Adidas may jettison Rockport

Adidas may jettison Rockport

Germany’s Adidas Group is entertaining walking orders for The Rockport Co.

The athletic footwear company acknowledged yesterday that it has hired Guggenheim Partners to explore a possible sale of the 43-year-old, Canton-based shoe brand known for merging style with comfort and “walkability.”

“Rockport is not the strategic asset for us in the group,” CEO Herbert Hainer said in an analyst call. “Nevertheless, we worked hard to improve the products, improve the distribution and, therefore, we are growing the Rockport business last year by 6 percent. It will grow again this year, and I think this is one of the most attractive brands out there.”

Rockport was founded in Marlboro in 1971 as a walking shoe company and bought by Reebok International for $118.5 million in 1986. Adidas purchased Reebok in 2006.

Rockport produced 8 million pairs of shoes in 2013 and had net sales of $402.48 million, according to Adidas Group’s annual report.

The brand has about 120 employees in Canton — its global and North American headquarters — and more than 700 globally. All general functions of running the business, including men’s and women’s product development, design, sourcing, sales, operations, marketing and finance, are based in Canton, spokeswoman Janet Ries said.

Rockport, since it lacks an athletic focus, has never fit into the Adidas stable of brands, said analyst Matt Powell of Princeton Retail Analysis. “If, as (Adidas) says, there are interested parties, it is the right time to explore options,” he said. “Given the company’s struggles elsewhere, it makes sense to sell.”

The dress/casual footwear segment has suffered with the dominance of athletic shoes, according to Powell, and Rockport’s performance has been in the middle of the pack.

“I would assume that the most likely buyer would be strategic, with an eye to taking the brand down-market,” Powell said.

Rockport’s first-quarter revenue, reported yesterday by Adidas, fell 12 percent to $73.8 million.