Eastern Mountain Sports sold; management, store count intact through holiday season

Private equity firm Versa Capital Management announced Monday that it has acquired outdoor retailer Eastern Mountain Sports and its 69 stores in 12 states for an undisclosed amount.
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Another acquisition in the outdoor industry, and this one comes from the retail side of the business.

Private equity firm Versa Capital Management announced Monday that it has acquired outdoor retailer Eastern Mountain Sports and its 69 stores in 12 states for an undisclosed amount.

The new Philadelphia-based owner said it will refrain from any significant changes at EMS until the conclusion of this year’s holiday shopping season. It made a single addition to EMS management, naming Versa principal Mark Walsh as chairman of the retailer. EMS CEO Will Manzer will remain at his post, at least through the holiday season.

“The EMS customer will see no change to the high touch, differentiated experience they are accustomed to in all of our locations and online,” Walsh said in a statement. Walsh, who also serves as chairman of active and work wear retailer Bob’s Stores in the Northeast, hinted that management will “explore opportunities for Bob’s Stores and EMS to collaborate.”

EMS officials and its new owner were mum on the seller in the deal, but archives show a coalition, including private equity firm J.H. Whitney & Co. and Manzer had stakes in the company. The group wrestled majority ownership away from American Retail Group Inc. in 2004, soon after Manzer was brought on board to turn around EMS.

Manzer refocused EMS back toward its outdoor roots, pulled back its national store footprint to the Northeast and placed importance on knowledgeable employees and customer service. The company survived the recession and began adding stores again, including its most recent new store in Portland, Maine, in May 2012.

Versa now has about $1.2 billion of assets under its management including EMS, Bob’s Stores, Avenue Stores and Black Angus Steakhouse. Versa also owns outdoor fabric and insulation brand Polartec, which it bought 2007 and has recently hinted it is looking to sell.

Eastern Mountain Sports, founded in 1967, is based in Peterborough, N.H. and employs about 1,500 people.

The outdoor industry continues to ramp up in acquisition, merger and spinoff activity this year. More than a dozen transactions have taken place in 2012, including recent deals involving Johnson Outdoors buying Jetboil, and Katadyn buying camping food brands Natural High, Richmoor and AlpineAire.



--David Clucas

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