🙈New Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Filing - Avenue Stores LLC🙈

Avenue Stores LLC

August 16, 2019

Retail, retail, retail.

Brutal. Absolutely B.R.U.T.A.L.

Avenue Stores LLC, a speciality women’s plus-size retailer with approximately 2,000 employees across its NJ-based HQ* and 255 leased stores,** is the latest retailer to find its way into bankruptcy court. On Friday, August 16, Avenue Stores LLC filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in the District of Delaware. Like Dressbarn, another plus-size apparel retailer that’s in the midst of going the way of the dodo, any future iteration of the Avenue “brand” will likely exist only on the interwebs: the company intends to shutter its brick-and-mortar footprint.

What is Avenue? In addition to a select assortment of national brands, Avenue is a seller of (i) mostly “Avenue” private label apparel, (ii) intimates/swimwear and other wares under the “Loralette” brand and (iii) wide-width shoes under the “Cloudwalkers” brand. The company conducts e-commerce via “Avenue.com” and “Loralette.com.” All of this “IP” is the crux of the bankruptcy. More on this below. 

But, first, a digression: when we featured Versa Capital Management LP’s Gregory Segall in a Notice of Appearance segment back in April, we paid short shrift to the challenges of retail. We hadn’t had an investor make an NOA before and so we focused more broadly on the middle market and investing rather than Versa’s foray into retail and its ownership of Avenue Stores LLC. Nevertheless, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we can now see some foreshadowing baked into Mr. Siegel’s answers — in particular, his focus on Avenue’s e-commerce business and the strategic downsizing of the brick-and-mortar footprint. Like many failed retail enterprises before it, the future — both near and long-term — of Avenue Stores is marked by these categorical distinctions. Store sales are approximately 64% of sales with e-commerce at approximately 36% (notably, he cited 33% at the time of the NOA). 

A brand founded in 1987, Avenue has had an up-and-down history. It was spun off out of Limited Brands Inc. and renamed in 1989; it IPO’d in 1992; it was then taken private in 2007. Shortly thereafter, it struggled and filed for bankruptcy in early 2012 and sold as a going-concern to an acquisition entity, Avenue Stores LLC (under a prior name), for “about $32 million.” The sale closed after all of two months in bankruptcy. The holding company that owns 100% of the membership interests in Avenue Stores LLC, the operating company, is 99%-owned by Versa Capital Management. 

Performance for the business has been bad, though the net loss isn’t off the charts like we’ve seen with other recent debtors in chapter 11 cases (or IPO candidates filing S-1s, for that matter). Indeed, the company had negative EBITDA of $886k for the first five months of 2019 on $75.3mm in sales. Nevertheless, the loss was enough for purposes of the debtors’ capital structure. The debtors are party to an asset-backed loan (“ABL”) memorialized by a credit agreement with PNC Bank NA, a lender that, lately, hasn’t been known for suffering fools. The loan is for $45mm with a $6mm first-in-last-out tranche and has a first lien on most of the debtors’ collateral. 

The thing about ABLs is that availability thereunder is subject to what’s called a “borrowing base.” A borrowing base determines how much availability there is out of the overall credit facility. Said another way, the debtors may not always have access to the full facility and therefore can’t just borrow $45mm willy-nilly; they have to comply with certain periodic tests. For instance, the value of the debtors’ inventory and receivables, among other things, must be at a certain level for availability to remain. If the value doesn’t hold up, the banks can close the spigot. If you’re a business with poor sales, slim margins, diminishing asset quality (i.e., apparel inventory), and high cash burn, you’re generally not in very good shape when it comes to these tests. With specs like those, your liquidity is probably already tight. A tightened borrowing base will merely exacerbate the problem.

Lo and behold, PNC declared the debtors in default on July 22; in turn, they imposed default interest on the debtors and initiated daily cash sweeps of the debtors’ bank accounts. Like we said. Suffer. No. Fools.*** The debtors owe $15.2mm on the facility. 

