PPR Buys Volcom, Probably

You know, I should have seen this coming and been sitting on 10,000 shares. But no such luck and anyway, I don’t own shares in companies I write about. Still, the deal’s not a complete surprise. Vans, DC, Reef, Sector 9 and Hurley are a partial list of industry companies that have been acquired by larger companies that wanted to get into or expand their action sports offering and grow their credibility with that customer group. Consolidation is not new, and most successful companies in our industry seem to reach a point (usually as they start to grow into the larger fashion market) where they perceive they need some help to continue growing and succeed in that broader market.

Volcom has been showing some symptoms of needing that help. Last time I wrote about them, in March, I said,

“But there comes a time, especially as a public company, when that strong brand positioning with a targeted consumer can make growing more of a challenge as the new customers you need don’t feel a strong connection with the brand and the customer you have may feel alienated if and as you do what you have to do to build a connection with the new one.”
“It’s not like this is a surprise to anybody who’s been around our industry for a while. Large or small, public or not, every company deals with this when they grow. I wrote last week about how Quiksilver is pushing its DC brand and my concern that they might push it too hard. Burton, when it changed its name from Burton Snowboards to just Burton, was dealing with this issue.”
I noted in the article that Volcom was counting on some broader distribution including the department store channel for growth, but that I wasn’t quite sure a company with the motto “Youth Against Establishment” fit in the department stores.
I went on to say, “Volcom says they make premium product that typically sells at premium prices and they’ve got a very distinctive image they’ve worked hard and successfully to build over 20 years. That sounds boutique like to me- not department store. Just saying.”
They’ve also had some issues with dependence on PacSun and too much inventory. In 2010 revenues were up 15.2% over the prior year, but net income increased hardly at all, from $21.7 million to $22.3 million. A decline in gross margin from 50.2% to 49.2% explains most of that.
During PPR’s conference call announcing the acquisition, one analyst ask why, if Volcom actually believes it can earn $2.20 to $2.40 a share in 2014 it was selling now for this price. The PPR CEO answer was something along the lines of “Uh, oh, well, I guess they think it’s a fair price.” Great question I thought and maybe Volcom’s answer has something to do with the issues I raised.
By the way, the reason I put “probably” in the article title is because no deal is done until it’s closed. Also, from time to time an offer from one company will result in a higher offer from another company. The board of directors of a public company has a fiduciary responsibility to do what’s in the best interest of their shareholders. They couldn’t just ignore a better offer they think has an equal chance of closing. Of course, what’s “better” can be open to interpretation. I don’t actually expect there to be another offer. PPR, as we’ll get to next, is an 800 pound gorilla and I consider the deal fully priced.
PPR had 2010 revenues of 14.6 billion Euros (2.3 billion of which was sold online). That’s north of $21 billion at the current exchange rate. Western Europe is about 59% of their revenues.  North America is 16%. They have 60,000 employees and their products are distributed in 120 countries. Volcom, at $321 million in revenues in 2010 is a tad smaller, but much, much cooler. It’s around 1.5% of PPR’s revenues. I’d like to tell you all about them, but their web site is in French. I guess I can at least say they are a French company.
 Oh- wait- here’s the English version. Their luxury group of brands includes Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Boucheron, Sergio Rossi, and Stella McCartney. I’m pretty sure none of these brands are hanging in my closet even though I’m such a fashion forward guy. The Stella McCartney stuff just doesn’t accentuate my bust.
They also own PUMA, FNAC and Redcats. Okay, I know what PUMA does. FNAC is apparently in the process of being sold. In 2010, the luxury group was 27% of sales and PUMA was 18%. PPR has over 800 stores globally. Here’s a link to the English version of their 356 page reference document which I am not reading. It has some easy to absorb graphics you might be interested in. It’s a big file and a bit slow to download.
This is PPR’s first adventure into the action sports market. It should be interesting to watch. On an operational level it seems obvious that Volcom should benefit from PPR’s size in terms of systems, manufacturing, access to capital and operations. Those synergies are usually real, but also usually harder to achieve than people expect. I guess Volcom will report through PUMA. It was interesting to hear PPR management say that Volcom was complimentary to PUMA and then note that PUMA was not involved in action sports. Maybe they just meant complimentary in terms of getting Volcom into shoes in a much bigger way, which apparently we can expect.
PPR, of course, is particularly well situated to increase Volcom’s presence in Europe, where both Volcom and PPR think they have a lot of room to grow. It sounds like we can expect to see quite a few more Volcom stores worldwide (no numbers given). I wonder if Volcom product would fit into any existing PPR owned stores. Many PPR brands can reasonably be characterized as boutique brands and, as I suggested before, if Volcom’s description of their brand and its positioning is accurate, maybe that’s where they belong. But I have a hard time seeing Volcom in a Gucci store at the moment. Maybe Europe is different.
Volcom may be strategically important to PPR, but it’s an awfully small piece of the whole. As I listened to the PPR executives describe Volcom, it felt like they were reading Volcom’s description of itself and its market position right out of Volcom’s 10K. Even though they’ve been talking for a year, I was left unsure if PPR “got it” or not. Over the years, I’ve watched European companies try to break into the U.S. action sports market and just do it wrong. I’ve watched U.S. companies have the same problem going to Europe, if only because we start out thinking of Europe as one market.
One European analyst called Volcom a “sports” company and inquired of management if they were thinking of launching a PUMA action sports brand. Happily, PPR made it clear that was a bad idea. There was also a question about whether Volcom and PUMA could be distributed together.
PPR talked about “…building the Volcom business globally while maintaining its authenticity” and keeping it positioned as it is today without changing the target customer. Of course that’s what they want to do, or they wouldn’t be buying Volcom. But as I’ve written, it’s also the challenge. Every action sports brand comes up against this. At some level growing and maintaining authenticity becomes as challenge. PPR has, of course, dealt with all forms of distribution and growth issues, but I am not aware that PPR management has experience with this in the youth culture market. Growth, after some point, requires changing, or at least expanding, the target customer.
They will be relying on the Volcom team to continue managing the brand. The deal, however, is an all cash one at $24.50 per share (22.6 P/E ratio according to one investment banker) with no earn out component we learned in the conference call. I sure hope Richard Woolcott and his team are happy working with PPR.
Given the challenges Volcom faces, they’ve made themselves a good deal at the right time. PPR can certainly make them more efficient operationally, in manufacturing, and financially. They will help Volcom grow especially in Europe, and there will be an expanded retail presence. In the longer term, if PPR and Volcom managements have some patience with each other, we might see Volcom make a transition into the fashion market in a way no other action sports brand has done.
Youth Against Establishment indeed.



