Lexington-based Fan Outfitters chain sold to national retailer

After Kentucky won the 2012 NCAA basketball title, Fan  Outfitters employee Nic Johnson brought out an  armload of championship T-shirts.
After Kentucky won the 2012 NCAA basketball title, Fan Outfitters employee Nic Johnson brought out an armload of championship T-shirts. Herald-Leader

Fan Outfitters, a Lexington-based chain of sports clothing stores started by two members of the Dawahare family, has been sold to the Lids Sports Group, based in Indianapolis.

The company, which operates Lids hat stores, including one in Fayette Mall, and other sports retail operations, announced the acquisition in a news release last week. The deal includes Fan Outfitters' seven stores and its online retail operation. The price was not disclosed.

Customers probably won't notice the change in ownership, Stephen Dawahare, one of the co-founders of Fan Outfitters, said Sunday.

The chain's stores — three in Lexington, two in Louisville and two in Oklahoma — are continuing to operate as Fan Outfitters, he said.

Lids Sports Group has retained all of the Fan Outfitters employees including Joe Kawaja, Dawahare's cousin and co-founder of Fan Outfitters, he said. Fan Outfitters employs more than 150 during peak times.

Kawaja at one time was the lead merchant of the well-known Dawahare's department stores, a longtime Kentucky retailer that at its height had 31 stores from Pikeville to Paducah. The last of the Dawahare stores closed in 2008.

In 2009, the two cousins partnered with former University of Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch to start Fan Outfitters. Their first store opened in Tates Creek Centre that September. The other two Lexington stores are at Palomar and Hamburg shopping centers.

"The business was doing extremely well," Dawahare said Sunday, but Fan Outfitters wanted to continue to grow. Because of new regulations imposed by the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, the group thought the Lids company would be better positioned to grow the Fan Outfitters brand, he said. Fan Outfitters had several previous offers to buy the operation but turned them down, Dawahare said.

"The unfortunate fact is that due to a number of policies that have been implemented recently, it has become tougher to grow businesses," said Dawahare, CEO of iVisionary, a private equity firm that helped fund Fan Outfitters. Dawahare was not involved in the Dawahare's department store chain.

Ken Kocher, president of Lids Sports Group, said in the news release that Fan Outfitters fit the group's overall strategy to build national retail sports clothing stores that cater to local fans. For example, Fan Outfitters stores in Lexington sell mostly UK apparel. The store in Norman, Okla., targets University of Oklahoma fans.

"This acquisition allows us to immediately build on the relationship that both Fan Outfitters and Lids brand have established with Kentucky, Louisville and Oklahoma fans," Kocher said.

Additionally Lids Sports Group will introduce its customization capabilities to the Fan Outfitters stores.

Lids operates more than 1,000 retail stores across the country and in Canada and Puerto Rico. It is a subsidiary of Genesco Inc., a publicly traded company based in Nashville.