The debtors also have outstanding a subordinated secured note to the tune of $37.8mm. The note pays interest at 15% but is paid in kind.**** The lender on the note is an affiliate of Versa, and per the terms of the note, Versa had continued, at least through April 2019, to fund the business (and letters of credit for the debtors’ benefit) with millions of dollars of capital. 

If this sounds like a hot mess, well, yeah, sure, kudos. You’re clearly paying attention. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. Per the company:

The Debtors operate in an extremely competitive retail environment, facing competition from other specialty-retail stores, including Lane Bryant, Ashley Stewart, and Torrid, and mass-market retailers such as Walmart and Target, many of which are located in close proximity to Avenue stores. In addition to long-standing, traditional competitors within the plussize segment, there has been a recent influx of many other iconic fashion retail brands expanding their range of size offerings into the plus-size range, as well as a proliferation of new entrants targeting this same plus-size fashion market. Due to increased competition, the Debtors have faced significant pressure to maintain market share, which has directly and negatively affected their profitability.

Not that this is anything new. We all know this by now: competition is fierce (Stitch Fix Inc. ($SFIX)Neiman MarcusKohl’s Corporation ($KSS)Macy’s Inc. ($M) and others are now going after it hard), B&M sucks because leases carry higher expenses, store traffic is down, blah blah f*cking blah. The company continues:

…changes in consumer spending habits have necessitated many retailers to increase promotional activities and discounting, leading to thinner profit margins. Onerous brick-and-mortar lease terms and increased operating costs, during a period of downturn in the retail sector and deep discounting, have intensified retail losses.

Interestingly, in the face of surging U.S. retail sales in July,***** the company also notes that “a review of historic customer data indicates that Avenue customers are shopping less frequently than they once were….” They blame this on a “[s]hifts in consumer preferences” and the debtors’ emphasis on “fashion basics.” DING DING DING. No wonder customers are shopping there less frequently. “Basic” is the antithesis of Instagram-based retail these days. Basics can be purchased at any big box retailer; basics are now available via Amazon’s private label. Basics don’t create an influencer and, on the flip side, no influencer will market “basic.” Maybe Avenue could get away with “fashion basics” if it had brand-equity like SUPREME and was perceived as a luxury brand. But far from it. 

Speaking of basic, that pretty much describes the go-forward game plan. We’ll lay it out for you:

  • Engage an independent director to explore strategic alternatives;

  • Engage professionals (Young Conaway is legal and Berkeley Research Group as restructuring advisor and CRO)******;

  • Consider whether there’s going concern value, conclude, like, basically, “nope,” and then hire a consultant******* to solicit bids from liquidators for the B&M piece and an investment banker (Configure Partners) for the IP and e-commerce business; 

  • Issue WARN notices, RIF employees, and start shuttering stores (with intent to file a rejection motion on day 1 of the bankruptcy); 

  • Select a stalking horse bidder for the B&M assets from the pool of interested liquidators (in this case, Gordon Brothers and Hilco Merchant Resources LLC); 

  • Continue to search for a stalking horse bidder for the IP and e-commerce (at filing, there wasn’t one yet); and

  • Secure DIP financing (here, $12mm from PNC) to fund the cases while the B&M liquidation transpires and the banker searches under every rock under an extremely compressed timeframe (by 9/24/19) for that e-commerce/IP buyer.******** 

So we’ll know in the next 60 days what the future is for Avenue.

If there is one.


*Let’s pour one out for NJ. The state’s larger retailers are having a rough go of things lately, see, e.g., Toys R Us. The 2,000 figure is updated to reflect a recent round of layoffs. 

**The debtors are located primarily in shopping malls and shopping centers, doing business in 35 states. They have a distribution center for brick-and-mortar merchandise in Troy, Ohio, and a third-party warehousing facility located in Dallas, Texas, which handles logistics for e-commerce. The Troy center is the subject of a wholly unoriginal PE-backed sale/leaseback transaction. The debtors sold the center for $11.3mm and subsequently entered into a 15-year lease with the buyer, RD Dayton LLC. We mention this because sale/leaseback transactions have been getting hyper-focus these days as a tactic-of-choice by private equity overlords to extract returns out of portfolio companies’ assets with any actual value: real property. If you’re wondering why there is very little asset value left for unsecured creditors in retail cases, sale/leaseback transactions are often a culprit. Here, it’s especially egregious because Avenue doesn’t own ANY of its stores: the entire footprint is leased.

