Brentwood Associates, the Los Angeles-based private equity firm whose portfolio includes J. McLaughlin, Soft Surroundings and Sundance, said today it has acquired Boston Proper, a direct-to-consumer business from Chico’s FAS Inc. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
The multichannel Boston Proper, based in Boca Raton, Fla., said it caters to 25- to 60-year-old women who want to look sexy but polished.
Brentwood will work with Boston Proper’s management, including president and chief merchandising officer Sheryl Clark, to refocus the business and build a lifestyle brand through print, digital and social channels.
“Boston Proper has a very distinct point of view,” said Eric Reiter, a partner at Brentwood. “Despite the fact that the partnership with Chico’s failed to meet expectations, we have no doubt that Sheryl and her team is the team to execute Boston Proper. They’ve really done a nice job. Now, they’ll have the autonomy of a private company, without the constraints of a public company.”
The Boston Proper business suffered under Chico’s, which purchased the company in 2011 for $205 million. According to Chico’s annual report, Boston Proper had net sales of $95.8 million in fiscal 2014.
While Boston Proper had been a direct-to-consumer play for 25 years, Chico’s extended the brand to brick-and-mortar. In May 2013, two Boston Proper stores opened in Florida, with 20 units slated for 2014.
The stores weren’t successful. By the end of 2015 all had been shuttered. Reiter said the rollout was too aggressive for the relatively small Boston Proper. “The format didn’t quite work,” Reiter said. “Putting aside the fact that retail wasn’t a success for them, we will certainly think about retail down the road. We’re by no means writing off retail as a successful channel.
“Our assumption is that we can grow the top line at 10 percent-plus annually,” he said. “We’ll leverage our resources and expertise. We’re going to set the team up for success with early wins.”
Clark is game to try physical retail again. “Of course, we would love to do it,” she said. “We’ve gained a lot of intelligence. We’ll do it in a way that’s more successful and hits all the key points for the customer. The most important thing is that we grow at a pace that’s appropriate for the brand and consumer. We’re small and entrepreneurial. It’s hard to be part of a public company when you’re whole background is entrepreneurial. We integrated way too fast to a store-based model and it crippled us.”
Clark said with the Brentwood acquisition “we are definitely making some changes in terms of how we source and curate our product so that we make sure we have very unique product in our assortment. When you’re in a family of brands, each brand can start looking a little bit similar,” she said referring to Chico’s.
“We’re bringing sexy back,” Clark added. “That was our niche in the market. We moved away form that. It’s who we are and why our customers love us.”
The brand is testing loungewear, increasing its active wear offering, and putting an emphasis on tops and dresses.
“The biggest thing we provide is confidence because the line is age-appropriate,” Clark said.