With great sadness, I've set aside my glossary of skateboarding terms. Now that France's conglomerate PPR has made a $608 million bid for Volcom (Nasdaq: VLCM ) , I may never again have an excuse to include the term "riding fakie" in a business article.
There's plenty of precedent for big companies swallowing subculture brands. Vans, a favorite brand among skaters, is owned by VF (NYSE: VFC ) , which also quietly holds brands such as North Face, Lee, Lucy, and Wrangler in its portfolio. But considering Volcom's "youth against establishment" motto, how rebellious can this skate- and surf-centered brand remain when lumped in with well-known PPR brands such as Puma and Gucci?
I can't help remembering acquisitions that tarnished or diluted brands, rather than making businesses any better. Talbots' (NYSE: TLB ) acquisition of J. Jill never really worked out for either retail concept. Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) historical hookup with AOL (NYSE: AOL ) didn't modernize Time Warner, but rather left AOL falling behind the times, and resulted in a multibillion-dollar loss.
If any Volcom shareholders share my bittersweet feelings, perhaps they're soothed by the premium price PPR plans to pay. Volcom's directors have agreed to sell out at $24.50 per share. Whether Volcom can retain its authenticity among fickle youth will be PPR's problem now.
I always considered Volcom more authentic than, say, Hot Topic (Nasdaq: HOTT ) , a perpetually lost teen trend-chaser that has tried to make a buck off every fad from the Twilight craze to Charlie Sheen's crazed rants. (Surprise: Hot Topic has marked down Charlie Sheen merchandise already. Duh, winning!)
Still, longtime Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick Volcom had a hard time maintaining its indie ways, especially in the last couple of economically difficult years. Its sales have slowed considerably since the heady times when it was known to report 20% to 40% annual revenue gains, and earnings have declined considerably since its peak $1.37 earnings per share in 2007.
Acquisitions, even at premium prices, always make me wonder what the future could have been. For those who invested in Volcom at its lows, the stock's a winner right now. Just try not to think about what the company might have lost in the process.