Workwear category dominated by UK player
Irish company Portwest enters market
Australian-based Prime Mover Workwear is acquired by a major UK safety clothing company
Australian-based Prime Mover Workwear is acquired by a major UK safety clothing company
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It has acquired Australian brand Prime Mover Workwear in a multi-million dollar deal
HNN Sources
The AUD1.4 billion workwear market in Australia and New Zealand has seen the entrance of a major UK safety clothing company.

Prime Mover Workwear - founded by Australian entrepreneur, Brett Birkill and his wife Wandy as a small business above a fruit shop in Melbourne before becoming the largest privately owned workwear company in Australia - has been acquired by Irish firm, Portwest Limited, in a deal worth over 7.5 million euros (AUD10.5 million).

Portwest is a family owned business and manufactures safety clothing, personal protective equipment (PPE), footwear and other protective gear. It employs over 2000 staff and distributes to over 100 countries worldwide.

According to its most recent accounts, Portwest booked sales of more than 100 million euros (AUD140 million) during the financial year to the end of February 2016 and reported a profit of just over 12.5 million euros (AUD17.5 million).

The acquisition of Prime Mover Workwear is a significant geographical expansion and marks the start of the biggest privately owned workwear brand in South East Asia. Portwest CEO, Harry Hughes said:
We've been wanting to expand into Australasia for some time and have spent a lot of time looking for the best company in the region. We're confident we've found it and can't wait to see what the future holds for us in the territory.

Mr Birkill will stay on with the company as CEO for Australia and New Zealand. He told Inside Retail that the workwear space is one that crosses over multiple industries.
It's one of those industries where because it's not high fashion it often doesn't get a lot of press. But it touches pretty much every business around the country whether it's just a few hi-vis vests on the door or a full warehouse through to the general sector.
The retail side, which services the end consumer business, is booming and has shifted a little bit in recent times by moving heavily into the construction side after housing booms, especially in Melbourne and Sydney...

Mr Birkill said the new deal will mean a much larger range is on offer, with Portwest introducing a host of items. They include gloves, glasses, headwear and eyewear as well as more job specific items such as whites only for painters or heavy jackets for freezer workers.

Portwest is owned by brothers Cathal, Harry and Owen Hughes. Harry Hughes said:
As part of its expansion plans, Portwest has strategically positioned warehousing across five major global locations: USA, Dubai, UK, Poland and Ireland. The company has made considerable investment into factories in Bangladesh and there are plans for a manufacturing facility in Myanmar, where production will commence later this year.

Portwest has been designing and manufacturing high visibility garments, flame resistant clothing, footwear and PPE for well over 100 years. It was founded in 1904 by Charles Hughes, son of a small farmer. He was determined to make better workwear and footwear when he started his first Portwest factory. His core principles of exceptional design quality, value, and service still apply at the company today.
Deal making

Mr Birkill told SmartCompany in a recent interview the deal came about fortuitously, thanks to a conversation that was overheard in a small Irish store. He explained:
Portwest owns a number of smaller businesses in Ireland not related to workwear, and there was a gentleman from Australia visiting one in Westport last year. One of the owners of Portwest happened to be in that store at the same time, and was talking to a different man about expanding their workwear business into Australia.

The conversation was overheard by an Australian who was involved in the workwear market, and this led to Prime Mover's first connection with Portwest. Mr Birkill said:
The Australian guy overheard the conversation and mentioned he knew some people in the workwear industry in Australia, and that was our first connection.

Both Portwest and Prime Mover Workwear were employing KPMG as consultants, and through that connection, the first talks of an acquisition were made. He said:
Portwest wasn't actively flying to Australia and knocking on doors looking for connections, they had Australia firmly in their growth plan, but they didn't know where to start. That conversation really kicked it off.

Along with Mr Birkill and his wife, Prime Mover's staff will keep working at the company.

This also isn't the first time Prime Mover Workwear has fielded purchase offers from bigger companies, but Mr Birkill has previously turned them down, as they were never the "right fit". He said:
We had other groups look at the business, but we started this business from scratch, so we wanted to pass it on to someone who could develop it and take it to the next stage.
There have been a lot of brands bought by big public companies with models that just don't fit, like retail business buying wholesale brands. We wanted the right fit and we wanted the right people. If we had sold to one of the other offers, Prime Mover would not have succeeded.
HNN Sources

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