Metropark may soon get a new lease on life.
The Weisfeld Group purchased the intellectual property of the bankrupt mall-based specialty store chain last month, and plans to revamp and restart the business early next year. The Weisfeld Group owns or co-owns the Fubu, Coogi and Drunknmunky labels, as well as Under Two Flags, Crown Holder and Willie Esco.
To help with the relaunch, the company hired Izzy Ezrailson, founder of the now-defunct Washington, D.C.-based Up Against the Wall store, as a consultant.
Bruce Weisfeld, managing director, said he heard about Metropark’s availability from Ezrailson, who served on the advisory board of the business when it was launched in 2004. “It was past the bidding deadline, but nobody had bid,” Weisfeld said. So the Weisfeld Group made an offer which was enough to cover the secured creditors, he said, and it was accepted.
The bankruptcy court judge overseeing the Metropark bankruptcy in White Plains, N.Y., approved the sale on Aug. 1. Strato Trading Group was the “stalking horse” bidder, and, according to the agreement on file with the bankruptcy court prior to the court-approved auction, the purchase price was a cash sum of $175,000.
The initial outlay for the intellectual property was marginal; the real investment comes now as Weisfeld Group staffs up with merchants and secures store locations. “The big expense is what we do with it, not the acquisition,” Weisfeld said.
The plan is to fill Metropark with cutting-edge, contemporary brands that don’t have a lot of exposure within malls and to open the first store by around April of next year.
“The clock is ticking, so we are trying to move The original concept for Metropark was to sell high-end branded apparel, trendy music and edgy art to Generation Y customers within a mall setting. It was founded by Orv Madden, who rose to fame as the originator of the Hot Topic specialty store chain, a business he founded in 1998. Madden retired from Hot Topic in 2000 and four years later launched Metropark, whose stores looked more like nightclubs than traditional retail stores and whose primary brands in its heyday included Rock & Republic, True Religion, Stussy and Crooks & Castles.
The chain met with initial success and in 2008, filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission to go public, but those plans were abandoned two years later. Metropark filed bankruptcy in May of this year and closed all 69 of its locations.
Izrailson believes Metropark met its demise because the chain expanded too quickly and didn’t have the marketing savvy to capitalize on the company’s success, which led to $100 million in sales in 2010.
Weisfeld said he was surprised the chain did not reorganize, speculating that management did not try to secure financing until it was too late.
Izrailson said 10 million people walked through the door of a Metropark store between January of 2010 and May of 2011, so the customer base exists. “Metropark had quite a following and a customer base. That’s valuable and we will use it.”
But the new Metropark will be a little different.
“If you’re single and you want to be edgier than J. Crew and sexier than Brooks Brothers, where do you go?” Izrailson asked. He said Metropark’s biggest competitor will be The Buckle, but Izrailson doesn’t believe there will be much overlap. “We intend to stick to the major markets,” he said.
He said the major mall players — American Eagle, Aéropostale, Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch — “occupy the youth space,” attracting customers 13 to 21 years old. “We feel that customer has graduated. Our market range is 18 to 30, centering on 21 to 25. The lifestyle of the customer is happy hour. He’s interested in art, music and fashion. He likes to go to an eating and drinking establishment after work and have a good time. He’s a little dressed up, he reads Thrillist and is involved in Facebook. We’re developing a plan now for what that will look like.”
He said the new owners will stick to markets in which the former Metropark stores did best, such as Houston, Las Vegas and San Jose, Calif.
“They thought they could have 300 stores,” Izrailson said. “I think that’s too many.”
Weisfeld added: “We are looking at 10 stores to start and then move on from there. The mix will be 55 percent women’s and 45 percent men’s, down from 60-40, and there will also be a little less denim than in the past.”
“It won’t be as sexy as Bebe, but it’ll be what you wear to attract the opposite sex,” Izrailson said.