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Haim Saban buys Paul Frank Industries

Power Rangers, meet the monkeys.

Haim Saban, who became a television tycoon by bringing the “Power Rangers” series to the U.S., has bought Paul Frank Industries Inc., a Southern California design, licensing and retail operation that began nearly 15 years ago in a Huntington Beach garage.

Its trademark Julius the monkey icon — a whimsical twist on the old-school sock monkey — adorns a line of apparel and accessories, including baby bibs, canvas bags, bike helmets and Lip Smackers brand lip balm.

Saban Capital Group, of which the Los Angeles billionaire is chief executive, made the acquisition. The two private companies would not disclose financial details, although reports suggest that Paul Frank Industries owners were hoping to fetch as much as $50 million.

“We paid full price,” Saban said in an interview. “Talk to me in two years and I should be able to say even though we paid full price, with our added value, it was well worth it.’ ”

Saban, who is part owner of Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications, plans to give greater exposure to the Paul Frank line of about 150 characters, including Clancy, a large-snouted giraffe, and Skurvy, a nonthreatening skull-and-crossbones figure that’s a takeoff on the original monkey. The two companies have been in talks since early this year, executives said.

Saban’s strategy has been to invest in brands and then build them into full-fledged media stars.

“If you ask me if there is going to be a Julius cartoon show, I would say I don’t know,” Saban said. “We will be looking at all of the potential media platforms for all of the characters.”

It was the second major purchase for Saban this year. In May, Saban Capital bought back the rights to “Power Rangers” from Walt Disney Co. in a transaction worth about $100 million. In the 1990s, Saban became a dominant force in children’s television producing live-action series with the costumed heroes, then known as the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”

Saban Capital this year established a fund of about $500 million to acquire brands. Elie Dekel, who is president of Saban Brands, said after the Paul Frank purchase, “We have plenty more to spend.”

The problem, Saban said, is that there are few iconic character properties on the market, particularly those that invoke feelings of nostalgia among consumers.

“You don’t see Warner Bros. selling Tom and Jerry. Turner is not selling Scooby-Doo, Viacom is not selling Dora the Explorer and Disney is not selling Winnie the Pooh or Mickey Mouse,” Saban said. “The brands that you can put on children’s pajamas, ones that give moms a feeling of warmth and comfort, are in short supply.”

Paul Frank Industries, which began with a line of vinyl wallets, was largely a wholesale and manufacturing business until last year, when it ramped up its licensing efforts. There are more than 30 Paul Frank retail stores, including six in the U.S. The company owned two of them — at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and in San Francisco — that were part of the acquisition deal.

Saban and his team believe that there are growth opportunities internationally, particularly in South America and China. The characters have been most popular in Europe, said Ryan Heuser, a co-founder and president of Paul Frank who will stay on as chief creative officer. Most of Paul Frank’s nearly 20-member creative team at the design group’s headquarters in Costa Mesa will remain, although corporate functions, including business strategy, will move to Saban’s offices in Century City.

John Oswald, a co-founder and chief executive of Paul Frank Industries, will leave the company. Company namesake Paul Frank Sunich left the firm in late 2005.

By folding into Saban Brands, the operation will get an infusion of capital and more heft in the media world, particularly in foreign markets.

“We feel that we have just scratched the surface,” Heuser said. “But with Saban’s international reach we think that there will be huge growth opportunities.”

meg.james@latimes.com


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