The Sports Traders Alliance Group (STAG) is going back to its roots by merging with another British buying group, Sports & Leisure UK (S&LUK), which will cease to exist by the end of this year. The merger will create a bigger buying group with about 400 retail members and 570 stores that will have an annual retail turnover of more than £200 million (€297.2m-$380m).

 The two groups were previously trading as STAG North and STAG South, but they split financially and operationally about 15 years ago. The reconciliation coincides with the planned retirement of Ann Brady, the former Ann Hardy, who has been running S&LUK since the split.

 For its part, STAG has been growing nicely since Ward Robertson bought the company from John Fisher in July 2003, boosting the number of retail members from 220-250 to 350 over the past three years and striking deals with more suppliers. The businesses are mostly independent sporting goods retailers, but they include outdoor retailers such as Summit Trek in Cumbria, which has four stores, equestrian retailers and some casual and fashion shoe retailers such as Frontier Shoes, which has five shoe shops in London.

 Rick Chandler, formerly UK sales director of Hi-Tec Sports, joined Robertson at STAG in January 2005. As Robertson was previously in charge of the STAG account under Chandler at Hi-Tec, their relationship goes back a long way. Robertson and Chandler have decided to share ownership of the enlarged STAG on a 50-50 basis from the end of this year, running it together as joint managing directors. As in the past few months, Chandler will concentrate on operations while Robertson will be more active in the field, recruiting more retail members and more suppliers.

 During the amalgamation with S&LUK, a phase that has already started, Brady, Robertson and Chandler will work together to ensure a smooth transition, but Brady will step away after the transition phase. S&LUK had about 80 retail members with 150 stores before it agreed to join forces with STAG on Nov. 1, but only about 50 businesses with 65-70 points of sale will be ultimately integrated into the expanded group. The others will remain completely independent either because they did not want to join or because they will not be accepted based on their financial situation.

STAG is currently processing 6-7 applications per day, but it will be difficult for some of those of who will have been accepted to join the group formally in time for STAG’s buying days, scheduled to take place in a little town near Chipping Norton, in Oxfordshire, on Nov. 19-20, as they have to pay their dues to participate in the event. A total of 84 suppliers will take orders at the private show, or eight more than one year ago, and the newcomers include such brands as Rieker and Keen. The number of retail businesses who are due to attend is up by some 20 percent since a year ago to about 200.