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Wolverine Worldwide Buys Collective Brands

05/02/2012

Wolverine Worldwide, makers of rugged work boots, since 1883,  is adding several classic footwear brands to its stable of products.

In a joint acquisition effort with Blum Capital and Golden Gate Capital, Wolverine is buying Collective Brands, which owns brands such as Sperry Top-Sider, Keds, Saucony and Stride Rite along with Payless Shoes. Wolverine gets the brands and the investment groups get the retail operation.

On the surface this appears to be a solid acquisition for Wolverine. In the U.S. Wolverine sells boots for work and outdoor. They also have a good selection of casual footwear. I saw their apparel line at a trade show earlier this year and was impressed.

Wolverine is a unique brand. It’s rugged heritage is its core. Steel-toed boots, 6-eyelet lace-ups and even Gore-Tex waterproofs make up the majority of the brands offering.

Here’s where the brand gets interesting though. A quick view of their store locator shows retailers like Sears, JC Penney, Tractor Supply and Cabela’s. But some of Wolverine’s models, like the Clapton 6-inch Lace Up Boot are found at retailers like Eddie Bauer, Urban Outfitters and Gilt Groupe. How’s that for a broad range of consumers?

The Clapton is part of the company’s 1883 Collection shows the brand’s hipper side. Styles like the Seger are clearly not your farm store work boots. To me the 1883 Collection indicates the brand has upside potential to penetrate new markets and gain share with new customers.

Elevating Payless, which last year closed 352 of its 4,300 stores globally, is daunting. For Wolverine, however, applying their smarts to great brands like Sperry and Keds seems like a no-brainer.

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