🇺🇸Forever 21: Living the (American) Dream🇺🇸

1.gif

Back in June we kicked off coverage of Forever 21 Inc. with “💥Nothing in Retail is "Forever💥".

We then issued quick follow-ups in “💥Fast Forward: Forever21 is a Hot Mess💥” and “🍩Forever21 is Forever F*cking Up.🍩”

2.jpg

Forgive us, then, for feeling like the company’s inevitable bankruptcy filing — which happened earlier this week — was a wee bit anticlimactic. After all, we all knew it was coming. As such, we felt the need to crank up some Kanye West to help get us through this additional coverage…

What you doing in the club on a Thursday?
She say she only here for her girl birthday
They ordered champagne but still look thirsty
Rock Forever 21 but just turned thirty — Kanye West in “Bound 2”

Just kidding, y’all. Kanye is garbage. We don’t listen to Kanye.*

Anyway, we’ve talked time and time again about how the papers that accompany a company’s chapter 11 bankruptcy petition are a perfect opportunity for a company to frame the narrative for the judge, parties in interest, the media and more. A company’s First Day Declaration, in particular, is the bankruptcy equivalent of home field advantage. Coupled with the first day hearing — usually held within a day or two of the bankruptcy filing — a debtor can leverage the First Day Declaration and the opportunity to present first to a courtroom to gain some sympathy from the judge for their current predicament and plant the seeds in the judge’s ears as to the direction of the case.

Except, over time, the judges must begin to get bored. After all, repetitive themes begin to emerge when you track bankruptcy cases. Themes like “the retail apocalypse.” Blah blah blah. The “Amazon Effect.” Oh, f*ck off. Disruption overcame the business! Zzzzzzz. Private equity is evil because they dividended themselves all of the company’s value! Yawn. There’s too much debt on the balance sheet! Typical. The lenders won’t play ball! Mmmm hmmm. The prior management was corrupt AF. Yup, it happens. Weather this year was uncharacteristically bad. Riiiight…that’s retail excuse-making 101.

And, so, it was with great excitement that we read that the Forever 21 bankruptcy stemmed from…wait for it…the American Dream. That’s right, the American Dream.

3.png

In other words, this is a story about unbridled ambition and optimism.

*****

Here’s the short version: two immigrants came to this country in the early 80s from South Korea. They had nothing; they worked hard; they sought out opportunity:

During his time as a gas station attendant, Mr. Chang took notice of the customers that drove the most luxurious cars—the customers working in the garment industry. This realization piqued Mr. Chang’s interest. He recognized that together with his wife, they were perfectly suited to enter the fashion industry. This would enable the couple to capitalize on Mr. Chang’s relationship-building prowess and Mrs. Chang’s keen sense of fashion.

Putting aside how shady the notion of your gas station attendant creeping on you is, this is pretty amazing sh*t.

Mrs. Chang, and her nearly-clairvoyant ability to predict trends, were part of the catalyst that boosted Forever 21’s upswing.

Take note, people: this is the kind of pandering you should get when you pay $1,600/hour.

Anyway, over the years, the Changs built a business that employed tens of thousands of people and generated billions in sales. The Changs put their two daughters through ivy league schools and they subsequently joined the family business. This is a beautiful story, folks. Especially so in today’s fraught political environment where immigration remains a hot button issue. Together, as a family, the Changs grew this company to be a behemoth:

4.jpg

And therein lies the rub. The company went from 7 international stores in 2005 to 251 by 2015.

Unfortunately, this rapid international expansion challenged Forever 21’s single supply chain and the styles failed to resonate over time across other continents despite its initial success.

It appears that the same entrepreneurial spirit that allowed the Changs to conquer the US led them astray internationally. Indeed, those European and Asian adventures — and the Chang daughters’ vanity project, Riley Rose — proved to be too costly. As you can see, while the domestic business has been in decline,** it still shows some promise. The international business, on the other hand, has really sucked the air out of the business⬇️.

5.jpg

Sure, aside from the international issue, some of the usual excuses exist. Mall traffic is down. Not enough attention to e-commerce. Product assortment could have been better. The company had borrowing base issues under its asset-backed loan. Yada yada yada. But this doesn’t appear to be the absolute train wreck that other recent retailers have been. At least not yet.

