Sycamore Partners has completed its acquisition of Belk Inc., putting the Southern regional department store chain in the hands of a private equity company after being family-controlled throughout its 127-year history.
The company will continue to be led by Tim Belk, the chief executive officer and the grandson of the founder William Henry Belk.
“We are very pleased to complete this transaction with Sycamore Partners, which delivers meaningful value to all our stakeholders,” said Tim Belk. “Our partnership with Sycamore will contribute to Belk’s continued success, and we look forward to leveraging Sycamore’s deep knowledge of the retail market to best serve our dedicated customers and provide even greater opportunities for our valued team members.”
Stefan Kaluzny, managing director of Sycamore Partners, said, “The company has developed a loyal base of customers over its 127-year history, and we believe Belk is positioned for continued growth and success. We look forward to working with Belk’s management team and associates as they build on the company’s legacy and continue to serve its customers and deliver Modern. Southern. Style,” he said, referring to Belk’s marketing mantra.
How Sycamore advances Belk’s growth strategy remains to be seen. Officials were not available on Thursday to discuss plans, beyond their statements. Belk, based in Charlotte, N.C., has been doing fine on its own — making money, growing, pumping up its flagship stores, slowly expanding to contiguous markets, getting more competitive in the digital arena and on the selling floors by advancing contemporary and activewear offerings.
Belk sold the business to Sycamore Partners for $68 a share, representing an enterprise value of $3 billion. In a previous interview, Belk said the share price was “compelling” and added, “We spent a lot of time with shareholders and the board discussing this.
Belk, with about 850 shareholders, is required to report its results publicly, but the stock has been traded over the counter, not on any public exchanges. The majority of the stock is owned by Belk family members.
Sources said while the $3 billion value seems low compared to Belk’s $4.1 billion in annual volume, the $68 a share price represents a significant premium over recent past share transactions between $50 and $60.
Belk had told WWD that the idea to sell the company came from him and his brother, John R. Belk, president and chief operating officer, and that there wasn’t pressure to do so. He and his brother are both investing in the new company, which will be owned by Sycamore “for all intents and purposes,” Belk said.
Belk is expected to eventually name a successor to John.
Belk, with 296 stores, owns about a quarter of its locations and saw sales inch up 1.8 percent to $4.11 billion in 2014. Investments in stores, e-commerce and infrastructure cut profits by 7.8 percent to $146.1 million. About 9 percent of Belk’s total business is in e-commerce, or about $370 million. Belk sees e-commerce growing into the mid-teens over the next several years.
Tim Belk also told WWD that while the company’s capital structure changes, he doesn’t expect the level of investment to.
Two years ago, when the company turned 125, Belk set a goal of attaining $6 billion in sales within five years and earnings growth of 10 percent a year, and that the company would invest $600 million over five years, from fiscal 2012 forward, on store remodels and expansions, new technology, branding and service.
Sycamore’s investment portfolio currently includes Aéropostale, Coldwater Creek, Dollar Express, EMP Merchandising, Hot Topic, the Kasper Group, Kurt Geiger, MGF Sourcing, Nine West Holdings, Talbots and Torrid.