EMS makeover: Will Manzer stepping down, 110 employees to be let go, all stores to remain open

The new owners of Eastern Mountain Sports announced significant operational changes for the outdoor retailer Thursday, including a new management structure that will lay off 110 employees and see the departure of CEO Will Manzer.
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The new owners of Eastern Mountain Sports announced significant operational changes for the outdoor retailer Thursday, including a new management structure that will lay off 110 employees and see the departure of CEO Will Manzer.

Versa Capital Management, which acquired EMS in November, said it will combine operational functions of EMS with Bob’s Stores, a value-oriented footwear, apparel and work wear retailer it owns into the newly Vestis Retail Group. EMS and Bob’s will remain separate and distinct retail brands in stores, merchandise and online.

All 68 EMS stores will remain open, but EMS will close its distribution facility and several other back-office support functions in Peterborough, N.H. Distribution will be consolidated within Bob’s existing distribution facility in Meriden, Conn. Officials said they currently plan to maintain EMS’s merchandising, product design, call center and web operations in Peterborough, along with its climbing, paddle and outdoor schools in New England.

With Manzer stepping aside — he will consult during the transition — Mark Walsh, CEO of Bob’s and a Versa Principal, has been named CEO of Vestis, inclusive of EMS. About 110 employees will lose their jobs because of the changes. EMS will continue to employ approximately 1,130 people in its 68 stores in 12 states, and another 110 people in Peterborough, primarily those who work in the retailer’s customer-facing operations.

“The steps we have taken at EMS are difficult ones, but we believe they are in the best long-term interests of the business,” Walsh said. “Vestis is ready to support affected employees with work fairs and job placement opportunities, such as exploring local employment options and opportunities within existing Bob’s and EMS facilities.”

Officials said the changes will be supported by a new $95 million revolving credit facility provided by Wells Fargo Bank. In total, the new Vestis Group will employ about 3,200 people and bring in $500 million in annual revenue from 100 locations.

Founded in 1967, EMS has undergone several ownership and leadership changes throughout the past decade. In 2004, a coalition, including private equity firm J.H. Whitney & Co. and Manzer wrestled majority ownership of EMS away from American Retail Group Inc., soon after Manzer had been brought on board to turn around the outdoor retailer.

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.

--David Clucas

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