By the end of the 1970s the boardroom (and courtroom) battle for control of CCM, waged between Norton Cooper (owner of the Seaway Hotel chain) and Ben Levy (owner of Levy Bros. Auto Parts) had left the venerable company in a precarious state.
Its fate was all but sealed in 1978 with the departure of Ben Virgilio who had made a valiant attempt to turn the company around, but was less-than-pleased to discover that the company's newest owners, the Cummings family of Montreal, had little to no intention of putting any new money into the operation, choosing instead to seek financial assistance from the the Ontario government, an institution reluctant to get involved in private enterprise, even when the fate of a Canadian institution, such as CCM, hung in the balance.
As a result, by 1982 the situation at CCM was grim to say the least. Not only was the company saddled with an inefficient plant, costly labour rates and out-dated equipment, it was being brought to its knees by high interest rates and a large debt load. With an operating loss of $4.3 million expected for 1982, the company’s liquidation value stood at close to $12 million less than its total debts. The end was inevitable.
It came on October 13, 1982, when what had once been a proud Canadian enterprise was placed in receivership. The pain of the company's demise reverberated throughout the Canadian business community. While some of its competitors had watched its accumulating difficulties with a certain degree of satisfaction, there were others concerned about the effects CCM's failure would have on the industry as a whole.
Following a meeting on October 30th at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, a moratorium was placed on all company payments to secured and unsecured creditors, while efforts were made to find a buyer for the crippled operation. It proved to be a difficult task. CCM's market share for both bicycles and sporting goods had plunged to such a degree that takers were few and far between.
One company that was interested was Cooper Canada Ltd., at the time Canada's largest manufacturer of sporting goods. The Cooper family hoped to integrate the CCM skate-making operation into their Toronto plant. In the end, however, their $5,000,000 bid would not be enough.
On December 8, 1982, Quebec Industry Minister Rodigue Biron announced that the assets of CCM had been bought by Procycle of St. Georges, Quebec.
The sale of CCM and the loss of its jobs to a Quebec company brought a swift and heated reaction from United Auto Workers' Administrative Assistant, Robert Nickerson, who wrote to Ontario Premier William Davis decrying “poor management by the CCM corporation and profit gouging by the previous owners, the Levy brothers,” who it was pointed out still owned the actual plant in Weston. (Robert Nickerson to Hon. William G. Davis, January 10, 1983, Canada Archives, File 23 - 100 - C23)
Despite the best efforts of both the government and the employees to come up with a solution, Premier Davis argued that, in the end, there simply was no investor ready to continue the bicycle operation in Ontario. As a result, according to Davis, the interim receiver had little alternative but to accept what appeared to be a reasonable offer from Procycle.
At the time, Procycle, a company that had been importing and assembling bicycles since 1971, paid $8,000,000 for the assets of CCM, later selling much of the inventory to a dealer in London, Ontario and moving what equipment it could salvage from the Weston plant to Quebec.
Although they now owned the rights to the CCM name, Procycle had no immediate plans to market a new line of CCM bicycles. According to Raymond Dutil, president of the company, consumers were likely to resist paying a higher price for CCM bicycles when they had become leary of the quality.
“Basically, I bought the company's assets for the parts, which we need in the winter," said Raymond Dutil, president of Procycle. (Jack Willoughby, "CCM"s Failure Could Cost Ottawa Almost $13 Million to Cover Loans," Globe & Mail, February 28, 1983.)
By March 1983 the once state-of-the-art plant in Weston stood empty and abandoned. It remained that way for the next there years until April 1986 when Greenspoon Bothers Ltd. began its demolition. A portion of the 13.2 acre site on Lawrence Avenue became a strip mall featuring another Canadian icon Tim Horton’s.
Above: Ammadio Velocci supervises demolition of the CCM plant on Lawrence Ave.
Below: City of York Mayor Alan Tonks and town staff take a final walk around the site.
Shortly after its purchase of CCM, Procycle sold the sporting goods division of the company to David Zunenshine, a Montreal real estate developer, who owned GC Knitting a manufacturer of polyester hockey jerseys, located in St. Hyacinthe, Que. With the purchase of the CCM hockey line, including the still popular Tack skates, Zunenshine renamed his company Sport Maska and became an instant player in the world of sporting goods.
In 1985 Zunenshine acquired yet another financially struggling company this time the St. Lawrence Manufacturing Co. the primary supplier of skate blades for CCM. Zunenshine shortened the company’s name to SLM Canada and expanded its product line. Because the purchase of the St. Lawrence Manufacturing Co. had given Zunenshine more manufacturing capabilities and plastic injection capacity than the required, the company began to make toboggans and plastic sleds.
In 1988 to offset the fact that much of his company's business was seasonal Zunenshine acquired Coleco Industries, a toy manufacturer that produced swimming pools and other plastic playthings for children. Like Zunenshine's other companies Coleco had been a state of bankruptcy at the time of the purchase. In 1990 bought another financially struggling toy company this time the U.S. based Buddy L Corp., a long-satnding maker of metal trucks and cars.
To raise capital for its various endeavours in November 1991 SLM Canada went public as SLM International with its headquarters now in New York. By February 1992 company stock had increased by 71%. The company seemed to be on a roll.
By 1994, however, SLM's high-flying days were over as rising advertising costs and a large debt overshadowed its ever increasing sales. The problem was compounded in September of that year when Zunenshine's real estate company was forced to file for bankruptcy. SLM stock once trading at over $30 was now worth less than $7. As a result, in October 1995 SLM filed for bankruptcy protection with a debt of $184.6 million.
In April 1997 SLM emerged from bankruptcy with Gerald Wasserman, a former NHL back-up goalie and retired chartered accountant living in California, as its new CEO. With a reputation for turning companies around and a five year contract, Wasserman immediately began to consolidate the SLM operation, closing down many of its facilities and moving its head office back to Montreal from New York.
In the the fall of 1998 SLM became the largest producer of hockey equipment in the world when it acquired the Montreal-based Sports Holding Corp., a leading sporting goods manufacturer whose brands included Koho (Finland), Titan, Jofa (Sweden), Canadien and Heaton. The newly-formed company had world-wide sales of over $200 million.
In March 1999 SLM officially changed its name to The Hockey Company with headquarters in Montreal and warehouses and manufacturing facilities in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. In totla The Hockey Company ran 12 different operations, including stick-making facilities in Cowansville and drummondville, Que. and a hockey apparel factory in St. Hyacinthe, Que. The heart of the operation, however, was its 138,000 sq. ft. facility in St. Jean-Sur-Richelieu, a half-hour drive southwest of Montreal, where a workforce of close to 300 made hockey skates, sticks, helmets and other equipment for some of the best hockey players in the world. For the moment at least it seemed part of the CCM legend would live on. (To be continued.....)