An investment vehicle supported by Permira, the investment fund that already controls Hugo Boss, New Look and Cortefiel Group, has agreed to buy Dr. Martens and its parent company, R. Griggs Group, for £300 million (€358.1m-$484.3m). The transaction is expected to be completed in January, and according to reports that could not be confirmed, Dr. Martens' management will retain a small stake in the operation.
The valuation seems to be relatively high for a company that generated a pre-tax profit of £22.9 million (€27.3m-$37.0m) on sales of £160.4 million (€191.5m-$258.9m) in the financial year ended last March. However, the brand's sales have been growing rapidly in recent years. According to company officials, a 33 percent jump in the year ended in March 2012 was followed by a further 27 percent increase in the latest financial year, with growth of 40 percent in the important U.S. market.
The Griggs family, which has the perpetual license for the Dr. Martens brand, had already sought to sell the business before. In February 2012, it mandated N.M. Rothschild to find an investor, but reportedly it gave up because it was offered a purchase price of only £120 million (€143.2m-$193.7m).
David Suddens, who has revived the brand after shifting most of the manufacturing operations from Northamptonshire to the Far East around ten years ago, is expected to continue to run it. With the support of Permira, he could further develop the brand in distant markets, especially in India and other parts of Asia, and diversify it into new product categories. It could not be determined whether the Dr. Martens apparel line, which has been made by Hartmarx Corp., will be expanded.
The brand is already sold by about 1,900 retail accounts in 63 countries. It currently owns 26 of them and has franchises or concessions at about 70 other locations. With Permira's backing, there is also room for the opening of new stores.
Griggs' remaining factory in Northamptonshire is part of the acquisition. It was reopened in 2007 to manufacture small runs of premium vintage Dr. Martens boots in softened leather with the “made in England” label, focusing on the iconic 1460, 1490 and 1914 styles. It still makes about 70,000 pairs a year.
Dr. Martens shoes, which had been originally developed as orthopedic and work boots, had their heyday in the 1960s, when they were worn by arty musicians, skinheads and punks in the U.K. and other countries. While losing steam in Europe, it made major inroads into the U.S. in the late 1990s under the management of a Dutch executive, Martin Berendsen.
The brand takes its name from a German physician, Klaus Märtens, who developed a special cushioned yet stable sole to relieve his back pains together with a friend, Herbert Funck, after his experiences in the German Army. A British entrepreneur, Bill Griggs, licensed the brand and the technology. The heirs of Märtens and Funck have been getting a royalty of 2.5 percent on the shoes' sales, and this is expected to continue for a while, according to a spokesman.
Barclays acted as financial adviser to Permira in the latest deal. It will also be the facility agent to finance the ensuing debt.