industry and have been exploring ways to diversify that made sense for the company and the industry.
"The marriage between our two brands is perfect," said Marco Zanatta. "Lowe Alpine, as one of the original technical outdoor brands, is respected internationally and has a strong reputation for product quality and innovation -- just as Asolo has. Together there is strength and opportunity."
David Joyce, managing director for Lowe Alpine Holdings, told us, "The Zanatta family understands and is passionate about the outdoor market, and they have clearly identified the potential that exists for both Lowe Alpine and Asolo brands through combining the two businesses."
When asked about what he felt this meant for Lowe Alpine in impact on employees and worldwide offices, Joyce added, "I have not, as yet, had the opportunity to discuss in detail their strategic plans for the combined business and cannot, therefore, comment further, but I'm sure that everyone will agree this is a positive move for both the Lowe and Asolo brands."
Zanatta added that to speculate about strategic moves and changes in the Lowe operations would be premature now since he and the rest of the Asolo team need time to meet and get to know the Lowe team and understand the business in detail before making any moves, if any at all. "Everyone did a good job around the world," stressed Marco Zanatta. "I am very happy with the opportunity we now all have, but it is too early to discuss future strategy.
"I think that this is a good thing, though, not only for us, but for the industry," added Marco Zanatta. "This purchase sends a strong signal that the 'young boys' believe 100 percent in this business and have demonstrated our belief with Asolo and its success and are very sure we can be successful again."
SNEWS View: Baird took a bath on this one, considering it purchased Lowe in 1999 for around USD $34 million (the exchange rate at that time was hovering around $1.52). Baird really had no choice, though. The company needs the proceeds to quickly pay down debt and is in the middle of a takeover bid from a competitive British clothier, Jacques Vert. Vert is making a play for 51 percent of Baird's shares in a clear attempt to assume control of Baird's women's wear brands -- Windsmoor, Precis Petite and Planet.
The sale portends nothing but good things for Lowe Alpine. As of February 2002, Lowe Alpine reported worldwide sales of GBP 29.8 million (USD $47.26 million), with an operating loss of GBP 4.1 million (USD $6.5 million). Under the guidance of the Zanatta family, we would expect to see sales increase and losses to evaporate quickly.
With the sale, Lowe is out from under the chilling shadow of a very shaky public company parent and under the light and direction of a company and owners who truly care for and understand the global outdoor marketplace. Marco, Luca and Anna are the children of Ambrosiano Zanatta, who once was a majority owner and one of the founders of Tecnica before selling most of his shares. The children subsequently acquired a struggling Asolo in late 1998 from Benetton. The first year, Asolo sold 120,000 pairs of shoes worldwide. Now the company distributes in 30 countries with North America accounting for 50 percent of the distribution and the United States (a wholly owned subsidiary under the direction of Bruce Franks) accounting for 40 percent of the company sales. Projections for 2002 are for 400,000 pairs of shoes sold worldwide with 10 percent growth expected for 2003.
It is far too early to begin speculating on what all this means specifically for Lowe Alpine staff around the world and the various worldwide offices, including the United States. We do know the U.S. group, under the direction of President Geoff O'Keeffe, has turned around a struggling ship and put Lowe back on the map in this country. We also know that the Zanattas care deeply for their staff, but also run a very tight ship with efficiencies at every level of design, production and sales -- all things that make a retailer smile. The Zanattas are also young and energetic, and that can only add vigor to any venture they are involved in. We also know that Giuliano Zavan, Asolo's general manager, will be spending a lot of time in the UK, and that will be good for all. Zavan is a class act with a vast leadership experience and solid background at Tecnica, Asolo (prior to the Zanattas), Diadora, and several Italian apparel companies. We'll, of course, keep you posted on any and all changes.