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Analysts react positively to Finish Line purchase

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Analysts who follow The Finish Line Inc. are praising the Indianapolis-based athletics retailer for its acquisition of an 18-store specialty running chain announced Thursday morning.

The stores operate under banners including the Greater Boston Running Company, New York Running Company and Texas Running Company, and are in Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Texas, as well as the District of Columbia.

Altogether, the stores have annual revenue of $19 million.

Yearly sales for the stores are just a bit more than what Finish Line typically earns in a quarter—$16.4 million in the fiscal three months ended May 28.

Analysts have suspected that Finish Line, which is flush with cash, would make an acquisition in an effort to make up for past expansion missteps.

In 2005, the company paid $12 million to buy hip-hop outfitter Man Alive. Finish Line expanded Man Alive's store base to almost 100 outlets before unloading the perennial money-loser in 2009.

In 2006, Finish Line launched an active women’s concept called Paiva and opened 15 stores before closing the concept a year later.

That same year, Finish Line aimed for the fences with a highly leveraged $1.5 billion bid to acquire Tennessee-based Genesco Inc., the parent of Journeys and Hat World. Finish Line later had to pay handsomely—about $40 million in cash and 6.5 million of its shares—to call off the deal after credit markets seized up and sales for both companies declined.

The purchase of the running stores puts to rest fears that Finish Line would repeat the past by over-reaching for a larger, pricier deal, New York-based investment analyst Jefferies & Co. Inc. said in a Thursday morning report.

“The potential synergies and scale prospects are obvious, making this an interesting and logical path,” the firm said. “Moreover, we see this as structurally attractive given the growing interest in running/healthy living activities and a local service-oriented retail model.”

With the core Finish Line chain near maturity within U.S. malls, management appears to be targeting fragmented specialty sectors as its next growth target, Jefferies & Co. said.

Finish Line’s Chairman and CEO Glenn Lyon acknowledged as much in a Thursday morning press release.

“This acquisition is an important step in our strategic plan to drive growth outside of our core Finish Line business,” Lyon said in a written statement. “We plan to expand the number of stores and develop this chain’s first e-commerce capability, as well as pursue other potential acquisitions in the specialty running business.”

Birmingham, Ala.-based investment firm Sterne Agee & Leach Inc. also supported the purchase.

“Unlike previous acquisitions, this acquisition keeps Finish Line focused on their core competency of footwear,” the firm said. “The acquisition will provide Finish Line with intelligence on future new trends in the running business.”

The 18-store chain was founded by competitive runner Gene Mitchell in 1996, and the stores are operated by a group of individual owners.

Finish Line’s acquisition didn't attract much attention on Wall Street. Company shares were trading at $20.14 at noon, 4 cents over their opening price.

Finish Line operates about 650 stores across the country.

 

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