8 replies
  1. kelly dole
    kelly dole says:

    Wow. An all cash deal with no earn-out. Not a bad way for the major stakeholders to do it. That much money could lead to a lot of new, funded (!) start-ups in the boardsports field…congrats to Wooley, Tucker n crew…

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Except they are going to keep managing Volcom, though obviously they won’t need the money, so maybe not much time for start ups. At least not immediately.
      Thanks for the comment.

  2. demos
    demos says:

    wow ,its all just business ,and im sure the guys at volcom have control of the deal .
    i cant imagine this being a sell out, rich didnt get this far making bad calls.
    wait n see..

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Like I say at the end of the article, I think I’d probably a good deal for Volcom. As to it being a sell out, can you tell me what you mean by that term?

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Chuck C
    Chuck C says:

    Feels like a very smart deal for both sides. PPR can use their expertise to blow up a California lifestyle brand in Europe and Asia. Something Volcom would have a much harder time doing on their own.

    Fun fact, PPR also owns the huge Sportsman’s Guide e-commerce site which is one of the top places to buy ammunition or a hunting bow. Imagine the Gucci guys in that board meeting!

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Chuck,
      Well, as you know, it’s easy to buy a company- the hard work comes in the integration and meeting of mutual expectations. As long as that integration goes okay, I think it can be a good deal for both sides too. And I certainly agree Volcom could never have done it on their own. But that’s the same problem every company in our space faces when they suddenly branch out into the broader fashion market and find the competition is a bit tougher.


  4. GW
    GW says:

    Nice piece Jeff.

    I have sort of been saying the same thing for a few weeks. This deal just SOUNDS amazing, but after the cigars are smoked and the bottles popped, the rubber hits the road when the crew here starts reporting up to European owners who have little to no experience with this type of business or its cultural sensitivities (which are critical).

    Aspirationally, it is truly amazing to see a storied luxury brand embrace SoCal culture this way but we should all check back in a few years to see whether the guys here would perhaps have actually been better served selling to a strategic who knows the space.

    Kudos to Wooly, et al. for taking the leap though.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Thanks Greg. Yeah, it’s always easy to buy a company. Not always so easy to integrate it. Those pesky synergies can be hard to capture. I guess that Volcom is going to be in the group that includes Puma so it will matter to what extent the Puma people “get it” or not. It’s easy to imagine that some of Volcom’s marketing techniques may not be well received at PPR, but we’ll see. Hopefully, it’s small enough that they will leave it alone and learn from it.


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