Sunday, November 7, 2010

Checkpoint Systems moves corporate HQ to Philadelphia

"It’s not often a company with more than $800 million in annual sales establishes its headquarters in Philadelphia.

Even rarer is one that doesn’t make a big deal over it.

Checkpoint Systems Inc., a company that’s long had its headquarters in Gloucester County, moved its chief executive and about 20 other people into Center City in mid-August.

No press conference with the mayor. No news release announcing the move. Just the notation of a new “principal executive office” on the first page of recent Securities and Exchange Commission documents and a new dateline on this week’s earnings release.

Checkpoint, a maker of anti-theft and inventory-tracking systems for retailers, now shares the 24th floor of One Commerce Square, 2005 Market St., with Dolchin, Slotkin & Todd P.C., a small law firm.

Those executives and staff moved from 101 Wolf Dr. in Thorofare, where the company has about 250 employees in its research-and-development, accounting, human resources and other departments, according to Bob Powers, Checkpoint’s vice president of investment relations.

So we’re talking about a small office, equivalent in size to one touted by Mayor Nutter in an Oct. 18 news release for the Neiman Group, an advertising agency that received low-interest financing and tax credits from the city to expand its offices at 1619 Walnut St.

But having a New York Stock Exchange-listed technology company plunk its global headquarters smack in the middle of the city is quite a surprise. After all, doesn’t Philadelphia possess a lousy reputation when it comes to business-tax burden?

I asked Powers about that. “If it was so onerous, we wouldn’t have done it,” he said.

Could it be that Philadelphia’s office market functioned in almost free-market fashion? An office building had some empty space. A company scouted for a prime address at a good price. It signed a lease and moved in.

From his Market Street offices, chief executive officer Rob van der Merwe runs a very global enterprise, with 5,785 employees as of the end of 2009.

With operations in 30 countries, Checkpoint generated only 34 percent of its $772.7 million in 2009 net revenues from the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

Retail theft is a global problem. An annual study funded by Checkpoint found losses from shoplifting by customers and employees totaled $107.3 billion in 2010, down about 5.6 percent from the previous year.

Checkpoint and its competitors, such as Tyco International’s ADT Worldwide unit, peddle a variety of defenses to merchants. Retailers spent $26.8 billion on “loss prevention and security” in 2010, up 9.3 percent from 2009, states the study done by Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research in Nottingham, England.

Checkpoint had been contemplating a headquarters move three years ago, Powers said. But the financial crisis and recession and Checkpoint’s own restructuring delayed those plans.

Still, acquisitions made in recent years were starting to cause a space crunch in Thorofare as various functions were relocated there, Powers said.

Landing that year-to-year lease in the diamond-topped One Commerce Square became the solution.

It doesn’t sound like a long-term commitment to me, but maybe the city can employ its own loss-prevention methods to make sure Checkpoint remains happy with its choice."

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