WASHINGTON POST | SARAH HALZACK
Coach has scooped up some shoes to go with its handbags.
The upscale purse and accessories retailer said Tuesday that it hasagreed to acquire luxury footwear brand Stuart Weitzman from private equity firm Sycamore Partners in a deal valued at up to $574 million.
The deal comes as Coach moves to bounce back from a rough 2014. While rivals such as Michael Kors and Kate Spade saw explosive growth, Coach’ssales faltered as its veneer of exclusivity eroded: A frenzy of deep discounts on full-price items made the bags less of a status symbol, and shoppers tired of the logo-emblazoned styles that the brand had become known for over more than a decade.
The acquisition of Stuart Weitzman brings into Coach’s stable a brand that pulled down $300 million in sales in 2014 and that has seen steady growth for the last five years. But analysts are questioning whether the deal might be more of a distraction for Coach than a solution.
“Under normal circumstances, a leading American handbag brand acquiring a leading American footwear brand would be a reasonable strategy, but [Coach] may have too many balls in the air right now,” said Ike Boruchow, specialty retail analyst at Sterne Agee, in a research note.
Indeed, Coach has a multi-pronged “transformation strategy” in place to try to reinvigorate its storied brand, which last quarter saw a 24 percent drop in sales at North American stores open more than a year. Coach has brought in a new creative director, Stuart Vevers, whose first collection for the brand hit stores this fall. In June, the company announced it would be redesigning its stores, cutting back on promotional pricing and adding more expensive items to its product assortment.
Coach also has said it sees significant growth opportunity outside of its core handbag business into other categories, including footwear. This is one reason the acquisition could prove fruitful, analysts said: Stuart Weitzman is known for its technical prowess in shoe-making, and Coach could put that know-how to use as it expands its own footwear offerings.
Stuart Weitzman had something of a stodgy reputation in the not-so-distant past, but the brand has gotten fresh buzz lately as its over-the-knee boots–in particular, the flat and functional 5050 boot and thevampy Highland boot–have become favorites of celebrities and fashion bloggers.
“They got back to what they were really good at, which is offering fashion coupled with comfort, and they put a sexier spin on it,” said Jennifer Black, president of retail research firm Jennifer Black & Associates.
Coach is to pay Sycamore Partners $570 million in cash for the shoe brand, and could pay them an additional $44 million if certain revenue targets are achieved within three years of the completion of the deal. Coach’s stock fell more than 1 percent after the deal was announced, closing at $36.30 a share.
Coach was a pioneer of the category that’s come to be known as “affordable luxury,” in which a handbag typically costs $200 to $400, a price point that makes the products feel indulgent but not completely out of reach for a middle-class shopper, unlike the four-figure price tags typically seen on handbags from high-fashion houses such as Chanel or Dior.
Recently, newcomers have come on strong in this price category, including Kate Spade and Tory Burch, which each blend ultra-feminine and preppy looks, as well as Michael Kors, which likes to say it provides shoppers with a “jet-set experience.”
“You had all those factors kind of chipping away at Coach, which was doing the exact same thing they’d done for many years,” said Robert Burke, principal of retail consultancy Robert Burke Associates.
Coach has recently had some success selling bags that are a notch more expensive than the ones on which it made its name, more in the $400-$600 range.
“There have been certainly some signs of slowdowns at the true luxury level,” said Dorothy Lackner, managing director at Topeka Capital Markets. “That would seem to create white space where these more affordable luxury brands can take share.”