The debtors recently closed the Ohio center and transitioned its inventory to Texas and the company already filed a motion seeking to reject this lease (Docket 15).

***This is not extraordinary. Banks do this all of the time when debtors default. A liquidity starved company is almost always toast (read: bankrupt) once this happens. 

****PIK interest means that the interest accrues in the form of additional notes and is not subject to scheduled cash payments. 

*****Per Reuters:

Retail sales increased 0.7% last month after gaining 0.3% in June, the government said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales would rise 0.3% in July. Compared to July last year, retail sales increased 3.4%.

******Something tells us that the likes of FTI, A&M and AlixPartners are happy to cede the liquidating retailer market to Berkeley Research Group. 

*******This is one of the more ingenious things to come out of the restructuring market in recent years. These liquidator agreements are so unintelligible that they might as well be written in Dothraki. Hence the need for an intermediary to break out the secret decoder ring and figure out what is actually being contracted for. We don’t know: if something is so woefully incoherent that it requires a separate consultant just to interpret it, something tells us that obfuscation is a feature not a bug.

********If none is found, the liquidator will also get these assets as part of the agency agreement. 

  • Jurisdiction: D. of Delaware (Judge Silverstein)

  • Capital Structure:

  • Professionals:

    • Legal: Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor LLP (Robert Brady, Andrew Magaziner, Ashley Jacobs, Allison Mielke, Betsy Feldman)

    • Financial Advisor/CRO: Berkeley Research Group (Robert Duffy)

    • Investment Banker: Configure Partners

    • Liquidators: Gordon Brothers and Hilco Merchant Resources LLC

    • Liquidation Consultant: Malfitano Advisors LLC

    • Claims Agent: Prime Clerk LLC (*click on the link above for free docket access)

  • Other Parties in Interest:

    • Pre-petition & DIP Agent: PNC Bank NA

      • Legal: Blank Rome LLP (Regina Stango Kelbon)

    • Subordinated Lender: Versa Capital Management LP

      • Legal: Landis Rath & Cobb LLP (Adam Landis, Matthew McGuire)

New Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Filing - Charlotte Russe Holding Inc.

Charlotte Russe Holding Inc.

February 3, 2019

San Diego-based specialty women’s apparel fast-fashion retailer Charlotte Russe Holding Inc. is the latest retailer to file for bankruptcy. The company has 512 stores in 48 U.S. states. The company owns a number of different brands that it sells primarily via its brick-and-mortar channel; it has some brands, most notably “Peek,” which it sells online and wholesale to the likes of Nordstrom.

The company’s capital structure consists of:

  • $22.8mm 6.75% ‘22 first lien revolving credit facility (ex-accrued and unpaid interest, expenses and fees)(Bank of America NA), and

  • $150mm 8.5% ‘23 second lien term loan ($89.3mm funded, exclusive of unpaid interest, expenses and fees)(Jefferies Finance LLC). The term loan lenders have first lien security interests in the company’s intellectual property.

The company’s trajectory over the last decade is an interesting snapshot of the trouble confronting the brick-and-mortar retail space. The story begins with a leveraged buyout. In 2009, Advent International acquired the debtors through a $380mm tender offer, levering up the company with $175mm in 12% subordinated debentures in the process. At the time, the debtors also issued 85k shares of Series A Preferred Stock to Advent and others. Both the debentures and the Preferred Stock PIK’d interest (which, for the uninitiated, means that the principal or base amounts increased by the respective percentages rather than cash pay interest or dividends being paid over time). The debtors later converted the Preferred Stock to common stock.

