By  on July 30, 2007

Allen Questrom has another project: Deb Shops Inc.

Questrom has been tapped as non-executive chairman of the 75-year-old Philadelphia-based juniors chain, which was acquired Friday by Lee Equity Partners for about $395 million. The announcement of the deal confirmed a WWD report July 3 that Deb Shops was up for sale.

And Questrom has big plans for the 337-store chain. He said Lee Equity, where he is a senior adviser, is eager to expand the company and also will be pursuing additional opportunities in retail as well as in the insurance, consumer goods, entertainment and health care sectors.

"I always loved the juniors business," said Questrom. "There is an opportunity to grow it because everybody is focusing on the contemporary business. Juniors is always unique and always changing."

Deb Shops operates specialty apparel stores under the Deb and Tops 'N Bottoms names. The chain posted $327 million in sales last year. The company has a strong balance sheet, is known for its high-low pricing and recently has boosted plus-size merchandise so that it's sold in about one-third of the stores.

Questrom said Deb Shops, which is concentrated in the Northeast but is spread across 42 states, has particularly good growth potential in Florida, Texas and California, where the brand has either a minor presence or no presence at all. In addition, Questrom noted a high percentage of those who shop Deb Shops are Hispanic, the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S.

He characterized juniors as "a very competitive" apparel segment. "But Deb Shops is differentiated by its fashionable, value-oriented merchandise and strong positioning with junior regular and plus-size customers," added Questrom. "We look forward to growing the company's already-strong customer base and continuing to roll out its plus-size merchandise offering."

Nonetheless, the 67-year-old Questrom's new role at Deb Shops might raise some eyebrows, given that he's taken on much larger retail enterprises as the former chief executive of J.C. Penney, Federated Department Stores and Barneys New York. He's also on the Wal-Mart board, and his name perennially has surfaced when there has been speculation regarding major retail executive vacancies.

Deb Shops was 66 percent owned by insiders, including several senior executives who have been with the store for years and are of retirement age.

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