With £36m of debt, Blacks has been in the doldrums for almost five years, reporting losses since 2007. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that those who would usually have been stocking up on fleeces and extra-toasty thermal underwear for their winter hikes were put off by the unseasonably warm weather. Last week, it issued an ultimatum: either a ‘white knight’ investor wades in and rescues it by the end of January, or the situation will become pretty diabolical. You can tell it’s desperate: it’s already persuaded the takeover panel to waive some of its more restrictive rules.
It’s no secret that Sports Direct, which owns 21% of the company, has had its eye on Blacks for several years now. Last year, it made a 62p-a-share offer for the company, but that crumbled when North Face (the Rolls-Royce of the hiking gear world) threatened to end its contract with the company if Sports Direct acquired it.
The good news is that there are apparently other buyers in the picture, including rival chains Go Outdoors and Mountain Warehouse. Two of its biggest investors, Franco Scolaro and VF Corporation (which also happens to be the owner of North Face. Funny, that) have both increased their shareholdings in the firm to 10% and 5% respectively over the past few days. So all isn’t lost quite yet. Although we’d imagine that for the firm’s 4,000 staff, Christmas this year won’t be a very merry affair.