Thereafter, the debtors made overtures towards an IPO. Indeed, business was booming. From 2011 through 2014, the debtors grew considerably with net sales increased from $776.8mm to $984mm. During this period, in May of 2013, the debtors entered into the pre-petition term loan, used the proceeds to repay a portion of the subordinated debentures and converted the remaining $121.1mm of subordinated debentures to 8% Preferred Stock (held by Advent, management and other investors). In March 2014, the debtors and its lenders increased the term loan by $80mm and used the proceeds to pay a one-time dividend. That’s right folks: a dividend recapitalization!! WE LOVE THOSE. Per the company:

In May 2014, the Debtors paid $40 million in dividends to holders of Common Stock, $9.8 million in dividends to holders of Series 1 Preferred Stock, which covered all dividends thus far accrued, and paid $65.7 million towards the Series 1 Preferred Stock principal. The Debtors’ intention was to use a portion of the net proceeds of the IPO to repay a substantial amount of the then approximately $230 million of principal due on the Prepetition Term Loan.

In other words, Advent received a significant percentage of its original equity check back by virtue of its Preferred Stock and Common Stock holdings.

Guess what happened next? Well, after all of that money was sucked out of the business, performance, CURIOUSLY, began to slip badly. Per the company:

Following fifteen (15) consecutive quarters of increased sales, however, the Debtors’ performance began to materially deteriorate and plans for the IPO were put on hold. Specifically, gross sales decreased from $984 million in fiscal year 2014 with approximately $93.8 million in adjusted EBITDA, to $928 million in fiscal year 2017 with approximately $41.2 million in adjusted EBITDA. More recently, the Debtors’ performance has materially deteriorated, as gross sales decreased from $928 million in fiscal year 2017 with approximately $41.2 million in adjusted EBITDA, to an estimated $795.5 million in fiscal year 2018 with approximately $10.3 million in adjusted EBITDA.

Consequently, the company engaged in a year-long process of trying to address its balance sheet and/or find a strategic or financial buyer. Ultimately, in February 2018, the debtors consummated an out-of-court restructuring that (i) wiped out equity (including Advent’s), (ii) converted 58% of the term loan into 100% of the equity, (iii) lowered the interest rate on the remaining term loan and (iv) extended the term loan maturity out to 2023. Advent earned itself, as consideration for the cancellation of its shares, “broad releases” under the restructuring support agreement. The company, as part of the broader restructuring, also secured substantial concessions from its landlords and vendors. At the time, this looked like a rare “success”: an out-of-court deal that resulted in both balance sheet relief and operational cost containment. It wasn’t enough.

Performance continued to decline. Year-over-year, Q3 ‘18 sales declined by $35mm and EBITDA by $8mm. Per the company:

The Debtors suffered from a dramatic decrease in sales and in-store traffic, and their merchandising and marketing strategies failed to connect with their core demographic and outpace the rapidly evolving fashion trends that are fundamental to their success. The Debtors shifted too far towards fashion basics, did not effectively reposition their e-commerce business and social media engagement strategy for success and growth, and failed to rationalize expenses related to store operations to better balance brick-and-mortar operations with necessary e-commerce investments.

In the end, bankruptcy proved unavoidable. So now what? The company has a commitment from its pre-petition lender, Bank of America NA, for $50mm in DIP financing (plus $15mm for LOCs) as well as the use of cash collateral. The DIP will roll-up the pre-petition first lien revolving facility. This DIP facility is meant to pay administrative expenses to allow for store closures (94, in the first instance) and a sale of the debtors’ assets. To date, however, despite 17 potential buyers executing NDAs, no stalking horse purchaser has emerged. They have until February 17th to find one; otherwise, they’re required to pursue a “full chain liquidation.” Notably, the debtors suggested in their bankruptcy petitions that the estate may be administratively insolvent. YIKES. So, who gets screwed if that is the case?