So what now?

At the first day hearing, company counsel spared us any in-court singing,*** but did rely on some not-particularly-complex imagery. He said the company’s predicament is like a puzzle and that, to paraphrase, you sometimes just need to get all of the pieces to fit.

6.gif

Those pieces are:

The Footprint. Right-sizing the business by shuttering underperforming locations, domestically and internationally. The company currently spends $450mm in annual rent, spread across 12.2mm total square feet. The company will close 178 stores in the US and 350 in total. In other words, the company is mostly erasing its overzealous expansion; it will focus on selling cheaply made crap to Americans and our southern friends down in Latin America rather than poisoning the clothes racks in Canada, Europe and Asia. The new footprint will be around 600 stores. Or, at least, that’s the plan for now. Let’s pour one out for the landlords. Here is CNBC mapping out where all of the closures are and which landlords are hit the most. Also per CNBC:

At one point, two of Forever 21′s largest landlords, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners, were trying to come up with a restructuring deal where they would take a stake in the company to keep it afloat. It would’ve been similar to when Simon and GGP, which is now owned by Brookfield, bought teen apparel retailer Aeropostale out of bankruptcy back in 2016. But talks between Forever 21 and its landlords fell through, according to a person familiar with the talks. Simon and Brookfield are listed in court papers as two of Forever 21′s biggest unsecured creditors. Simon is owed $8.1 million, while Brookfield is owed $5.3 million, and Macerich $2.7 million.

Only one of the locations marked for closure, however, belongs to Simon Property Group ($SPG).

The company notes:

To assist with the initial component of the strategy, Forever 21’s management team and its advisors worked with its largest landlords to right size its geographic footprint. Four landlords hold almost 50 percent of its lease portfolio. To date, Forever 21 and its landlords have engaged in productive negotiations but have not yet reached a resolution. The parties have exchanged proposals and diligence is ongoing. Forever 21 looks forward to continuing to work with its landlords to reach a mutually agreeable resolution and proceeding through these chapter 11 cases with the landlords’ support.

In tandem with these negotiations, Forever 21 and its advisors met with nearly all of its individual landlords to discuss potential postpetition rent concessions and other relief on a landlord-by-landlord basis. Many of these smaller, individual negotiations proved more fruitful than negotiations with the larger landlords. Although Forever 21 has not finalized the terms of a holistic landlord deal as of the Petition Date, Forever 21 anticipates that good-faith negotiations with its landlord constituency will continue postpetition, and that all parties will work together to reach a consensual, value-maximizing transaction.

Company counsel asserts that, for landlords, Forever 21 is “too big to fail.” This kinda feels like this:

7.gif

But don’t worry: the A Malls are totally fine. 

And don’t worry about the loans (CMBX) at all. Noooooo.

Merchandising. Getting “Back-to-Basics” on the merchandising front and focus on the company’s “core customer base.” Here is Bloomberg’s Jordyn Holman casting some shade on this plan. And here is Bloomberg’s Sarah Halzack. While the bankruptcy papers certainly don’t highlight the competition, bankruptcy counsel made a point of highlighting H&MZara and Fashion NovaRetail Dive writes:

They did not grow with their target customer and the Millennials have graduated to Zara & H&M,’ Shawn Grain Carter, professor of fashion business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told Retail Dive in an email. ‘Gen. Z is more interested in rental fashion and vintage hand-me-downs because they are more environmentally conscious.’

Interestingly, Stitch Fix Inc. ($SFIX) was up 5% on Monday while the RealReal Inc. ($REAL) was up 15%. (PETITION Note: both got clobbered on Tuesday, but so did everything else).

The Washington Post piles on:

“Slimming down the operation and reducing costs is only one part of the battle,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said in a note to clients. “The long-term survival of Forever 21 relies on the chain creating a sustainable and differentiated brand. This is something that will be very difficult to accomplish in a crowded and competitive sector.

Indeed, we’ve been writing for some time now that fast fashion seems out of sorts. Going “back to basics” may not actually be the right move in the end.

