SARA LEE TO RETAIN CHAMPION, BOOKSTORE UNIT SOLD TO GEAR

Byline: Arnold J. Karr

NEW YORK — Sara Lee Corp. has taken its U.S. Champion business off the market and sold the unit’s college bookstore operation to Gear for Sports.
The acquisition is expected to be completed by July 1 and also includes a provision for Gear to hold a long-term license for Champion brand products sold to resort and military stores. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
A spokeswoman for Sara Lee Activewear said, “It became obvious to us that a reshaped Champion, focused on branded basics, could a better return to shareholders than would a sale.”
Gerald Evans, president and chief executive of Sara Lee Activewear, said in a statement, “Because of the constant changes in graphics and smaller orders, the bookstore business was simply not a good fit with the strengths of our organization. Gear’s strength is in small-run printing, which allows them to more efficiently service that business than we could.”
Including bookstore items, principally sweatshirts and T-shirts imprinted with logos and other designs, Champion USA generated $284 million in sales last year. Approximately $40 million was generated by the bookstore unit, which has about 4,000 college and university accounts.
Larry Graveel, president and chief operating officer of Lenexa, Kan.-based Gear, said the agreement “enables us to grow this outstanding brand in the niche apparel markets we know best: collegiate, resort and military. We’re taking the best-recognized athletic brand in the industry and marrying it with our reputation for customer service.”
Gear said that Jim Malseed, national director of collegiate sales at Champion, will join the company as vice president of the Champion division. Gear intends to operate Champion as a separate division operating out of a separate facility in the Kansas City area.
It also expects sales management and selling personnel to “largely remain intact, and we are attempting to relocate many of [Champion’s] central office employees to Kansas City,” said Mike Gary, Gear’s senior vice president of sales.
As reported, Sara Lee announced plans to sell Champion last May as part of a move out of its non-core businesses.
In January, Chicago-based Sara Lee said that it had agreed to sell Champion Europe and Sara Lee Apparel Australia, which generated $210 million and $135 million in annual revenues, respectively. Through a stock swap, it will also divest itself of the 81 percent of Coach that wasn’t sold in its October 2000 initial public offering.
Founded in 1974, Gear, which is privately held, has annual sales of about $200 million and more than 800 employees.

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