Top creditors include Fedex, Google, a number of Chinese manufacturers and other trade vendors. Landlords were not on the top 30 creditor list, though Taubman Company, Washington Prime Group Inc., Simon Property Group L.P., and Brookfield Property REIT Inc. were quick to make notices of appearance in the cases. In total, unsecured creditors are owed approximately $50mm. Why no landlords? Timing. Despite the company going down the sh*tter, it appears that the debtors are current with the landlords (and filing before the first business day of the new month helps too). Not to be cynical, but there’s no way that Cooley LLP — typically a creditors’ committee firm — was going to let the landlords be left on the hook here.

And, so, we’ll find out within the next two weeks whether the brand has any value and can fetch a buyer. In the meantime, Gordon Brothers Retail Partners LLC and Hilco Merchant Resources LLC will commence liquidation sales at 90+ locations. We see that, mysteriously, they somehow were able to free up some bandwidth to take on an new assignment sans a joint venture with literally all of their primary competitors.

  • Jurisdiction: D. of Delaware (Judge Silverstein)

  • Capital Structure: $22.8mm 6.75% ‘22 first lien revolving asset-backed credit facility (ex-accrued and unpaid interest, expenses and fees)(Bank of America NA), $150mm 8.5% ‘23 second lien term loan ($89.3mm funded, exclusive of unpaid interest, expenses and fees)(Jefferies Finance LLC)

  • Company Professionals:

    • Legal: Cooley LLP (Seth Van Aalten, Michael Klein, Summer McKee, Evan Lazerowitz, Joseph Brown) & (local) Bayard PA (Justin Alberto, Erin Fay)

    • Independent Director: David Mack

    • Financial Advisor/CRO: Berkeley Research Group LLC (Brian Cashman)

    • Investment Banker: Guggenheim Securities LLC (Stuart Erickson)

    • Lease Disposition Consultant & Business Broker: A&G Realty Partners LLC

    • Liquidating Agent: Gordon Brothers Retail Partners LLC and Hilco Merchant Resources LLC

    • Liquidation Consultant: Malfitano Advisors LLC

    • Claims Agent: Donlin Recano & Company (*click on company name above for free docket access)

  • Other Parties in Interest:

    • DIP Lender ($50mm): Bank of America NA

      • Legal: Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP (Julia Frost-Davies, Christopher Carter) & (local) Richards Layton & Finger PA (Mark Collins)

    • Prepetition Term Agent: Jefferies Finance LLC

      • Legal: King & Spalding LLP (Michael Rupe, W. Austin Jowers, Michael Handler)

    • Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors (Valueline Group Co Ltd., Ven Bridge Ltd., Shantex Group LLC, Global Capital Fashion Inc., Jainson’s International Inc., Simon Property Group LP, Brookfield Property REIT Inc.)

      • Legal: Whiteford Taylor & Preston LLP (Christopher Samis, L. Katherine Good, Aaron Stulman, David Gaffey, Jennifer Wuebker)

      • Financial Advisor: Province Inc. (Edward Kim)

Updated 2/14/19 at 1:41 CT

New Chapter 11 Filing - hhgregg Inc.

hhgregg Inc.

