Perry Ellis’ Hunt For An Action-Sports Brand

John Sabo was hugely influential in his role as head men’s buyer for Ron Jon Surf Shop, and you always could rely on Sabo to give you an accurate view of what was happening on his sales floors. So there was more than a little surprise (and worry) when it was announced in November that Sabo had jumped from Ron Jon to Perry Ellis, a somewhat stodgy line of brands that nevertheless brought in more than 280-million dollars in revenue last year.

Even more surprising was the news that Perry Ellis was looking to get involved with the action-sports market through an acquisition or strategic partnership. We caught up with Sabo for the lowdown on his new position and Perry Ellis’ interest in the surf market.

How did you get involved with Perry Ellis?

John Sabo: I met the president of Perry Ellis International, Oscar Feldenkreis, a couple of years ago when Ron Jon was researching the possibility of doing some domestic licensing. Oscar met our CEO and some of our board members. At the time it just wasn’t the right call for where Ron Jon was at, but I stayed in touch with Oscar. When he had questions about the surf industry or what was happening in young men?s we would end up talking or having lunch.

He realizes that for any company to survive in this day and age you have to have a portion of your market in the teen market — that’s where all the growth is. Perry Ellis International has tremendous licenses. They own Perry Ellis and a brand called Munsingwear. They also do Grand Slam, the golf line Ping, Mondo di Marco, and they just bought the swimwear line Jantzen. So they have tremendous namebrand equities, but most of them are department-store brands. [IMAGE 2]

Oscar asked me if they got into the surf industry or the action-sports industry would I want to come and run that division.

It was a tough decision for me. The quality of life at Ron Jon of being able to wear cargo shorts and a Hawai’ian shirt to work versus jumping back in to more of a corporate lifestyle made it a tough call. But the opportunity of being able to work with the resources and people of Perry Ellis and being able to take one or two of their divisions and really grow them into 100- or 150-million-dollar businesses was too much of an opportunity to pass up.

So what’s your title?

I’m the director of men’s swimwear and accessories. That includes any of the brands with men’s swimwear or accessories. I’m also doing a lot of brand management, making sure all parts of each brand are telling the same story.

What’s the situation at Ron Jon? In some ways you’ve left a big hole there.

It was a tough decision, but Ron Jon has some really great merchants in place. Debbie Harvey is a great merchant, and she’s really done a phenomenal job — particularly in the women’s and accessories part of the Ron Jon business. Now that she’s been there for a while, and she’s got those businesses really running smoothly, it will give he a chance to focus a little more on men’s.

Emma Prior, who had been our shoe and sunglass and accessory buyer, was promoted to Debbie’s old position. She has a familiarity with the brands and a good relationship with them. Plus, Florida has a great group of reps. A lot of them are based out of Cocoa Beach and with Ron Jon being such a key account, those guys are going to work really hard to make sure everything runs smoothly. The Ron Jon brand management job will end up going to a different person, and what I was doing with licensing will end up going to our director of corporate development.[IMAGE 1]

How will Perry Ellis get involved with the action-sports market?

The company really wants to diversify into the action-sports arena, but I don’t know where the best opportunities for that will be yet. It could be through acquisition or a license or strategic partnership. There’re a lot of ways to do that, but hopefully I’ll help spearhead that process and that company wwould fall under my umbrella here.

I picture a lot of ears perking up as they read this.

Yeah, and it’s tough for me to get into specifics right now, but we’re going to be out there looking at where the opportunities are. When the right deal is there, it will happen. I would say sooner rather than later.