Defender Industries acquired by Canadian online retailer
Published February 21. 2022 7:01PM
By Brian Hallenbeck Day staff writer
Waterford — A Canadian company that started as an online retailer of motorcycle gear has acquired Defender Industries, the marine outfitter that’s operated a Great Neck Road warehouse and outlet store since moving here from New Rochelle, N.Y., in 1996.
Montreal-based FortNine announced in a news release last week it had partnered with Novacap, a private equity firm, to buy Defender.
“FortNine and Defender share a passion for serving sports enthusiasts: We both have a very loyal customer base who trust our knowledge and experience to outfit them with the equipment they need,” Amin Sawaf, founder and president of FortNine, said in a statement. “It is truly a privilege to acquire a company with such a stellar reputation and we look forward to bringing our go-to-market expertise to the marine industry.”
Stephan Lance, Defender’s president, said Monday the deal closed in December and included the Defender building, 19 acres of land and all of the formerly family-owned company’s assets and liabilities. He declined to disclose financial terms.
The company’s name will not change. Its 130 employees, who’ve known about the transaction since December, will keep their jobs, according to Lance.
“FortNine is looking to grow the business, not change it,” he said. “The (Lance) family has five siblings, and there’s not enough money we can contribute to keep it growing. We needed a partner to take it to the next step.”
Lance said Defender has been marketing itself to potential buyers for the past three years. He said it has fewer than 100,000 customers, a small number compared to the nearly 12 million recreational boating vessels registered in the U.S.
Defender, founded in New York City in 1938 by Lance’s father, Sheldon, is an authorized dealer of some 85,000 marine products, inflatable boats and outboard motors. It is the largest independent discount marine supply firm in the country. FortNine, through its online store, provides motorcyclists with helmets, apparel, tires and parts, as well as dirt bike gear, snowmobile clothing and all-terrain vehicle accessories.
“The buyer already had made a strategic decision to grow in marine, they were already in it in a small way, and Defender provided a path for accelerated entry into a market they craved. …,” Lance wrote in an email. “What they will do specifically they are deep in study about. We’ve made huge strides in improving our web presence, and FortNine are experts in that area.”
Lance said the boating industry flourished amid the COVID-19 pandemic because it offered people a way to pursue recreation while social distancing.
“We like to call it 'nautical distancing',” he said. “You couldn’t travel in 2020 and 2021, but you could get on a boat.”
According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, U.S. sales of boats, marine products and services totaled $49.3 billion in 2020, up 14% over 2019. Supply-chain issues slowed further growth in 2021.
Asked if FortNine's acquisition will lead to physical expansion of Defender's facility, Lance said, "If I had an open checkbook, that's what I'd do."