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Purchase adds to Peerless's distribution system

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Peerless Garments' parent company has acquired a corporate-sector uniform company with a sophisticated distribution system to augment Peerless's made-in-Canada technical garment operation.

Vancouver-based Comwest Enterprise Corp. -- which has owned 90 per cent Winnipeg-based Peerless since 2010 and was its only holding until this deal -- has acquired Mississauga-based Unisync Group Limited for $13 million.

For about 70 years, Peerless Garments has carved out a niche for itself making highly technical garments, mostly for Canadian government departments and agencies, especially for those such as the Department of National Defence, which require uniforms to be made in Canada.

But perhaps because of that specialized and increasingly unusual made-in-Canada feature, the company had not developed a sophisticated distribution system.

Unisync was owned by a private equity fund sponsored by Larry Tanenbaum, chairman and part owner of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

It operates a 100,000-square-foot distribution centre in Guelph and a smaller one in Calgary.

Unisync supplies uniforms to large corporate clients including Purolator and Air Canada, with manufacturing done in China and elsewhere offshore.

Last year, Unisync generated about $21 million in revenue compared to about $27.5 million at Peerless.

Albert El Tassi, the president of Peerless, said the addition of a company in the corporate-uniform business is a good fit with the Winnipeg operation that currently employs about 100 people.

"Unisync is a successful company that shows good potential for the future," El Tassi said. "I think we will be able to do better."

Now with both domestic and off-shore manufacturing capabilities, El Tassi said it is likely his Winnipeg shop will be able to satisfy short-run and fast-turnover work from Unisync that would be too costly or time-consuming to send overseas.

But perhaps the most strategic piece of the deal will be the acquisition of a distribution operation, something that was becoming increasingly necessary for Peerless.

More and more government procurement contracts require the winning bidder to have sophisticated distribution capabilities Peerless currently does not have.

Doug Good, the CEO of Comwest, said Peerless could have built its own, but the acquisition of Unisync and the combination of the two companies is a better option.

"The writing has been on the wall," Good said.

"You have to decide what you want to be moving forward. We concluded we needed that capability. You can't all of sudden go buy a system and do it yourself. You need credible accounts to show you have the capability."

Despite the fact Peerless had been supplying Canadian-government departments such as the military and the RCMP with sophisticated technical garments for almost 70 years, there was increasing demand for more direct distribution, for instance right to the soldier's home.

Because it lacked that capability until now, Peerless might have lost its qualification to bid on some of that work in the future.

Good said corporate customers -- as well as government -- are moving toward a web-based business-to-business front-end distribution model.

He said Unisync's system allows the individual to log into a "fitting" profile system, where dimensions are entered and then the garment can be shipped and tracked for the government or the corporate customer with a detailed reporting record generated.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2014 B3

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