9.png

🤔

Vendor Management. A quick digression: back in May, we wrote about Modell’s Sporting Goods avoidance of bankruptcy. Mr. Modell himself worked the phones and reassured most of his vendors, prompting them to continue doing business with the shrinking sporting goods retailer. This is a feature that you don’t get in PE-backed retail bankruptcies where you have hired guns on management. There, Mr. Modell’s legacy was at stake. He hustled. Likewise, here, the Changs personal business is threatened. Accordingly, the company met with 100 vendors representing 80+% of the vendor base and got them comfortable with continued business; they secured 130 vendor support agreements for equal or better terms. Everyone is invested in making a viable go of the ‘19 holiday season. Sometimes it pays to have someone who is truly invested be all over the supply chain.

Financing. The company’s capital structure is rather simple:

10.png

The ABL is with JPMorgan Chase Bank NA as agent. The term loans were provided by the family. One from Do Won Chang for $10mm and the second from the Linda Inhee Chang 2012 Trust. Because nothing says “American Dream” like raiding your kid’s trust fund.

In conjunction with the bankruptcy, the company proposed a DIP credit facility in the form of (a) a $275 million senior secured super-priority ABL revolving credit facility, which includes a $75 million sub-limit for letters of credit and a “creeping roll up” of the pre-petition ABL Facility, and (b) a $75 million senior secured super-priority term loan credit facility, reflecting $75 million of new money financing. The company sought access to $60mm of the term loan at the hearing, indicating that with $40mm due in rent and $18mm in payroll, it would run out of cash without it. The judge approved this request.

And so here we are. The company intends to march forward with negotiations with its landlords, close tons of locations, sure up the vendor base, locate exit financing, and get this sucker out of bankruptcy in Q1 next year.

Ending up in bankruptcy certainly isn’t part of the American Dream. But living long enough to fight another day might just be.

11 - instagram.JPG

*H/t to @JordynJournals, retail reporter for Bloomberg News on this.

**The company notes that domestic sales have increased over the last 4 quarters.

***For those new to PETITION, the same lawyer from Kirkland & Ellis LLP that represents Forever 21 represented Toys R Us. In the now-infamous “first day” hearing in Toys, the attorney sang the Toys R Us jingle — “I don’t want to grow up…” — in the courtroom. Suffice it to say considering the outcome of that case, that tactic didn’t particularly age well. Indeed, this will age better, we reckon (won’t play in email, only in browser):

14.jpg

📚Resources📚

We have compiled a list of a$$-kicking resources on the topics of restructuring, tech, finance, investing, and disruption. 💥You can find it here💥. We recently added “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” by Mike Isaac, which we blew through rather quickly. Next up on our list: “What it Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence” by Stephen A. Schwarzman, “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company” by Bob Iger, and “That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea,” by Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph.


💰New Opportunities💰

PETITION LLC lands in the inbox of thousands of bankers, advisors, lawyers, investors and others every week. Our website(s) are visited by thousands more. Are you looking for quality people. Posting your job opportunities with PETITION is a great way for your listing to stand out from the LKDN muck.

Email us at petition@petition11.com and write “Opportunities” in the subject line if you’re interested in information about posting your opportunities with us.


Nothing in this email is intended to serve as financial or legal advice. Do your own research, you lazy rascals.


IF YOU ENJOYED THIS PUBLIC POST, YOU’LL LOVE OUR PREMIUM NEWSLETTER. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR KICK@$$ PREMIUM CONTENT AND GET THAT EXTRA EDGE OVER THE COMPETITION YOU’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR!

⚡️Earnings Season Ushers in More Bad News for Retail⚡️

In “Thanos Snaps, Retail Disappears👿,“ “Even Captain America Can’t Bring Back This Much Retail (Long Continued Closures)“ and “💸The #Retailapocalypse is a Boon for...💸,” we’ve chronicled the seemingly endless volume of retail store closures that continue to persist in the first half of 2019. As we’ve said time and time again, there are no signs of this trend disappearing. In fact, it continues to get worse.

Last week brought us a deluge of retail news and earnings. And, indeed, along with earnings came more store closure announcements and more indications of who are the “haves”* and the “have nots.”

Let’s start with department stores where there’s a lot of pain to go around in “have not”-ville.

