“The deal took a year and four days.” says Jim Fraser, new general manager of the France Group.
“There were numerous times when it came inches from never happening and when both parties walked away from the table.”
But in the final week of January it was announced that Pacific International Enterprises, a small public company owned by Binks Gravel had come to terms with France Sport, owned by Washington trash magnate Ty Ross. As well as acquiring the France Sport factory and their in-house brand, 24/7, PIE had also recently taken over the assets of the ailing Durham Enterprises manufacturers of leading wakeboard brand WakeTech and Rift snowboards. PIE had also snapped up MicroSki a California based manufacturer snowblade maker. All the assets, valued at around $3.5 million have now been merged into the France Group.
“The single thing that kept the deal going was the tenacity of Binks Gravel and his vision of the factory. He simply couldn't walk away from the potential.” says Fraser previously general manager of France Sport. “Ty Ross had built an amazing facility but didn't really know what to do with it whereas PIE had a much better appreciation. “
However negotiations proved complex from the start. (In fact at last year's SIA Gravel strongly denied any interest in acquiring France Sport).
“Finding the right valuation for the company was the problem. These were two tough businessmen with different perspectives. All Ty Ross' business are cash cows and he wanted top dollar for the assets. Gravel is all about core value,” says Fraser.
Several sources maintain the deal was finally struck only after the tragic road death of a France Sport employee. With the future of the company questionable–a major employer in Goldendale Washington–and lay offs already occurring, Ross was booed when he arrived at the funeral. This pushed him into striking a deal. However Fraser states Ross had already accepted various concessions and the deal was close to completion.
The France Group factory now has 21 presses with a capacity of 250,000 snowboards per year and a product line that should ensure year-round production.
On the board side the deal is too new for the relative revenues from 24/7 and OEM manufacturing to have been determined but they will be run as separate entities.
“If OEM turns out to be the bulk of our business that's fine,” says Frasier. “There is a significant amount of OEM business currently available and we are extremely optimistic. We want to build the 24/7 brand too. But as long as the factory keeps producing as many quality products as possible we'll be happy.”
Frasier plans to ship between 30,000 and 50,000 24/7 boards next season, with Japan and Canada the primary markets. The company has recently signed several pros to 24/7 including the Ross Rebagliatti, Anton Pogue, Mike Jacoby, and Sondra Van Ert.
“In Canada and Japan, Ross still has rock star status,” says Fraser.
The company will be looking to snowblades to contribute about 10% of earnings through MicroSki and OEM work. WakeTech's brand strength will also provide an asset and a new line of skatedecks is in the half-pipeline. Also scheduled is a resurrection for the Rift snowboard brand.–Matthew Kreitman