Who will buy Savage Arms? Big gun makers staying quiet, for now

The back of the Savage Arms display at the Vista Outdoor booth during the annual NRA-AM in Dallas on May 4, 2018. (Photo: Daniel Terrill/Guns.com)

It’s still anybody’s guess who will buy Savage Arms — the affordable rifle maker within Vista Outdoor’s shrinking portfolio of brands — as executives continue teasing investors with mentions of interested parties.

The outdoor conglomerate said earlier this month its moving ahead on a plan to divest Savage and use the proceeds to push innovations in ammunition — the “core” of its business — but offered little else in the way of which other big-name gun makers might secure a deal.

“Smith & Wesson would be a good fit for them because, you know, they don’t have much in the way of long arms,” Rich Duprey, a market analyst and writer for Motley Fool, told Guns.com Thursday. “Of course, Ruger also should be considered. They’re looking to make acquisitions and they have a rifle division already, so they’d be well positioned to take on Savage.”

American Outdoor Brands, Smith & Wesson’s parent company, didn’t respond to requests for comment from Guns.com about its interest in Savage. Spokespersons for both Ruger and Vista likewise declined interviews, citing regulations for publicly-traded companies.

Duprey said no matter who buys Savage — even a smaller, privately-held company — selling off its firearm brand likely won’t serve Vista’s investors well. “I think it’s a foolish move,” he said. “I tend to be pro-gun, so anytime someone starts bailing out of the market, I just think it’s a foolish move on their part.”

He cited American Outdoor Brands’s expansion into recreational and sport products, growing into a “niche player in a very large market.” He argued a similar strategy for Vista may not pan out. “They’re basically going to be an outdoors market except for the ammunition component,” he said. “I don’t know that that’s going to do well for them.”

Vista Chief Executive Officer Chris Metz said he expects the company “will have good news to share” before the end of its fiscal year in March. “Our team is now laser focused on the divestiture process for Savage Arms,” he said. “We’ve chosen a financial advisor for the transaction and are beginning to engage with potential buyers for the Savage brand.”

Metz expects a strong auction process will unfold with bids from strategic and financial buyers. “I’m pleased that our transformation plan is resonating with some seasoned and successful brand leaders who want to be a part of this turnaround,” he said.

Metz, former president of Arctic Cat — a Minnesota-based snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle manufacturer — first hinted at his new vision for Vista just weeks after taking over when he told investors “the company grew too fast and beyond its core” after acquiring more than 50 brands over the last three years. A downturn in sales post-election only compounded the situation, he added.

“We can confidently say that our core lies in the hunting and shooting sports market and in adjacent activities, such as camping and hiking,” he said in May. “Our key consumer is someone who participates in these and other outdoor activities.”

Since revealing its plan to sell off non-essential brands, Vista finalized a $158 million sale of its eyewear companies — Bollé, Serengeti and Cébé — to a private equity firm in Europe in August.

Duprey didn’t rule out a private equity sale for Savage, either, but warned against it after watching Remington crumble under financial strain this year.

“I have a hard time these days after the whole thing with Remington thinking that private equity would get involved in a firearms company,” he said. “But you never know of course.”

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