B'Gosh - Oshkosh puts itself up for sale

OSHKOSH B'GOSH, the US retailer best known for its sturdy children's clothing, may sell itself to a larger rival or a private equity firm. It is thought to have hired the investment bank Goldman Sachs to consider its options.

OshKosh, based in the town of the same name in Wisconsin, was formed in 1895, making overalls for farmers and railroad workers. It was not until the early Sixties that its business took off, when it started to make the same outfits for children "so sons could dress like their fathers", according to the company's marketing.

OshKosh has tried in recent years to use its all-American brand to boost its presence in the adult market and to add other goods, such as car seats and buggies. In 2003 and 2004 it opened 15 "lifestyle" stores across the US, selling home accessories and clothes for children and adults.

OshKosh has experienced fierce competition from discount stores such as Wal-Mart, and last week announced it was rolling back on the strategy because sales of lines other than childrens wear were sluggish. A spokesperson said of a New York Post story, which reported that OshKosh had spoken to several investment banks about its strategic options: "The company does not comment on rumour and speculation." Goldman also made no comment.

OshKosh is 94 per cent owned by the Hyde family, which has run it since the 1930s. A possible block to any sale may be its high stock-market valuation. Its shares were up as much as 18 per cent in New York yesterday, valuing it at $320m (pounds 172m). It has no debt and $12.8m in cash.

Possible suitors include Jones Apparel, which owns the upmarket New York department store Barneys; Liz Claiborne; and Kellwood, the owner of Gerber Childrenswear. Another possibility is Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, which owns the maker of the children clothes line Garanamils. Other private equity firms also are expected to take a look.

OshKosh operates 150 outlets and speciality stores, and sells through 4,600 stores worldwide.

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