A.S. Adventure, the largest Belgian outdoor retailer, has expanded its leadership throughout the Benelux by taking over Bever Zwerfsport, by far the weightiest outdoor retailer in the Netherlands. Adding Cotswold in the UK, which is already a property of A.S. Adventure, the tie-up forms an even larger international retail company in the European outdoor business, with combined sales that should reach more than €200 million this year.

Since Bever Zwerfsport already yields a healthy profit margin, the acquisition is chiefly intended to develop synergies between the Belgian, Dutch and British units in terms of purchasing, exchange of know-how, IT and logistics. The Dutch management, led by Didier Mclaine Pont, was described by the buyer as a major asset and it will remain in place.

Almost an institution among Dutch outdoor consumers, Bever Zwerfsport was established by Fred and Mous van Olphen in 1977, and it was taken over in 2004 by Halder, a private equity fund run by GIMV, a Belgian financial firm. A.S. Adventure has now acquired all of Bever Zwerfsport’s shares from Halder at an undisclosed price. Halder received offers from several other parties but Bever’s management regarded the match with A.S. Adventure as the most judicious.

Bever Zwerfsport commands an estimated share of about 40 percent in the Dutch outdoor market, with sales of €45.8 million before VAT in 2006. The company runs 29 stores with an average size of 550 square meters, including one camping store under the Frans de Witte banner and one mono-brand store for The North Face. Furthermore, Bever Zwerfsport launched the first outdoor store dedicated to women, called WouW, in Amsterdam. The concept has been deployed through 8 women’s only shop-in-shops.

The acquisition of Bever Zwerfsport marks another milestone in the remarkable expansion of A.S. Adventure, which was established just 12 years ago by Emiel Lathouwers. The Belgian company is now owned equally by Lathouwers and by Mitiska, a Belgian investment company which also has a large stake in Brantano, the big international shoe retailer based in Belgium.

Combining Belgian and UK sales, A.S. Adventure reached a turnover of €127.3 million before VAT in 2006. In Belgium, A.S. Adventure had 21 stores at the end of last year, including a TNF store, and they altogether generated sales of €77.5 million, up by 14.5 percent. In the UK, Cotswold had 23 stores at the end of 2006, producing sales of £33.7 million for the year. This represented an increase of 20.8 percent compared with the previous year, partly due to six new store openings.

The new owners will leave the Bever Zwerfsport concept largely untouched, as they had done with Cotswold after the acquisition of the UK chain in 2000. However, they might attempt to add some lifestyle ranges in the Dutch stores. A.S. Adventure distinguishes itself from Bever Zwerfsport and Cotswold through a more travel and lifestyle-oriented offering.

The Belgian group’s expansion into the Netherlands could be partly explained by the limited growth prospects that A.S. Adventure naturally has in a small country like Belgium. After another bout of openings this year, the retailer now has 28 stores around the country, including three TNF stores. It attempted to penetrate the Dutch market by itself a few years ago by opening a store in The Hague, but this turned into a costly failure.

On the other hand, the company still sees considerable growth prospects for Cotswold in the UK, which A.S. Adventure wants to expand to 60 or 70 stores over the next five years. In spite of its already dominant position in the Netherlands, Bever Zwersport also sees room to open another 5 to 10 new Dutch stores in the coming years.