Tim Boyle and Scott Kerslake: Behind the scenes of the Prana/Columbia deal

SNEWS talks to CEOs at Columbia Sportswear and Prana to see how the deal came about, and how Prana could end up being the one that changes Columbia.
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It’s no secret to Columbia Sportwear CEO Tim Boyle and Prana CEO Scott Kerslake.

When the $190 million deal was announced for the former’s company to buy latter, there was some head scratching in the in the industry along with plenty of consumer worry — we won’t mince words — that yet another small, progressive brand had been gobbled up by a big corporate overlord.

Boyle and Kerslake told SNEWS they were very aware of those sentiments from day one of discussing a deal in early 2014.

“I told them [Prana],” Boyle said, “we don’t need another Columbia. Frankly, we need them to be very different from us. They talk to a completely different customer than ours.”

And this isn’t one of those deals where you’ll see Prana’s existing management slowly walk out the door during some “transition period,” Boyle and Kerslake promised.

“We bought Prana for the quality of management,” Boyle said. “We don’t want a distraction of having to fix or rebuild a brand. We need them to run it as they have been running it.”

Prana’s management grew the brand on a 30 percent annual basis from 2010 to 2013, officials said.

While Prana co-founders Beaver and Pam Theodosakis, who were part of the ownership team that sold to Columbia, are stepping away from day-to-day operations, they don’t plan to go very far. There’s talk of the couple heading up a Prana Foundation to handle the non-profit side of the business.

Beyond those tweaks, the ship is steady, Kerslake said, who has led the Prana since 2010.

“I can honestly tell you that I haven’t even contemplated leaving,” he said. “I’m excited about the fit. This is the future path for me. Tim told me, repeatedly, ‘if you’re not in, we’re not in — it’s all about the people.”

Of course, most anyone who’s ever been part of an acquisition in any industry has heard all this before. Smaller, fast-growing brands can sometimes slow their gains under a larger parent — profits are shuffled, changes are made and people leave. One could argue that reality hit Columbia’s other acquisitions at Mountain Hardwear and Montrail.

Then again, from Kerslake’s perspective, there’s another possibility — that Prana will help Columbia evolve into a better company, one that he was surprised to find already heading the right direction.

“Larger companies are all very different, and what we discovered about Columbia is that it is a very values-oriented company from a community and workers’ conditions standpoint,” Kerslake said. “They are very humble about it and it isn’t publicized. A lot of people on the outside don’t realize what Columbia is like on the inside.”

A point to note here, Columbia wasn’t Prana’s only suitor — there was a mix of other outdoor brands and financial companies in play for the deal — but Prana chose Columbia.

Prana can help Columbia expand that above-mentioned drive to do good on the sustainable front, Kerslake said, while taking advantage of its soon-to-be parent company’s global reach to spread its gospel worldwide.

“It’s pretty clear that Prana stands for more than just hocking clothes,” Kerslake said. “People are getting much smarter about not only their health, but the origin of their clothes. They’re making purchase decisions because of it. I think Tim is very aware of that … he sees it as a trend. Collectively, we can make a bigger impact.”

The deal makes business sense too, Boyle and Kerslake said — the reasons you heard of all last week.

>>Prana will help Columbia balance its winter/outwear dependency with more spring/summer climbing and yoga lifestyle lines, along with a customer base that dominated by women, versus Columbia, Mountain Hardwear and Montrail’s largely male audience.

>> Columbia will bring funding, logistics, buying power and international sales to Prana, the latter of which accounts for less than 5 percent of Prana’s current sales. For retailers, Columbia will also help Prana increase its visibility in stores with more shop-in-shop and display investments, Kerslake said.

SNEWS asked Boyle whether Columbia might have Prana give up its independent rep force in favor of Columbia’s in-house team.

“That’s up to Scott,” Boyle replied. “I wouldn’t think so … we’re leaving those kind of management decisions up to them.”

--David Clucas

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