An Article from
Bicycle Retailer and Industry News
May 1, 2004
Bell Sports Seeks New Owner
Summary: Bell Sports has been bought and sold a number of times over the years.
SANTA CRUZ, CA-Bell is looking or a new owner with deep pockets.
According to Bell executives, the company has grown to the point that its investors can no longer fund further expansion. "We have lots more opportunity to grow in the future than they have capital to invest," said Bill Fry, Bell's president and chief executive officer.
Two investment firms and a bank- Chartwell Investments, GarMark Advisors and Wachovia Capital
Partners-currently own the company. Those companies are either unwilling or financially unable to fund Bell's growth.
"We are looking for an owner that is willing to invest in the entire company. We view this as a positive thing for our company-getting more capital for long-term growth. We are excited and very active in doing this," Fry said. "This will be a very good thing for our company," he added.
Fry said Bell, which owns the Bell Helmets, Blackburn, CoPilot, Giro Sport Design and Savasa brands, has experienced growth in all areas of its business. Bell sells bicycle, motorcycle and fitness products through specialty retailers, big-box stores and mass-merchants.
"Pretty much all segments of the business have grown over the last two years. 1 attribute this to better product, better service and doing better marketing," Fry said.
"For example, the acceptance of the new Metro helmet has been great. Early sell-through has been great. The new Atmos has been great, too. We also have rejuvenated the Blackburn line. All those are a combination of product, service and brand," he added.
Fry said Bell has a number of future growth opportunities to pursue once it has a new owner.
"We have been in the snow business for five years and we have achieved a large share of the market. We see more opportunities there in the United
States and Europe. We re-acquired the motorcycle helmet license and we can see expanding in that area. And we entered the fitness accessories business and that is up to a decent size business," he said.
Bell recently purchased the licensing rights to Bell motorcycle helmets, but only in the United States. Fry said he would like to pursue acquiring European or worldwide rights.
"We would have liked to have been able to have afforded them at the time we got the rights for the United States," he said.
Fry said Bell has no timeframe for a sale and Bell will wait to find an investor that is a good match with the company and its dealer base.
"We are very active in the process of finding a new owner and we will take as long as it takes to get the right investors. By the right investors, I mean somebody that believes in the brand, the management team and has confidence in the way we want to grow the business," Fry said.
Although several of the industry's largest companies have been sold in the last decade-often stemming from financial troubles-Fry pointed out that Bell's move is anything but an act of desperation.
"You have to do these things from a position of strength, otherwise you end up in bankruptcy court. We are coming to this from a position of strength and at a time that is right for us. Now is the time to get the longterm capital we need to grow," Fry said.
Fry sent a letter to Bell retailers in mid-April informing them of the decision sell the company.
For longtime Bell retailers, however, the company's corporate sales and acquisitions are becoming commonplace.
Bell, in the past 12 years, has gone from a privately held business to a publicly traded corporation to once again being privately held. The company traded its shares on the Nasdaq stock exchange from 1992 through 1997.
Bell used much of the money it raised when it went public to acquire several high-profile brands. Most notable was its June, 1995, acquisition of parts supplier Service Cycle and Mongoose from American Recreation. Bell then sold the companies to Brunswick in April 1997 for $22 million.
Bell bought VistaLite and Blackburn in 1994 and Giro Sport Design in 1997. The company also recently bought yoga and fitness brand Savasa.
Fry said he is very optimistic about the company's future. "I think we are on the right track, we just need more capital for long-term investment. We have a successful company with a long track record, particularly the last eight years," Fry said.
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