published Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Chattanooga-based PlayCore aims to grow the business of play with new owners

Tyler Smith, 4, far left, watches her classmates from Kandy Kastle Second Generation child-care center play on honey-comb shaped jungle gym at  a bee theme "play pocket" on the newly opened PlayCore "Play Trail" playground, part of Riverpark located at South Chickamauga Creek on Amnicola Highway at Lost Mound Drive.
Tyler Smith, 4, far left, watches her classmates from Kandy Kastle Second Generation child-care center play on honey-comb shaped jungle gym at a bee theme "play pocket" on the newly opened PlayCore "Play Trail" playground, part of Riverpark located at South Chickamauga Creek on Amnicola Highway at Lost Mound Drive.
Photo by Staff File Photo.

Chattanooga-based PlayCore's chief executive said Friday that the sale of the playground and recreation equipment maker will signal more growth of the business that has already acquired nine companies in the past seven years.

"We've grown significantly here," said CEO Bob Farnsworth, noting the company now has 110 people in Chattanooga. That compares to about 50 in 2009.

New York City-based Sentinel Capital Partners, a private equity firm focusing on middle market investments, announced Friday it has bought PlayCore. Irving Place Capital, another New York private equity business, sold the Chattanooga company after owning the playground equipment firm for the past seven years. The terms of the sale weren't disclosed.

Farnsworth said that PlayCore, which also employs 350 people in Fort Payne, Ala., has been fortunate to work with Irving Place Capital, noting it supported the company's organic growth and acquisition strategy.

Employing 850 people countrywide, PlayCore has broadened the business by buying companies that make grandstands and bleachers, timing and scoring systems for athletic venues and bike storage systems.

Sentinel Capital Partners will take PlayCore to "the next stage of growth," Farnsworth said. "We're very pleased. Sentinel has a reputation as a value added partner and we look forward to working with Sentinel at a time when our industry is poised for growth."

Fort Payne Mayor Larry Chesser said PlayCore is a steady employer in his city.

"I hope they get bigger," said Chesser.

Sentinel said it has broad experience investing in specialty industrial businesses. Prior investments have been placed in companies such as Alemite (industrial lubrication equipment), Chase Doors (specialty doors), Chromalox (precision heating technology), and Colson (casters and wheels).

"PlayCore is an innovative leader and possesses a strong portfolio of leading brands," said Eric Bommer, a Sentinel partner, in a statement. "We are very excited to partner with PlayCore's talented management team."

Sentinel said it invests in management buyouts, recapitalizations, corporate divestitures, and going-private transactions of established businesses with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of up to $50 million.

Douglas Korn, a senior managing director of Irving Place Capital, said PlayCore achieved impressive growth in revenues and profits over its ownership period. He said it has worked with PlayCore's management team to position the business as "the innovative leader in its markets" and the "acquirer of choice."

In addition to PlayCore's product offerings, it offers services such as research, curriculum-based education programs, and advocacy resources to help customers align with funding sources.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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