LONDON — The speculation over the potential sale of Matchesfashion.com continues to mount, yet the company remains mum.
On Wednesday, it was reported that Apax Partners could be nearing a deal to acquire a majority stake in the company. Apax is perhaps best known for its investments in Tommy Hilfiger for its European business, and in Calvin Klein. Both are now owned by PVH Corp. A spokesman for Apax in the U.S. declined comment, as did his European counterpart in London.
As reported earlier this month, Matchesfashion’s initial valuation was 650 million pounds, but that number has risen to 800 million pounds following increased interest from investors.
The potential Apax deal was first reported by Sky News, which also said a deal could be completed as early as this week.
As for other financial investors said to be interested in the fashion firm, Permira and KKR are among the leading candidates.
Permira has been scouting the luxury space for the last few years, looking for companies that it knows are on a growth trajectory. Its past investments in Valentino, Hugo Boss and Doc Martens gives it some confidence that it understands the luxury consumer space. Permira’s reported interest in Matchesfashion is somewhat contrary to the nature of past investments, which have been in brands that need a bit of turnaround magic. A call to Permira’s New York office was referred to its London office, which has declined comment.
KKR’s more recent investments in apparel are in China Outfitters Holdings Ltd., a men’s wear design firm, and accessible luxury firm SMCP, which owns the fashion brands Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot. KKR last year sold part of its stake to Chinese textiles firm Shandong Ruyi, but still holds a minority stake. SMCP is considering an IPO, with a public listing of shares on Euronext Paris. A spokeswoman for KKR in New York could not be reached for comment.
Despite the continued speculation, sources close to the Chapmans have said they often field calls and have conversations with potential buyers, yet their intentions to sell are still unclear. An internal memo to staff, seen by WWD, was also quick to dismiss the rumors as “just speculation” and company representatives declined to comment.
If completed, the sale of a majority would mark a reversal in that stance by founders Tom and Ruth Chapman. But the amount being offered might be too large to resist and the e-commerce battle has intensified in the last 18 months with Yoox acquiring Net-a-porter and as rivals such as Farfetch and Mytheresa.com, owned by Neiman Marcus Group, have continued to expand, not to mention the growing online businesses of brick-and-mortar retailers worldwide.
Financial sources in the U.S. said the 800 million pound valuation for Matchesfashion is about right for a company that does around 250 million pounds in annual volume.
“Given the company’s earnings last year, this is a very high valuation but what investors are buying into is its potential,” said Paul Thomas, retail analyst at the consultancy firm Retail Remedy. “Matches is an attractive company because it has an established online platform as well as a small network of brick-and-mortar stores. The type of customers that shop on the platform and the curatorial approach the Matches team takes on presenting product on the site makes it attractive for all brands. They all want to be on Matches.”
In 2016, revenues at the luxury omnichannel retailer surged 61 percent year-over-year to just over 204 million pounds, while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, came to 19 million pounds — nearly six times higher than the previous year.
Although the company declined to offer projections for fiscal 2017, sources said revenues could exceed 300 million pounds, with profits heading toward 40 million pounds.
Thomas added that the high valuation could be what is pushing the Chapmans to sell. “They have a majority stake and could walk out with 400 million pounds, a great kind of payday. But since the company will be going to private equity and not to another competitor, it would make sense to invest some of that money in the company and remain present. Otherwise the firm could be in trouble.”
A sale process is expected to occur fairly quickly for the company. There were rumblings of interest before the e-tailer hired a financial adviser in mid-summer, and the timing of a sale would coincide neatly with the typical exit strategy of private equity investors. Matchesfashion raised around $51 million in September 2012 by selling a minority stake to Scottish Equity Partners and Highland Capital Europe.
Private equity and venture capital investors often eye initial public offerings as an exit strategy for growing firms such as Matchesfashion, but then for one reason or another often end up flipping the investment to another financial sponsor.
In the current economic backdrop, there haven’t been that many initial public offerings in the fashion and retail arena, or even in general mostly because companies are looking for high valuations and investors now are less likely to pay up. One company that did go public this month — YogaWorks Inc. — struggled to get the IPO completed. It had postponed it on July 20 due to “market conditions.” When it did go public two weeks ago, it only raised $40 million, or $5.50 a share, down from the $13 a share it had projected. Shares of YogaWorks trade in the $3.50 range on the Nasdaq Global Market Exchange.
Meanwhile, Matchesfashion continues its push to grow its digital platform. In an interview with WWD in March — when the company was named a partner in the 2017 New York Fashion Tech Lab accelerator program, chairman Tom Chapman said the bulk of the Matchesfashion business is done via mobile, with 85 percent of revenues from outside the U.K. and the U.S. being its number-one market. Changing consumer preferences have him and his team on the lookout for new talent, both on the creative and technological side. His firm was meeting with applicants for the accelerator program, with plans to mentor at least two program participants and then catch up to other applicants that didn’t make the final cut later on.
Earlier this month, the company also revealed plans to expand its photography, video and editorial teams into a new creative hub in East London, where they will have access to new state-of-the-art facilities and be able to explore new ways of presenting product on the site, as well as increase the amount of product uploaded on a weekly basis.
In a bid to promote its editorial content, the retailer partnered with AI content distribution platform E-Contenta, which uses an algorithm that collects and analyzes data on user behavior, enabling Matches to refine the distribution of its weekly online magazine The Style Report.