For Barneys New York, 2010 could be eventful. While the chain has been beset by the worldwide decline in luxury sales and an uncertain future, it’s persevering.
But Barneys’ fate goes hand-in-hand with that of its parent company, Dubai World, which has been rocked by the collapse of the real estate market and debt burdens — but it did get a $10 billion bailout from Abu Dhabi late last year. Last week, David Jackson, chief executive officer of Istithmar World, a division of Dubai World, stepped down and was replaced by Andy Watson, as interim ceo.
With traffic at Barneys stores generally slow, Dubai World, through its Istithmar investment arm, could give another cash infusion to support Barneys’ operations following last year’s $20 million shot in the arm. There’s a sense that Barneys could close a few doors, most likely Co-Op units rather than the much larger Barneys New York flagships, which are harder to close due to stricter commitments to landlords. It is believed that Barneys has “kickout” clauses written into leases on a few flagship sites, enabling a store to close if it falls below a certain volume level. No openings are planned for 2010, though Barneys has been scouting Brooklyn for a Co-Op.
Deeper restructuring is expected since investment banking boutique Perella Weinberg Partners was retained in August by Barneys to advise on options over the restructuring of its debt. Istithmar is said to have invested $100 million into Perella Weinberg.
Last fall, there was a slight uptick in the luxury business, giving Barneys some hope for this year. Business rose 7 percent in October, but sales slid back into the negative column in November, approximately in the high teens. Factors and vendors continue to show support and ship with extended payment terms. A positive signal to vendors, encouraging them to be more supportive, would be if Barneys finally hired a ceo, though lately the search has quieted down. There hasn’t been a ceo at the store since July 2008, when Howard Socol left.
Considering the high price Istithmar paid for Barneys — more than $900 million in 2007 — and the woes permeating the luxury world, the retailer is a tough sale, though Dubai World has been considering it. Barneys units that opened in Dallas, Boston, Las Vegas and Phoenix over the past three years have not gained traction, raising doubts about the portability of the brand and its stable of high-end, often esoteric designer labels. In addition, any buyer faces the prospect of having to renegotiate leases, notably the 10-level, 235,000-square-foot Madison Avenue flagship. The lease on the flagship expires in 2019, but flagship rents are always negotiated years in advance to help plan the business.
A large portion of Barneys’ bank debt is held by two hedge funds — Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos. and Perry Capital, headed by Richard Perry. Yucaipa bought the debt from Citibank. Sources familiar with Yucaipa’s operations have said there is no particular strategy in place for Barneys, contrary to published reports it and Perry Capital could be pushing for control of the retailer.