Business

New Balance, private equity firm buying Rockport for $280m

Rockport, a pioneer of the comfortable dress shoe, also designs and sells casual shoes and boots.
Rockport, a pioneer of the comfortable dress shoe, also designs and sells casual shoes and boots.

New Balance and a Boston private equity firm are teaming up to purchase The Rockport Co. from the Adidas Group for $280 million.

Rockport was one of the early pioneers of the comfortable dress shoe, a product the Canton company is still known for today. It also designs and sells casual shoes and boots.

The company was founded in 1971 by the father and son duo Saul and Bruce Katz. The pair wanted to use sports technology to make dress shoes more comfortable and lighter.

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In the beginning, they peddled their products around New England from the trunk of their car. Over the first nine months of 2014, Rockport recorded $215 million in sales, according an Adidas financial report.

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New Balance of Boston and the investment firm Berkshire Partners said Friday they intend to combine Rockport with Drydock Footwear, an affiliate of New Balance, to form a new company specializing in high-quality dress and casual shoes. The company will be called The Rockport Group and include the brands Cobb Hill, Aravon, and Dunham, which are owned by Drydock.

All 1,200 existing Rockport employees will transition to the new company, which will remain in the Boston area, according to a source close to the deal. Rockport currently employs about 100 people in Massachusetts.

Bob Infantino, the president of Drydock and a shoe industry veteran, has been tapped to served as chief executive of The Rockport Group. He previously worked as an executive vice president at Rockport and later served as president for The Clarks Cos. in North America.

Infantino made the US business the “crown jewel” of Clarks, a global company based in the United Kingdom, said Madison Riley, a retail analyst with Kurt Salmon in New York.

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“He’s a very talented guy in the footwear business,” Riley said. “He’s a good leader, understands the business, and knows how to succeed.”

Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst with the NPD Group of New York, said the acquisition will allow New Balance to increase the scale of its casual and dress shoe business and cut costs.

Powell said New Balance will be able to consolidate manufacturing, materials, and the expertise of its existing Drydock brands with Rockport.

“You’re spreading out costs, expenses, and opportunities across a much broader spectrum of brands now,” Powell said.

Analysts say the acquisition is also a strategic move to diversify New Balance’s portfolio. The footwear industry often goes through cycles where different categories become popular or fade.

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Adidas has been looking to unload Rockport since at least last spring. Rockport was acquired by Reebok International Ltd. in 1986. Adidas inherited the company when it bought Reebok in 2006 for $3.8 billion.

Adidas said in a statement that it was unable to find synergies between Rockport and its athletic shoe business.

The sale is expected to close later this year. Adidas, New Balance, and Berkshire Partners all declined to comment.

Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @tarynluna.