Dismay as JD tightens grip on outdoor retail

Wednesday, 11 January 2017 21:55

JD Sports’ acquisition of Go Outdoors has been greeted as unwelcome news by suppliers spoken to by OCC Outdoor. 

The £112 million sale of the chain’s 58 stores to JD Sports has caused a collective intake of breath, as it further consolidates the group’s immense buying power. Although JD has not centralised its buying functions, allowing different parts of the group to make choices over what they stock independently of one another, this independence does not extend to the prices the group pays suppliers, which are uniform. 

News of the takeover, which was confirmed at the end of last month, spread quickly through the industry with many smaller suppliers contacting OCC Outdoor to express their dismay. Although it had been common knowledge that the Go Outdoors group was up for sale, many had hoped that the buyer would come from outside the current tranche of groups that now control a large swathe of outdoor retailing.

One supplier who told us he had “fought a determined battle” to keep away from one part of the JD group, whilst supplying another, said he felt the acquisition would soon see him forced to do business with it or end up delisted: “I have rejected working with one part of the JD group,” he said, “because I want to see the product sold in the right way and to maintain its premium edge. I could never get any guarantee that it wouldn’t be heavily discounted, but I don’t see me being able to insist on that for very much longer and this news pretty much means that it will be a case of their way or the highway”. 

Some of those spoken to were more sanguine about their prospects, one telling us: “We deal with Millets and Blacks and I think people have short memories. Blacks under JD have been a lot better and on the whole fairer than they were before they were taken over. If Ashley (Mike Ashley, Sports Direct) had got hold of it, then we would really have something to be worried about”. 

Meanwhile founders, Peter Caplan and John Graham, will be enjoying their share of the proceeds. Although the final price was some way below the £150 million they had originally demanded, each will now leave the outdoor business considerably wealthier than they were 18 years ago, when the first Go Outdoors opened in Sheffield.

By Simon Baseley