Skechers + Heelys = Sketchy?

Skechers (NYSE: SKX  ) has decided to make public its ardent feelings for fellow shoe company Heelys (Nasdaq: HLYS  ) . It's apparently been making acquisitive overtures since December, and has now publicly disclosed that it would like to acquire the wheeled wonder (more a wonder for rolling downhill, these days) for $142.8 million, or $5.25 per share.

Sure, this sounds like good news to Heelys' long-suffering shareholders, who have certainly had a dearth of good news since the stock tanked from its once-heady highs near $40 a share in early 2007, shortly after its IPO. The stock's up more than 10% in today's trading.

Honestly, though, if Heelys rejects the offer, which looks likely, I kind of think maybe Skechers should just drop the whole idea.  

But what about Skechers?
I'm not sure I view this as good news for Skechers, even if buying a beleaguered peer with a proprietary brand and a specific schtick might seem logical. (And of course, the rough patch of road has made Heelys' stock look a lot more reasonable.)

However, this kind of deal strikes me as similar to the problems we investors face when we're trying to figure out if "cheap" is "cheap enough." One of Heelys' biggest problems has been a product that looks like it has become a fast-fading fad. Maybe Skechers -- which, granted, is adept in following shoe trends -- sees something I don't about the long-term prognosis for Heelys. Be sure to read the letters Skechers disclosed, which may tell us a bit more about the story, though -- Skechers may have wanted to acquire Heelys (it "carefully considered a potential transaction") before its December 2006 IPO.

Skechers must really adore Heelys, warts and all, since troubles looked pretty clear when Heelys reported its most recent quarterly results. In its Form 10-Q, Heelys did say it has begun selling directly to retail customers in Europe. However, some major ugly changes on a quarter-over-quarter basis include having lost major customer Finish Line (Nasdaq: FINL  ) altogether, which represented 17% of Heelys' sales in last year's second quarter. The data for a retail customer named Journey's were also severely pared, representing only 4% of Heelys' sales versus 14% in last year's second quarter.

And of course, the overall picture was bleak, given how Heelys' quarterly net revenue plunged 75.5% to $18.2 million, even with the addition of some new customers overseas, and of course gross margin fell as some retailers reduced prices on the wheeled shoes due to their burgeoning inventories. All of this clearly looks like a fading fad to me.

The shoe's on the other foot … ouch
Back in February, I gave Skechers kudos as a Stock of the Week, but it has since stubbed its toe (not exactly unusual in the current environment). And of course, for the shoe companies that lose the trend, the economy's doldrums become a double whammy. However, I've been of the opinion that Skechers has a heck of a lot more long-term staying power than some other trendy footwear stocks.

Speaking of which, another beleaguered shoe retailer, Crocs (Nasdaq: CROX  ) , has also jumped on the news that Skechers is aiming to buy Heelys, which I find rather mystifying. After all, many companies have come up with Crocs-like footwear (including Skechers), so I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for some deal to come along and save the day. (Furthermore, I noticed that Crocs recently disclosed it needed an extension for filing its Form 10-Q due to the significant (I'd say harrowing) changes in its business last quarter -- sounds like that 10-Q's particularly required reading for Crocs shareholders.)

Obviously, today's euphoria seems way premature to me. News reports say Heelys will likely blow off Skechers' overtures (as it obviously has a history of doing, although if there's no sweetened offer it may cause some shareholder ire -- ask Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) shareholders how they have been feeling after the mess with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) ). And even if Skechers does buy Heelys, hopefully it's got a good sense of where it can take a company with a gimmick that may not even have true staying power.

At some point, I'm sure Talbots' (NYSE: TLB  ) acquisition of J. Jill looked like a great idea to somebody; it recently turned into a big, fat impairment charge. And while J. Jill was arguably a scary stock way back when, it wasn't really arguable that it was an all-out gimmick, either.

Maybe Skechers has it all figured out, though -- it's obviously been coveting some kind of relationship with Heelys for long enough. On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if pursuit of Heelys may just be force of habit after all this time. After all -- in investing, business, or life -- it can be difficult for any of us to admit that some of our long-standing "great ideas" may have been wrong.

Crocs is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems Pay Dirt pick. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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