In the trend-driven world of women's fashion, The Talbots is a 'head-to-toe' constant. Although it flirted with hipper styles, the purveyor of women's apparel, shoes and accessories has returned to its hallmark designs in a bid to right its struggling business. Talbots runs about 515 stores in some 45 US states and Canada. The chain specializes in selling mostly private-label, classically-styled apparel, accessories, and shoes to women ages 35 and older. The company, founded in 1947 by Rudolf and Nancy Talbot, also sells through more than a dozen catalogs and its website. After buyout talks appeared to fail, Talbots was taken private by Sycamore Partners for $391 million (including debt) in August 2012.
Talbot stockholders received $2.75 in cash for each share, more than double the closing price on the day prior to the deal's announcement, but lower than the $3.05 per share previously proposed under Sycamore's first bid. The private equity firm's pursuit began in earnest following its acquisition of about 10% of Talbots in mid-2011.
Although the retailer's fiscal 2012 (ends January) sales fell by 6% from the prior year, sales are down more than 50% since 2008 (adjusted for the sale of the J. Jill brand). Results in 2012 vs. 2011 were impacted by a 5% tumble in store sales; same-store sales were flat as traffic to brick-and-mortar locations failed to gain momentum despite promotions and improvements to merchandise lines. Catalog and online business (which generates less than 20% of Talbot's sales) unraveled some 10%. The small profit in fiscal 2011 was overshadowed by a loss in 2012, marking a fourth unprofitable year for the retailer in a five-year period.
The company is working to broaden its appeal to younger shoppers while closing underperforming locations. To that end, Talbots looks for a new vision from SVP of Stores, Lesli Gilbert, who joined Talbots in mid-2011, succeeding John Fiske who left earlier in the year to seek other opportunities. Gilbert, who joined Talbots from T-Mobile USA, oversees all aspects of Talbots' retail operations and leads the stores' reimage and rationalization programs. For now, she reports directly to president and CEO Trudy Sullivan. (Sullivan in late-2011 announced plans to retire.)
Talks with Sycamore followed other deals engineered to finance Talbots' operations. In early 2010, Talbots merged with BPW Acquisition, a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), sponsored by Perella Weinberg Partners, Pentwater Capital Management, and other investment firms. Talbots raised some $330 million through the merger and, along with a $200 million credit line from GE Capital, repaid nearly $490 million in debt to AEON, which formerly held a majority stake in the retailer. During negotiations with Sycamore, Talbots' significant shareholders included Wellington Management Co. and Oppenheimer Funds.