Several high-profile brand marketing firms are vying for an opportunity to add a well-known American men’s designer label to their stable. Companies ranging from Marquee Brands and Sequential Brands Group to the newly formed WHP Global and Bluestar Alliance are all said to be entering the final phase to purchase the Joseph Abboud brand from Tailored Brands, according to market sources.
The men’s wear retailer acquired the Abboud label in 2013 for $97.3 million and started testing the waters a few months ago as a way to get some quick cash to pay down debt. The retailer is believed to be seeking around $100 million for the brand and then would aim to immediately enter into a licensing agreement with the new owner to exclusively carry the brand in its Men’s Wearhouse, Moores and K&G stores, where it represents a $500 million-plus business.
Tailored Brands is reportedly hoping to finalize a deal by the end of this year or early in 2020.
Dinesh Lathi, chief executive officer of Tailored Brands, said through a spokesman that “as a matter of company policy, we do not comment on rumors.”
Neither Cory Baker, chief operating officer of Marquee, nor Bill Sweedler, chairman of Sequential, would comment on their companies’ interest, and Yehuda Shmidman, ceo of WHP Global, could not be reached.
Shmidman was the former ceo of Sequential and started WHP Global backed by a $200 million equity commitment from funds managed by Oaktree Capital Management. WHP’s first deal was to acquire Anne Klein for an undisclosed sum.
Marquee Brands bought the Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse brands from Sequential for an estimated $175 million in April. It also owns BCBG, Ben Sherman, Bruno Magli, Body Glove and Dakine and is finalizing a deal to buy Destination Maternity. It is funded by the private equity firm Neuberger Berman.
Bluestar Alliance was founded by Joseph Gabbay and Ralph Gindi in 2006 and owns brands including Hurley, which it purchased from Nike earlier this month, as well as Brookstone, Tahari, Bebe, Kensie, Catherine Malandrino, Nanette Lepore, Joan Vass, Michael Bastian, English Laundry and Limited Too.
Sequential, whose brands include Joe’s, Ellen Tracy, Jessica Simpson, And1, Gaiam, William Rast, Heelys, Caribbean Joe and Avia, has been having some financial challenges of late. In October, the company’s board said it was conducting a broad review of strategic alternatives focused on maximizing shareholder value, which could include the divestiture of one or more existing brands, the acquisition of one or more new brands, a stock buyback program, or other initiatives. It hired Stifel to serve as its exclusive financial adviser to help in the process.
One brand marketing executive said he’s hopeful of being able to buy the Abboud label and believes it can be expanded internationally. Right now, the brand has a lucrative long-term license in Japan with Onward Kashiyama, where it operates more than 100 shops. But it does not have any other presence outside North America.
The once-high-flying Tailored Brands has been struggling the past few years as it attempts to navigate the more-casual workplace. Add to that the fact that following the acquisition of competitor Jos. A. Bank for $1.8 billion in 2014, the retailer now carries a total debt load of $2.1 billion, according to S&P Capital IQ, which factors in long-term debts and lease obligations.
Most of the executives who had been running the company at the time of the Banks acquisition have exited, including Doug Ewert, former ceo, who left at the end of 2018 and was succeeded by Lathi, who had been executive chairman of the board of directors. Other long-time executives are also gone including Scott Norris, the one-time president and chief merchant of the flagship Men’s Wearhouse division, and Mary Beth Blake, the president of Jos. A. Bank, who left last week.
Lathi has brought in Carrie Ask, a one-time Levi’s and Nike executive, who joined the company last fall as president of Men’s Wearhouse and Moores and last week was named chief customer officer. The company has eliminated the president’s roles at its divisions.
However, business has yet to turn around. In reporting third-quarter results last week, Tailored Brands reported a net loss of $89.6 million compared to a profit of $13.9 million in the third quarter of last year. Net sales dropped to $729.5 million from $751.7 million in the third quarter of last year. Net earnings from continuing operations were $27.8 million, down from $34.8 million in the year-ago quarter.
The sale of the Abboud label could help the company’s fortunes if negotiated correctly, an observer said. That includes the new owner retaining Joseph Abboud, the designer, to oversee the brand. “If it doesn’t end up in the right hands, it’s just a financing deal,” the source said.
“The brand is better with Joseph than without him,” another source said.
Abboud, who is known for his modern take on classic American men’s wear, celebrated his 30th anniversary in 2017. Known for his trademark earth tones and textured, nubby fabrics, his career has been a roller-coaster ride. The Boston-born designer got his start working at the Louis Boston luxury men’s store in college before embarking on a design career. He was on the team at Ralph Lauren and Chanel before launching the Joseph Abboud label in the spring of 1987. He won two Council of Fashion Designers of America awards before selling his trademarks to GFT for $65.5 million in 2007. The brand changed hands several times after that with Abboud in and out of the creative process before being sold six years ago to Tailored Brands, where he has served as chief creative officer since that time. Reached on Monday, Abboud had no comment on the potential sale of the brand bearing his name.
While a payout of $100 million won’t make much of a dent in Tailored Brands’ debt level, it will indicate to Wall Street that the organization is making strides to address the issues on its balance sheet.
What isn’t known is the fate of both the Joseph Abboud flagship on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, as well as the factory in New Bedford, Mass., where much of the Abboud merchandise is manufactured.
While some brand managers expressed skepticism about the future of both Tailored Brands and the mid-market men’s tailored clothing retail market, others were complimentary about Lathi’s game plan for the business, which is focused on improving customer service, enhancing online sales and marketing, and focusing on what it calls “polished casual” merchandise.