The brands division of global advisory firm Gordon Brothers has made its first major acquisition in the form of Wet Seal’s intellectual property assets.
Gordon Brothers, still best known for its asset disposition business, was the winning bidder in the bankrupt retailer’s court-approved auction on March 2. Its $3 million bid bested the $1.5 million stalking horse offer from Canadian retailer YM Inc. The transaction is still subject to approval of the Delaware bankruptcy court.
Wet Seal filed its voluntary Chapter 11 petition for bankruptcy court protection on Feb. 1. The latest petition came two years after its previous filing in January 2015. Versa Capital, a private equity firm, had acquired the specialty chain out of bankruptcy. Essentially the latest so-called Chapter 22 filing was done to help the company wind down its operations in an orderly process.
Gordon Brothers’ brands division became operational in May 2016 following the firm’s acquisition of Blast-Off Brands, a Los Angeles-based licensing and branding company. Blast-Off’s cofounding partner Ramez Toubassy joined Gordon Brothers as president of the brands division, while other members of the team joined Gordon Brothers in senior leadership positions on both the creative and licensing sides of the business.
While Gordon Brothers has been active over the years in the brands space — the brands business historically is comprised of three components consisting of consulting services, equity investments and debt investments — the acquisition of Blast-Off was meant to serve as its platform for the firm’s next generation of brand investments.
In an interview, Toubassy spoke about the “dislocation” in the teen space, and how Gordon Brothers felt the brand represented an opportunity because of its long history in meeting the fashion needs of teen customers.
“This is a big opportunity in targeting teens with newness of product and having a conversation with them wherever and whenever they want it, while also giving them value,” Toubassy said.
Once the deal closes, Toubassy will be working with his team on its strategy to revitalize the brand. “It’s about making sure Wet Seal stands for something again and putting it in a great position to exist in the e-commerce channel and at wholesale via licensing. Over time, there may be an opportunity to have stand-alone retail stores,” he said.
One difference between Wet Seal and the other apparel brands that brand management firms generally are interested in is that Wet Seal is known as a vertical retailer. That means it doesn’t have a presence in the wholesale channel. Gordon Brothers aims to change that with its repositioning of the brand.
“We think there is a business opportunity in both the department stores and the mass channel for a brand such as Wet Seal if we put together the right brand concept,” Toubassy said, explaining that there’s no major teen brand currently present in those channels.
Gordon Brothers is also actively looking at other opportunities to acquire brands in the midmarket space. Because the platform is a relatively small one until it ramps up with more acquisitions, it can do smaller deals and not have to compete with the bigger players — such as Authentic Brands Group, Iconix Brand Group Inc. and Sequential Brands Group — who are at the life stage where they are looking for bigger deals to move the needle.
“Our [focus] is the discrepancy between brand value and the broken business model. There are a lot of those companies out there now, an incredible amount of very valuable intellectual property tied up in very broken business models. It’s about extracting them from the business model and putting in the effort in terms of time and money to reimagine the brand and attach it to a nimble model that can survive in this fast-paced and turbulent time,” Toubassy said.