Ascena Retail Group has sold a majority stake in women’s chain Maurices Inc. in a deal valued at $300 million as it looks to shore up its balance sheet.
The new majority owner of the Duluth, Minn.-based retailer, which caters to women in the twenty- to thirtysomething age range in small towns and midsize cities across the U.S. and Canada, is a subsidiary of British private equity firm OpCapita.
Certain members of the Maurices management team have also invested alongside OpCapita, while Ascena, which owns Ann Taylor and Dressbarn, will retain an equity interest in the business.
The sale comes at a time when Ascena has been struggling, with its chairman and chief executive officer David Jaffe stating that structural changes in the industry have impacted a number of retailers and it has not been immune to these challenges.
This was highlighted by a second quarter loss of $32.7 million in its value fashion unit that includes Maurices, which Jaffe previously described as “operating at an unacceptable level of profitability.”
While the deal appears to have been unexpected, Steven L. Marotta, managing director of equity research at CL King & Associates, commented that the benefits of the transaction for Ascena are “multifold.”
“Deleveraging the balance sheet, while simultaneously removing one of the consistent laggards [comp and profitability] from Ascena’s portfolio, is certainly viewed positively,” he said in a note to clients.
Marotta wasn’t the only one to approve of the deal, with shares in Ascena closed up 8.4 percent to $16.
As for management, Maurices will continue to be led by George Goldfarb, president and ceo, and its current management team, although one significant addition will be Jeff Kirwan, the former president and ceo of Gap brand, who will join as executive chairman.
Kirwan departed Gap in February 2018, with Art Peck, ceo of its parent company Gap Inc., stating at the time that it had not achieved the operational excellence and accelerated profit growth that it had hoped for.
Of the deal, Chris McDermott, managing director at OpCapita, said: “We believe Maurices represents a compelling opportunity in the U.S. market with clear parallels with other OpCapita investments. The business provides a strong platform from which to apply the operational improvement strategies we have successfully implemented to drive growth and improve profitability in other businesses.”