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Nicole Miller Eyed by Suitors

Brand ceo Bud Konheim has engaged Mary Ann Domuracki, managing director at investment bank Financo, and is directing would-be investors toward her.

Stop calling me.

This story first appeared in the September 24, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That’s the message Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, has for the bankers, private equity firms, strategic players and other assorted dealmakers interested in buying his company. Instead, Konheim has engaged Mary Ann Domuracki, managing director at investment bank Financo, and is directing would-be investors toward her.

“We have been bombarded here with guys trying to buy the business,” Konheim said. “It’s escalated because it’s obviously very hot. I’m not staffed up to take those calls during the day. [I told Domuracki], ‘Take all these guys off my back.’ Nothing’s come up. I’m just tired of talking to everybody.”

In addition to exhausted, Konheim seemed bemused, semi-irritated and, yes, interested in the attention the brand is getting.

“What I get is, ‘This guy is worth billions. He’s got so-and-so capital. They just closed a bunch of deals. They are billion, billion, billion,’” Konheim said. “OK, so I say, ‘Does that get my attention?’ Not really.

“I’m always interested in an offer I can’t refuse,” he said. “I’m all ears, but so far, I haven’t heard anything. And there’s no offer and there’s no prospectus. We haven’t sent anything out.”

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Even so, Konheim, a canny Seventh Avenue player who launched the company with designer Nicole Miller in 1982, knows what he’s doing by hiring an investment adviser.

“When I said [to Financo], ‘Please handle all this stuff,’ I know I was opening a door for them to get active instead of passive,” he said. “I know what the consequences are of talking to someone like Financo, they want to do something.”

Financo enters the scene at a time when fashion brands are beginning to fetch better prices as investors look to re-create the enormous valuation garnered by Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. following its public offering.

Konheim and Miller own 70 percent of the company and its employees own the other 30 percent through a stock ownership plan set up in 2007. That makes any effort to buy the firm somewhat more complicated.

But dealmaking is a world where most problems can be overcome with money. And Nicole Miller is seen as an attractive property by some investors. The brand has proven its staying power over decades, but could also be developed in certain areas, such as retail.

The company had 22 stores at one point, but is now funneling more of its energy into its e-commerce site. “We realized in the middle of the night that we do not know how to run specialty stores, so we run three, which are profitable, but we got rid of all the rest,” Konheim said.

The brand — which also has myriad wholesale accounts, including a 600-door engagement with J.C. Penney Co. Inc. — has $450 million to $500 million in retail sales, Konheim said.

“We’re very profitable [and were] kind of all the way through the recession,” he said. “It’s mainly because of the size. We’re not mega anything. We’re not giant.”

Despite all the interest in the business, Konheim said he remains skeptical.

“My real belief is that nobody wants to run this business,” he said. “You’ve got to be kidding. Who wants to buy piece goods and deal with designers? Nobody wants to do that [even though] they say they want to.”