Macy’s ($M) kicked things off with a surprise increase in same-store sales and so it was ONLY down approximately 0.9% on the week. In contrast, Kohl’s ($KSS)Dillard’s ($DDS)J.C. Penney ($JCP) and Nordstrom ($NWN) all got hammered — each down more than 7% — after across-the-board dismal earnings. Kohl’s performance was particularly interesting given its acclaimed experimentation, including partnerships with Amazon ($AMZN) and, coming soon, Fanatics. The company reported a 2.9% revenue decline and a same-store comp decline of 3.4%. Adding fuel to the fire: the company cut its full-year earnings guidance, citing…wait for it…tariffs(!) as a massive headwind.

Kohl’s wasn’t alone there. Home Depot ($HD) also indicated that new tariffs on China might cost it $1b in revenue — on top of the $1b it already anticipated from the prior round of tariffs. 😬

Other have nots in retail? Party City ($PRTY) is closing 45 storesTuesday Morning Corp. ($TUES) is closing a net 12 storesFred’s ($FRED) announced 104 more closures in addition to the 159 previously announced closures. Burberry Group Plc ($BURBY) is closing 38 storesTopshop is now bankrupt and will close 11 stores in the US (and more abroad). Hibbett Sports ($HIBB) is adding 95 store closures to the pile (despite otherwise nice results). Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the dumpster fire that is Dressbarn:

Finally, all of the pain in retail already has at least one ratings agency questioning whether David’s Bridal is out of the woods post-bankruptcy. We can’t wait to add that one to our “Do We have a Feasibility Problem?” series.

All of this has people scattered wondering what’s the next shoe to drop (more tariffs!) and, in turn, what can possibly stop the bleeding? Here is a piece discussing how private brands are on fire.

Here is to hoping that Generation Z saves malls. What draws them to malls? Good food. Malls with great food options apparently experience more sales. Now Neiman Marcus and H&M are going the resale routeUrban Outfitters ($URBN) is experimenting with a monthly rental service. Startups like Joymode look to benefit from the alleged shift from ownership to “access.”

As for continued bleeding, here is yet another sign that things may continue to worsen for retail:

Notably, production of containerboard — a type of paperboard specially manufactured for the production of corrugated board (or cardboard) — is suffering a YOY production decline. Is that indicative of a dip in e-commerce sales to boot? 😬

*On the flip side, there have been some clear winning “haves.” Take, TJX Companies Inc. ($TJX), for instance. The owner of T.J. Maxx reported a 5% increase in same store sales. Target Inc. ($TGT) and Walmart Inc. ($WMT) also appear to be holding their own. The former’s stock had a meaningful pop this week on solid earnings.

Religionless Millennials + Private Equity = Short David’s Bridal Inc.

Another Private Equity Backed Retailer is in Trouble

pexels-photo-341372.jpeg

Per the Pew Institute:

In the past 10 years, the share of U.S. adults living without a spouse or partner has climbed to 42%, up from 39% in 2007, when the Census Bureau began collecting detailed data on cohabitation.

Two important demographic trends have influenced this phenomenon. The share of adults who are married has fallen, while the share living with a romantic partner has grown. However, the increase in cohabitation has not been large enough to offset the decline in marriage, giving way to the rise in the number of “unpartnered” Americans.

Maybe the rise in co-habitation among romantic partners and the decline in marriage has something to do with the decline of importance of religion. Note this chart:

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 10.22.01 AM.png

That said, the decline seems to have more to do with millennial attitudes towards religion AND the institution of marriage than anything else.

What does this have to do with any of you? Well, it seems that attitudes towards marriage are creating some retail distress. In June, Alfred Angelo filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy — much to the chagrin of countless brides-to-be who were left uncertain as to the delivery status of their ordered gowns. Take cover…insert peak Bridezilla.

David’s Bridal Inc. swooped in and tried to save the day. Because HOT DAMN retail is cold today. Customer acquisition needs to come from somewhere. And David’s Bridal needs all the help it can get.

