Marquee Brands has a number of challenges ahead as it looks at growth opportunities for the BCBG Max Azria brands it acquired last month.
The New York-based brand management firm purchased the intellectual property for the BCBG Max Azria, BCBGeneration and Hervé Léger brands as part of the company’s exit from bankruptcy proceedings. Connected with the $108 million Marquee acquisition is the purchase by Global Brands Group of certain company operations for $27.4 million. BCBG filed for bankruptcy court protection at the end of February. Company founder Max Azria and creative director Lubov Azria are no longer involved with the fashion house.
Cory M. Baker, Marquee’s chief operating officer, said, “There are opportunities to expand and when we look at the Max Azria brand, we see these are blue sky opportunities coming down the road. We have our work cut out for us and have to first put things on the right path again.”
Baker explained that the last few years have not been kind to BCBG, noting that the design wasn’t “on point” with what BCBG has been known for due to the financial issues that were ongoing at the firm. With a new design team in place, Baker said he’s already seen a “lift in the freshness of the merchandise that’s feeling more like the BCBG of old.” He also said the design flexibility inherent in the two core BCBG brands allows for options to suit different lifestyles and needs. “For us, that’s liquid gold,” Baker said.
Despite some missteps over the years, the brand still has a loyal following among consumers, and resonates with a broad demographic group of women, said Michael DeVirgilio, Marquee’s president.
According to DeVirgilio, “The consumer is the most important person in the chain that we need to address. In our thorough and in-depth discussions with every major retailer, [they] made it clear that this was an incredible brand for women. They wanted us to invest in it and build it for their doors.” He noted that the brands also have a “significant presence outside of the U.S.,” giving the BCBG collective a broad global reputation that Marquee can build on.
The two are analyzing opportunities in key categories, as well as licensing options, and the first looks for spring 2018 are being shown internally within Marquee and GBG. Outerwear, which has done well, will likely continue as is. GBG is working with Marquee on core categories such as the collection, footwear and handbags. Category extensions including eyewear and fragrance will likely become more important again, as they were before the company began showing signs of financial distress. GBG will also operate the existing network of BCBG stores. There are 275 BCBG shops-in-shop in the U.S. and 40 freestanding retail boutiques.
Jason Rabin, GBG’s president of North America, said, “We look forward to leveraging the brand’s strong heritage while creating new growth opportunities that better align with today’s consumer.” He also noted the BCBG brand’s ability to “translate across cultures.”
The BCBG brands add to Marquee’s existing umbrella of brands that include Bruno Magli, Ben Sherman and Body Glove. The learnings from its earlier acquisitions has helped Marquee better understand the changing retail landscape.
“The biggest thing we learned is that brands today can’t make decisions for consumers on what to buy. Luxury brands in particular tend to believe that they can almost create a trend, present the [merchandise], and shove it down the throats of consumers and be successful. In the last few years, the consumer has become more sophisticated. More than that, she now wants a voice [and] to be a part of the process, not to be told what to wear. We know that we have to pay more attention to what is trending and what the consumer is wearing,” according to Baker.
Marquee is backed by Neuberger Berman Private Equity, which established the company in September 2014. Last year, Neuberger successfully closed on a $462 million fund dedicated to Marquee for the purpose of IP acquisitions in the consumer products sector. That gives Marquee ready access to cash for funding of its acquisitions, without having to take on debt. Samuel Porat, a managing director at Neuberger, and Zachary P. Sigel, also a managing director at Neuberger, are the two who work most closely with Marquee, with Sigel leading the brand management firm’s acquisitions strategy.
According to Sigel, the acquisition criteria includes brands having a history and heritage, a core DNA and soul, and the ability to have organic growth. He said the fund still has a “significant amount of dry powder left” to do more acquisitions.
Porat said there’s no lack of options regarding Neuberger’s evaluation of brands that are available for purchase. He said, “There are opportunities out there.…We’ll see more in the months and years ahead. We are only in the third inning of the retail reset.”
“With the dislocation in the market, we think we’re at a really interesting time from an acquisition-related perspective. We started Marquee in 2014. We didn’t imagine a scenario in two years’ time that we would be acquiring BCBG for $108 million,” Sigel said.