Lord & Taylor owner in talks for Hudson's Bay
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
July 9, 2008 at 9:41 PM EDT
The owner of Lord & Taylor has been in talks to take over Hudson's Bay Co., a move that could lead to the quintessentially American department store retailer setting up shop in Canada, sources said.
NRDC Equity Partners of Purchase, N.Y., which owns the 47-store U.S. chain, already has an interest of about 20 per cent in HBC, which runs the Bay, Zellers and Home Outfitters, sources said. Richard Baker, chief executive officer of NRDC, has been thinking of opening stores outside of the United States, he told a conference recently. Canada was one of the countries on his radar.
“I was given the impression that this guy is very keen on doing this,” said a source who was aware of recent talks with HBC.
Neither Mr. Baker nor HBC officials replied to messages Wednesday.
The fate of HBC is in the hands of the family of Jerry Zucker, the South Carolina billionaire who bought the Canadian retailer for $1.1-billion in 2006, but died in April. His widow, Anita Zucker, a retired teacher and philanthropist, took the helm at the business following the death.
The family has said it plans to continue operating the company, but industry observers have suggested that it might eventually wind up on the block.
Attention turned to Mr. Baker, who sits on the board of directors of HBC, after the U.S. private equity firm raised about $400-million last fall for new acquisitions. The firm had looked into bidding on HBC when it was for sale in late 2005 and early 2006.
Soon afterward, NRDC bought the 182-year-old Lord & Taylor, a tired East Coast chain in need of a revamping. More recently, in February, it acquired out of bankruptcy Fortunoff, a jewellery and home decor chain.
A takeover of HBC by the owner of Lord & Taylor would marry two of the oldest names in the department store sector. It's an industry that has been under attack over the past decade from more nimble specialty chains as well as discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc..
Both HBC, founded in 1670, and Lord & Taylor have been racing to reinvent their stores over the past two years. Mr. Zucker set out to transform his Bay stores into a more upscale department-store chain, emulating Macy's in the U.S. He launched new private labels, empowered store managers to make local purchasing decisions and re-jigged technology in a bid to get inventory to shelves faster.
Mr. Baker has made great strides in upgrading Lord & Taylor. He has recruited upscale designers and started to remodel stores. He even launched Creative Design Studios, which makes apparel for the chain and potentially for competing merchants.
On Wednesday, Women's Wear Daily's website reported that NRDC was aggressively pursuing HBC, according to its sources.