Big 5 was founded in September 1955 by Maurie I. Liff, Harry A. Liff and Robert W. Miller, father of current Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steven G. Miller. The Company originally operated five stores in downtown Los Angeles, Burbank, Inglewood, Glendale, and San Jose, California under the trade name "Big 5 Stores."
In our early years, Big 5 concentrated on World War II army surplus items, as well as tents and air mattresses the Company manufactured itself, plus assorted house wares and hand tools. From the earliest days of the chain Big 5 used print advertisements. Consistently advertising on the back page of the main news section of the Los Angeles Times, our customers grew accustomed to looking there for weekly specials. Sporting goods soon became part of the product mix, a natural for the highly active population of Southern California. In fact, sports merchandise became so popular that management decided to specialize in it, and in December, of 1963 we changed our trade name to "Big 5 Sporting Goods."
By March 1971, Big 5 had grown to 19 stores, at which point the Company was acquired by Thrifty Drug Stores, the West Coast's largest chain of drug stores. Big 5 operated as a subsidiary of Thrifty for the next 21 years. With Robert Miller still leading the Company he helped found, Big 5 continued to prosper. By 1992, Big 5 had grown to 140 stores in California, Nevada, and Washington. To support our growth, the company built a 440,000 square foot distribution center in Fontana, California that was twice the size of our previous facility.
In 1992, Company management acquired Big 5 in conjunction with Leonard Green & Partners, a Los Angeles private equity firm. Robert Miller continued as CEO and Chairman of Big 5, while his son, Steven, was named President and Chief Operating Officer. During the first year following the change of ownership, Big 5 opened ten stores, followed by 15 in both 1993 and 1994, and 19 units in 1995. In the process of expansion, the chain entered the new markets of Arizona and Idaho in 1993, and New Mexico, Oregon, and Texas in 1995.
In November 1997, the Millers led a management effort to acquire a controlling interest in the company by raising $250 million. With this transaction, many of the chain's employees now had a financial interest in the company and a renewed commitment to make Big 5 Sporting Goods prosper.
In June 2002, Big 5 held an initial public offering (IPO), resulting in over $100 million being raised to finance future growth. Management planned to continue our strategy of controlled expansion, especially in markets beyond California. To accommodate this growth, in 2005 Big 5 opened a nearly one million square foot automated, state-of-the-art distribution center in Riverside, California. Today, Big 5 Sporting Goods continues to grow and prosper by maintaining our core strategy of providing convenient shopping and low prices.