The sports equipment market had a pretty good year in 2018, particularly in the golf and winter sports sectors, as indicated in the previous article, but many companies involved in these two segments – such as Amer Sports, Callaway Golf and Rossignol – have lately sought some sort of diversification into the higher-margin apparel sector.
Acushnet apparently made a pretty good move a few weeks ago with its takeover of Kjus, a particularly interesting Swiss brand of ski and golf apparel that has chosen to differentiate itself from its peers by concentrating on highly functional, premium-priced products, and therefore on performance rather than lifestyle products, such as those of Moncler and Canada Goose.
Kjus takes its name from Lasse Kjus, the Norwegian ski champion who won 16 Olympic and World Ski Championship medals, including five at the 1999 World Cup in Vail, Colorado. He is cashing out through the deal as a small minority shareholder in LK International, the Swiss firm founded in 2000 by its current majority shareholder, Didi Serena, to launch his eponymous skiwear line, using for the first time highly functional stretch fabrics.
Serena, a former financier who is now 69 years old, moved into the sports apparel sector in 1979 as a top manager of Odlo International and by setting up a Swiss company, Trisport, to import brands like Brax and license the Ashworth brand of golf clothing. Serena took over the Kjus business from Odlo and developed it internationally by working closely with some Japanese fabric manufacturers.
For the past five years, all the clothing has been made in Indonesia and Vietnam. Maintaining its high positioning and using some of the same fabric suppliers, Serena diversified the brand into the golf apparel sector in 2011 to build up a more stable, year-round business with the help of an American private equity manager, Luke Reese, who became a minority shareholder in LK International. Today, Kjus golf apparel is sold in 450 pro golf shops in the U.S., including those in 75 percent of the 100 top-rated golf clubs in the U.S. It also has about 80 clients in the U.K.
Overall, the German-speaking countries represent the biggest market for Kjus. The brand has a distributor in Scandinavia. Its biggest potential lies in Asia, where it recently started to have a presence through a Chinese distributor, BC Sports, which also represents Head, Halti and Leki.
The terms of Acushnet's acquisition of Kjus have not been disclosed. The transaction is likened more to Callaway Golf's takeover of Travis Mathew in 2017 than to its more recent takeover of Jack Wolfskin, a much larger brand that has nothing to do with golf.
With annual revenues estimated to be lower than those of Travis Mathew, which had sales of more than $55 million in 2017, the potential for Kjus' further development is strong, particularly in Asian markets like Japan and Korea. However, the sales network will be kept separate from that of Acushnet, the parent company of Titleist and Footjoy controlled by Fila Korea, because of the lower market positioning of its apparel lines.
Synergies are envisaged between Acushnet and Kjus in back-office operations. Nico Serena, son of Didi Serena, will concentrate on the management of the skiwear line out of the brand's head office in Hünenberg. Brooke MacKenzie, who has been running Kjus' U.S. office in Boulder, Colorado, for many years, will concentrate on the golf line. Serena and Reese will continue to serve as consultants for one year.