'Business as usual' for 50 Below customers while ARI works on integration, says CEO

Publish Date: 
Nov 8, 2012
By Holly J. Wagner

DULUTH, Minn. – A bankruptcy court judge has approved ARI Network Services’ acquisition of 50 Below’s retail unit from the dealer website provider’s bankruptcy. Now, ARI has work ahead of it -- to understand the former 50 Below operation and the technology, and to integrate its workforce within the ARI system.

In the meantime, ARI's CEO says it's just about business as usual.

50 Below filed for Chapter 11 protections Aug. 29. The $5 million purchase, expected to go through by month’s end, would be a jewel in ARI’s crown and a springboard to broader markets, said CEO Roy Olivier, but little will change in the short term.

“We’ve been interested in acquiring 50 Below for a long time. We’ve had conversations as long as four years ago,” he said. “Dealers rank this platform above all others, including ARI.”

Adding the 50 Below platform to ARI’s strength in OEM and aftermarket content – bolstered with the recent addition of ready2ride.com – will help ARI offer new features to dealers, he said, and he added that the industry should expect announcements hopefully by Dealer Expo in February.

“Near term, the dealers are not going to see a lot of difference…Our strategic intent is to provide deep integration with the business management systems,” Olivier said. That means incorporating scheduling, loyalty programs and all the other aspects of a DMS into the 50 Below platform, he added.

"50 Below employees will see a lot of ARI employees walking around and trying to  understand how that platform works."

-- ARI CEO Roy Olivier 

The acquisition may also be an opportunity for ARI to move into different vertical markets, but it’s too soon to tell, Olivier said, partly because buying the assets out of bankruptcy doesn’t allow a long timeline for due diligence.

“Typically when we are onsite, we are in deep integration…Walking in here today, we don’t have a completed plan. We have a team coming in to tell us what the plan should be,” he said. And while he added that ARI plans to keep the “vast majority” of the 159 employees in the retail unit in Duluth, he candidly admits that, “Until a few days ago, we didn’t know how many employees were here.”

The speedy schedule means much of the action will be behind the scenes for at least a little while.

“Between now and when we close, we still will continue to operate as two competitive entities,” he said. “50 Below employees will see a lot of ARI employees walking around and trying to understand how that platform works.”

The retail unit includes the powersports division, as well as divisions devoted to auto tires, medical equipment and pool and spa supplies. ARI plans to keep and grow the powersports and tire divisions, and will make a decision later about the other two markets, Olivier said. (continued)