The Conshohocken Pennyslvania-based retailer is the largest American bridal-store chain, specializing in wedding dresses, prom gowns, and other formal wear. The company has approximately 300 stores nationally (and declining). It also has approximately $1 billion of debt hanging over its balance sheet like an albatross. Upon information and belief (because the company is private), the capital structure includes a $125 million revolving credit facility, an approximately $500 million term loan due October 2019, and $270 million of unsecured notes due October 2020. The notes are trading at roughly half of par value, reflecting distress and a negative outlook on the possibility of full payment. Justifiably so. With EBITDA at roughly $19 million a quarter, the company appears 9.5x+ leveraged. And you thought YOUR wedding dress was expensive.

Why so much debt you ask? Well, c’mon now. Surely you’ve been reading us long enough to know the answer: private equity, of course. The company was taken private in a 2012 leveraged buyout by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. (Petition Note: Callback to that Law360 article where private equity lawyers and bankers alleged that PE firms take too much flack…HAHAHA).

In light of recent trends and the debt, Moody’s recently downgraded David’s Bridal to “negative,” noting:

"‘In our view, this is a reflection of the intense competition in the sector and casualization of both gowns and bridesmaids dresses," Raya Sokolyanska, a Moody's analyst, wrote in a note to investors.”

Competition? You’ve got that right. H&M is all over this space too — grasping at straws to salvage its own languishing prospects.

Consequently, Reuters reported that the company is in talks with Evercore Group LLC ($EVR) to help it address its balance sheet. If hired, we think it would be hilarious if Evercore included this Marketwatch article entitled, “5 brides share their financial wedding regrets” in its pitch to lenders. Choice bit,

“Clare Redway, a marketing director based in Brooklyn who married in June 2016 said she wishes she spent more on the wedding dress, or at least found a more unique one. ‘I just got mine on sale at David’s Bridal,’ she said.”

That ought to stir up some concessions.

Enough Already With the “Amazon Effect”

Resale and Micro-Brands Are a Big Piece of the Retail Disruption Story

Let’s start with this SHAMELESS Law360 piece (paywall) which doubles as a promotional puff piece on behalf of the private equity industry. Therein a number of conflicted professionals go on record to say that private equity has taken far too much flack for the demise of retail. The piece is pure comedy…

To read the rest of this a$$-kicking commentary, you need to be a Member

Busted Narratives: Fast Fashion Falters (Short H&M)

We’re old enough to remember when fast fashion was allegedly decimating retail and every apparel retailer under the sun was rejiggering its supply chain to fight fire with fire. Well, yesterday, fast fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz HB — better known in the U.S. as H&M —reported earnings and to say that they were dogsh*t would be an understatement. Here is the stock as of yesterday:

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 7.01.22 PM.png

Man that chart is ugly: that’s a 50% drop in the last year. This takes the company all the way down to 2005 levels. What is going on?

For starters, operating profit fell 62% in the three months through February from 3.2 billion SEK to 1.3 billion SEK. And more problematic: the company has $4.3 billion of unsold inventory. This is the stock-in-trade picture as of yesterday:

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 7.14.55 PM.png

Y’zikes. Analysts are freaking out.

In the words of Karl-John Persson, the company’s CEO:

“While the assortment is appreciated by our customers, we have not improved fast enough. In addition to this, we made some mistakes in the assortment mix in the second half of 2017 that affected the top line. And now, we're working hard to ensure improvements, including fashion improvements and to improve value for money further as well as, of course, and also to have the right balance and assortment mix with the right products in the right -- at the right time, in the right amount to the right channels.”

Clearly. So, after dropping this steaming pile of bad news, Persson does what all good retail CEOs do these days: drop buzzwords and hot catch phrases like they’re hot. In trying to assuage analyst concerns after this buzzsaw of an earnings report, Persson goes all in with '“new store concepts", “optimize the store portfolio,” “image recognition,” “personalized product feeds,” “automated warehouses,” “advanced analytics and artificial intelligence,” “cloud, APIs and microservices,” and “RFID and 3D.” Did you catch all of that? Don’t know about you, but we’re impressed. These guys really threw the whole kitchen sink at us with this pixie cloud of meaninglessness. Take note: if you’re a restructuring advisor or performance improvement specialist seeking a company-side retail mandate, you have our permission to cut and paste this paragraph into your deck. Perhaps you can win over an executive team too-embarrassed to ask you what the hell any of it actually means as a practical matter.