Lo­cal Whole­sale Sports clos­ing doors

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

The Whole­sale Sports chain of a dozen hunt­ing, fish­ing and camp­ing sup­ply stores in Western Canada, in­clud­ing an out­let in Prince Ge­orge, is shut­ting down af­ter 30 years in busi­ness, leav­ing 545 work­ers with­out jobs.

The op­er­a­tion owned by Cal­gary-based UFA Co-op­er­a­tive Ltd. closed stores on Thurs­day af­ter­noon to tell work­ers their jobs would be end­ing by yearend. In­ven­tory liq­ui­da­tion sales are to be­gin to­day and run un­til Dec. 28.

No new on­line pur­chases are to be pro­cessed, the com­pany said, adding all cur­rent on­line or­ders will be filled.

CEO Carol Kitchen said UFA – the for­mer United Farm­ers of Al­berta – bought the retail chain in 2008 in an at­tempt to di­ver­sify the mem­ber-owned com­pany away from its tra­di­tional agri­cul­tural and fuel ser­vices.

But stiff com­pe­ti­tion and fall­ing sales con­vinced the UFA board it was time to go back to its tra­di­tional fo­cus.

“If you think about Ca­bela’s, Bass Pro and oth­ers en­ter­ing the mar­ket­place, they were not in place 10 years ago in 2008,” she said in an in­ter­view.

“We are a 109-year-old or­gani- za­tion that has its roots in ru­ral Al­berta and that’s where our fo­cus will be in the fu­ture.”

Kitchen said the com­pany con­sid­ered sell­ing the chain with stores in B.C., Al­berta, Saskatchewan and Man­i­toba but con­cluded shut­ting it down was the best op­tion.

She said it has been prof­itable over the time it was owned by UFA.

The chain re­ported rev­enue of $103 mil­lion in 2016, down nine per cent from $113 mil­lion in 2015.

Kitchen wouldn’t say how much it will cost UFA to end the leases on its stores.

The news comes at a time of con­sol­i­da­tion for out­doors des­ti­na­tion su­per­stores with Amer­i­can giant Bass Pro Shops snap­ping up ri­val Ca­bela’s in a US$4.5-bil­lion deal an­nounced a year ago. Both U.S. com­pa­nies op­er­ate stores in Canada.

Kitchen said the growth in on­line pur­chas­ing has also hurt sales at Whole­sale Sports’ brickand-mor­tar out­lets.

Retail an­a­lyst John Williams of J.C. Williams Group said web­site stores are hurt­ing all big box chains be­cause they of­fer con­sumers more choices. He said he ex­pects more con­sol­i­da­tion to come in most big box store cat­e­gories.

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