More than 5,000 American jobs saved — and 300 stores.
Those are the key data points sealing the deal to give the consortium led by Authentic Brands Group its win over competing bidder Sycamore Partners in the Aéropostale Inc. bankruptcy auction. While the support of Sycamore — a key creditor — was also needed, sources said the parties were also mindful of structuring a deal that would most likely get the approval of Manhattan Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane.
The transaction for almost $250 million that was agreed to late Thursday night still needs the approval of Lane, which is expected to come on Sept. 12. And while there could still be an objection or two from an interested party, such as a landlord for one of the store sites, the deal is likely to go forward as planned.
Ana Lucia Hurtado, an analyst at Reorg Research who has been tracking the bankruptcy proceedings, said, “What’s important is that this is a going concern bid. Bankruptcy judges are happy at the end of the day when the company [can continue operations] and the employees get to keep their jobs.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how the business upon exit from its tour in bankruptcy court would be structured, and executives at ABG could not be reached for comment. However, as a brand management firm, ABG will get ownership of the intellectual property assets of Aéropostale and control of the international licensing of the name. Because this is a joint venture partnership, ABG will also likely work with the real estate investment trust landlords — Simon Property Group and General Growth Properties — in operating the stores. That would make it a twist on the usual brand management model, but one that ABG is familiar with since it has done that before when it acquired HMX Group in October 2012 out of bankruptcy and found a way to keep the Hart Shaffner Marx factories in Chicago and Rochester, N.Y., in operation.
In the case of Aéropostale, it operates about 621 stores and has about 13,000 employees in total. In keeping the business as a going concern, sources said that between the 300 stores and staff at headquarters, at least 5,000 and mostly likely close to 6,000 individuals — or 45 percent of the current staff — will be able to keep their jobs.
The impact goes far beyond U.S. shores. Keeping the U.S. operation afloat was a necessary requirement to maintaining the international business intact, mostly comprised of franchise agreements. They not only rely on the U.S. presence to give the international business a certain amount of brand equity and a raison d’être, but the U.S. business also provides the inventory. Not only will those jobs be saved, but more jobs will be created when ABG expands the international presence through new territories and licensing agreements. That’s the pattern ABG has followed with its Juicy Couture business.
It was unclear what the terms were of the Sycamore bid, but sources didn’t believe that it included keeping the business or the jobs intact. And while the ABG consortium had the highest bid Tuesday night, there’s been speculation that Sycamore came back with a higher bid but that the ABG consortium won out because of the going concern component.
What’s still up in the air is the status of the current management team. While chief executive officer Julian Geiger is likely to continue for at least an interim period, there is speculation that ABG has been making the rounds on a search for senior level executives to join their team.
The conclusion of the auction puts an end to a very bitter and highly publicized battle between the teen retailer and its one-time lender Sycamore, whose affiliate provided a $150 million pre-petition loan. The case was marked by mudslinging and accusations of wrongdoing against the private equity firm, which in the end after a nearly two-week trial, was found by the bankruptcy judge to have done nothing wrong.
Sycamore, as a secured lender, will be repaid in full. So will Aéropostale’s post-petition lender, but professional fees have to be paid as well and it’s still too soon to know what, if anything, will be left for the unsecured creditors.