Backwoods acquired by Nitches, launches own apparel brand

Backwoods, a Wichita, Kansas-based specialty outdoor retailer, has been acquired by Nitches, a publicly-traded company that specializes in marketing niche apparel brands.
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Backwoods, a Wichita, Kansas-based specialty outdoor retailer, has been acquired by Nitches, a publicly traded company that specializes in marketing niche apparel brands.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed other than the transaction was structured as a stock swap. Backwoods Equipment Company will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Nitches. In addition, the headquarters is moving from Wichita, where the company was founded in 1973, to a new flagship store in Austin, Texas.

CEO Jennifer Mull, who took over running the company five years ago, will remain as CEO. This is Nitches first venture into retail.

Mull told SNEWS® that the two companies started talking about an acquisition after Mull and her team began working with Nitches on the design of the Backwoods Collection in June 2007.

“When they first approached me about the idea of selling, I told them ‘no,’” Mull told SNEWS®. “Frankly, I hadn’t given it a thought. But the more we started talking about the idea and how it might work, I started to see that our cultures were very similar. Nitches was very hands-off with its other brands so the deal came together very naturally.”

The Backwoods Collection, which started the entire sales discussion, will launch in a limited fashion in spring 2008 in Backwoods stores only, Mull told us.

“It is lifestyle apparel and not technical at all,” she said. “Our team saw it as another way for us to grow internally, expand what we offered to our customers and help the Backwoods retail brand grow.”

Mull told us that while she has no intention of offering the Backwoods Collection to other retailers initially, it might become an important enough brand to offer wholesale possibilities.

“This collection will get noticed, certainly by our customers,” Mull told SNEWS®. “We have some great ideas in terms of design and some unique presentations and treatments on the design side that are not often seen in the outdoor specialty market…at least in the U.S.”

In addition to the new apparel line, Mull will be opening several new stores in 2008, as well as exploring opening an online store. When we asked if Backwoods might be just a bit late to the online party, Mull replied, “We have had a lot of things and systems to fix, change and update since I took over five years ago. The timing wasn’t right then. Now, however, we can look carefully at the opportunities and if opening an online store makes sense, we will, but carefully.”

SNEWS® View: For those of you who have never heard of Nitches, you’re not alone. They trade on the Nasdaq Capital Market under the symbol NICH. For outdoor and action sports retailers, its Zoic performance bike apparel line might be recognized. Dockers is another brand. And, if you’re feeling pretty, Crabtree & Evelyn is also a Nitches brand. And for the metrosexual? Bill Blass comes to the rescue.

What makes Nitches think it can succeed at retail? Well, it has a good partner now in Backwoods and Mull, but let’s not think for a moment the company will be satisfied with a regional chain of eight stores. Expect more retail expansion for Backwoods with Nitches encouragement. Expect too to see the Backwoods Collection start appearing in retail locations outside of outdoor specialty retail if it plays well with consumers in the Backwoods stores.

And, likely, that is just fine with Mull. Nitches gives her resources from an apparel design, manufacturing and warehousing standpoint she could not have previously imagined. She also now has deep pockets willing to invest in ideas that will likely show ROI to the investors.

The downside? She’s now answering to investors, not just to her dad, Lewis Mull, a man who made his name in oil and founded Backwoods 35 years ago. Mull had others running the show before he turned the operational reigns over to Jennifer Mull five years ago (click here to read that story). We wondered then if Mull, who had absolutely no retail experience, would be able to handle the leadership role at Backwoods. She’s more than proved herself as a talented business woman and, in the last five years, as a savvy retailer.

We suspect Mull could eventually move into a larger role with Nitches.

Click here to read the official company release posted earlier this month on SNEWS® that announced the deal.


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