The company operating two of the Flathead’s biggest sporting goods stores will double in size with the acquisition of four Idaho-based retailers.
“We’re going to become one of the largest independent sporting goods chains in the country,” David Harvey, the president of Crown Enterprises, Inc., which runs Sportsman & Ski Haus, said. “We’re going to be formidable.”
Harvey announced this week Crown is acquiring four Tri-State Outfitters stores located in Lewiston, Moscow and Couer D’Alene in Idaho, and in Moses Lake, Wash. The Tri-State stores employ 105 people; combined with the 110 employees at Sportsman & Ski Haus in Whitefish and Kalispell, the deal roughly doubles the size of Crown Enterprises.
“The stores are each pretty dominant in each of their market areas,” he said. “They’re big dominant players in the Idaho market.”
Though neither he nor Sportsman & Ski Haus CEO Mike Gwiazdon were in the market for more sporting goods stores, earlier this year they received a letter of inquiry from Gerard Connelly and his sister, Mary Connelly, who were searching for buyers of the company originally founded by their father and which they have run for 33 years.
“His big interest was to find a sporting goods company that shared his culture and ideals about retailing,” Harvey said. “I checked out their stores and I was favorably impressed.”
“One thing led to another and we said, ‘Hey, let’s do this,’” he added, noting that there was, “no other way to see Crown Enterprises double our company, and do it profitably and help put our little business on the fast track.”
Harvey does not intend to change the names of the Tri-State stores, noting that many have done business in their communities for decades, and have cultivated long-standing relationships with customers. The Moscow store has been in operation for 60 years.
“The most amazing thing is the loyalty that’s expressed by the customers toward this business,” Harvey said. “We’re very cognizant and respectful of that.”
The Tri-State stores also have many employees who have been working for decades, which was a factor in the deal for the Connelly family.
“They have assured us they will maintain Tri-State’s leadership,” Gerard Connelly said. “We are confident that our employees will be treated with fairness and respect.”
Crown Enterprises’ leaders are focused on a smooth transition.
“We do intend to make some improvements and we will gain some efficiencies from the relationship,” Harvey said. “We don’t want to mess up a good thing.”
In addition to the loyalty generated by the Tri-state stores, two are located in bustling college towns, and have managed to turn profits even through the economic downturn of the last several years.
“Though this is a highly successful business, we saw plenty of upside,” Harvey said. “This company has shown consistent growth all throughout the recession.”
He also believes the expansion decreases Crown Enterprises’ risks and strengthens its assets and buying power by spreading them beyond solely the Flathead Valley. Don Kisler, at the accounting firm Jordahl & Sliter, analyzed the deal, and Glacier Bank financed the loan.
Although the Sportsman & Ski Haus and the Tri-State stores sell some of the same merchandise, particularly shoes and outerwear, in other areas they differ. The Moses Lake location, Harvey said, sells hardware and house wares. With 70,000 square feet of selling space, it dwarfs the Kalispell Sportsman & Ski Haus, which has 40,000 square feet. The Moscow location claims to sell the world’s largest sock selection.
But beyond the particulars of the acquisition, Harvey also sees it as a signal that independent sporting goods stores can still compete, and succeed, against the large national chains.
“We’re here to make a stand for the independent sporting goods stores and we’re proof that they are still viable,” he said.
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