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Swimco gains in size with buyout of Swimwear Etc
Dec '11
Western Canadian swimwear retailer Swimco has purchased Swimwear Etc, increasing their store count from 14 to 25, and expanding their reach into all four western provinces. With the closing of the deal, Swimco becomes one of the largest swimwear retail chains in North America, employing 250 people.

Swimco's Head Office will remain in Calgary, Alberta. "The entire acquisition process has been very synergistic", says Swimco President Lori Bacon. "Swimwear Etc was also a family-owned and operated business, with similar swimwear lines and customer service philosophy."

As of December 1, 2011, all Swimwear Etc locations will be rebranded under the Swimco banner. New markets for Swimco as a result of the acquisition include Edmonton, Saskatoon, Nanaimo, and Winnipeg, with expanded coverage in Calgary and Vancouver.

In 1975, Lori's mother Corinne Forseth started Swimco as a mail-order swimwear business catering to the needs of swim teams, lifeguards and synchronized swimmers across Canada. In 1980, Lori joined her mother's business, and together they added fashion swimwear to the product offering.

Also onboard were current Swimco co-owners Steve Forseth (Lori's brother) and her husband Dave Bacon. A modest warehouse soon expanded to three retail locations in Calgary. In the late 1980's, Swimco moved into the Vancouver market, and continued their steady expansion into strategic locations throughout British Columbia and Alberta.

Expansion did not come easily, as banks were hesitant to support the small family-owned operation. In addition, landlords of shopping malls were hesitant to support a non-national retailer. Sustainable growth came through a reinvestment of earnings and a strategy of opening new locations when opportunities in strong new markets presented themselves, without overtaxing the resources of the business.

In 2002, a 60-store competitor expanded to Western Canada. This prompted the decision to divest the less-profitable Team Sales division, in order to dedicate more resources to development of retail store operations. Swimco viewed the introduction of this competitor (who later closed their stores in Western Canada) as an opportunity and a challenge to improve customer service, product offering, and store locations. As a result, Swimco reached record sales and returns on investment.

Swimco's business model is based on strong relationships with customers, employees, and suppliers. Says Andrew Thomas, Vice President of the Swimwear Division for Warnaco Canada, "Speedo is proud to have been a supplier to Swimco from the very beginning. We have seen Lori and her family grow the business in textbook fashion by always having the right product in the right store locations and topping that with informed and caring attention to their customers."

Swimco's competitive advantage is their in-store experience. Salespeople are trained as "Fit Experts", to identify each customer's unique needs and to be sensitive to insecurities about wearing swimwear. The Fit Experts' product knowledge and interpersonal skills are continually developed, to ensure an experience that supports Swimco's tagline of "swimwear shopping made easy".

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