  • 3/6/17 Recap: Indianapolis-based (and formerly publicly-traded - HGGG) brick-and-mortar retailer of appliances, consumer electronics, home products (read: all things that millennials don't buy) FINALLY filed for bankruptcy after an endless barrage of negative news stories, including reports of 88 store closures. The company's distress - brought on by trends afflicting the retail space generally and repeated to death in each and every retail bankruptcy filing, e.g., declining mall traffic, onerous leases, etc., - was exacerbated by its credit card program with Synchrony Bank and the need to post letters of credit to collateralize Synchrony's acquired receivables ($3mm paid, another $14mm owed). Note: there's a commentary here about consumer lending. The filing is intended to enable the company to continue with store closing sales and potentially find a buyer for its remaining locations.
  • Jurisdiction: S.D. of Indiana
  • Capital Structure: $300mm '21 credit facility ($56mm out)(Wells Fargo)     
  • Company Professionals:
    • Legal: Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP (Neil Herman, Rachel Jaffe Mauceri, Benjamin Cordiano, Katherine Lindsay, Matthew Ziegler, Michaela Dragalin) & (local) Ice Miller LLP (Jeffrey Hokanson, Sarah Fowler)
    • Financial Advisor: Berkeley Research Group (Robert Duffy)
    • Investment Banker: Stifel & Miller Buckfire & Co. (James Doak)
    • Liquidators: Hilco Merchant Resources LLC (Ian Fredericks) and Gordon Brothers Retail Partners LLC (Michael Chartock) 
      • Legal: Kirkland & Ellis LLP (Patrick Nash, Bradley Weiland, Timothy Bow)
    • Real Estate Advisor: Hilco Real Estate LLC (Ryan Lawlor)
    • Asset Disposition Advisor: Malfitano Advisors LLC (Joseph Malfitano)
    • Claims Agent: Donlin Recano (*click on company name for free docket)
  • Other Parties in Interest:
    • Agent for Prepetition Secured Lender & DIP Lender: Wells Fargo
      • Legal: Choate Hall & Stewart LLP (John Ventola, Sean Monahan, Jonathan Marshall) & Faegre Baker Daniels LLP (Jay Jaffe, Terry Hall)
    • Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors
      • Legal: Cooley LLP (Cathy Hershcopf, Seth Van Aalten, Richelle Kalnit, Robert Winning, Melissa Boyd) & (local) Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP (Whitney Mosby, Thomas Scherer, James Irving)
      • Financial Advisor: Province Inc. (Stilian Morrison)

Updated 4/3/17

New Chapter 22 Filing - Eastern Outfitters LLC

Eastern Outfitters LLC

  • 2/5/17 Recap: Seems like chapter 22 bankruptcies are the "it" thing now: everyone's doing it. Last year, Versa Capital Management bought the company in the Vestis Group bankruptcy and, now, Sports Direct looks to pick up the pieces in yet ANOTHER sale of the Bob's Stores and Eastern Mountain Sports retail properties. Top creditors include Under Armour and Google which says something about (a) why UA's growth numbers were considerably off last quarter and (b) the cost of Google SEO for companies in this internet age.
  • Jurisdiction: D. of Delaware    
  • Capital Structure: $41mm RCF (PNC Bank), $42mm TL (Sportsdirect) 
  • Company Professionals:
    • Legal: Bracewell LLP (Robert Burns, Jennifer Feldshur, David Riley, Mark Dendinger) & (local) Cole Schotz (Norman Pernick, Marion Quirk, Katharina Earle)
    • Turnaround Advisor: AlixPartners LLC (Spencer Ware, Susan Brown, Afshin Azhari)
    • Replacement Turnaround Advisor: Meru LLC (Nicholas Campbell, Timothy Meighan)
    • Financial Advisor: Lincoln Partners Advisors LLC  (Alexander Stevenson)
    • Liquidators: Hilco Merchant Resources LLC & Gordon Brothers Retail Partners LLC
      • Legal: Curtis Mallet-Provost Colt & Mosle LLP (Steven Reisman) & (local) Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP (Mark Desgrosseilliers)
    • Asset Disposition Advisor & Consultant: Malfitano Advisors LLC (Joseph Malfitano)
    • Claims Agent: KCC (*click on company name for docket)
  • Other Parties in Interest:
    • Purchaser: SportsDirect.com Retail Ltd.
      • Legal: Greenberg Traurig LLP (Nancy Mitchell, Maria DiConza)
    • First Lien Lender: PNC Bank, NA
      • Legal: Blank Rome LLP  (Regina Kelbon, Gregory Vizza)
    • Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors
      • Legal: Cooley LLP (Jay Indyke, Cathy Hershcopf, Richelle Kalnit, Sarah Carnes) & (local) Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP (Steven Kortanek, Patrick Johnson, Robert Malone)
      • Financial Advisor: Province Inc. (Paul Huygens, Carol Cabello, Sanjuro Kietlinski, Jin Lai Dong)

Updated 5/31/17