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August 10, 2009 3:49 PM

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On Finlay's Finale

No good diversification strategy goes unpunished.Finlay Enterprises Inc. put up a good fight, but that fight ended on Aug. 5 when it filed for bankruptcy and headed for liquidation -- even though it did what most of its competitors would...

No good diversification strategy goes unpunished.

Finlay Enterprises Inc. put up a good fight, but that fight ended on Aug. 5 when it filed for bankruptcy and headed for liquidation -- even though it did what most of its competitors would have done under the same circumstances. It has licensed operations at department stores and also operates stand-alone stores. When the handwriting on the wall became obvious, and it was clear the trend of retail consolidation at the department store level was not going away, the jewelry retailer, beginning in 2005, did what seemed prudent. Over a three-year period, Finlay acquired three operations -- Carlyle & Co. Jewelers, L. Congress Inc. and, from Zale Corp., Bailey Banks & Biddle -- to expand its stand-alone business, a move that helped to preserve sales but added to its debt load.

Now, you have to wonder, what was wrong with that?

One would think these nameplates would help offset the loss of licensed operations that were at Lord & Taylor, Parisian and Gottschalks Inc. But the really big hit came with the two restructuring initiatives at Macy's Inc. after its 2005 merger with May Department Stores Co. resulted in the shuttering of 288 sites and the reduction of Finlay's annual revenues by over $350.5 million. From 2003 through 2005, licensed sites at Macy's and May accounted for more than 70 percent of Finlay's sales.

Then came the consumer-led recession that began in early 2008, and the best-laid plans went downhill.

Finlay certainly wasn't the only jeweler up against a tough market. Even jewelry firms unaffected by consolidation have been hit hard by the recession, which has included among its victims Whitehall Jewellers Inc., Fortunoff and Henry Dunay Designs. Bankruptcies were up 18.6 percent in the jewelry sector last year alone.

Now Finlay can be added to the list. The company has sought bankruptcy protection and entered into an agreement with Gordon Brothers Retail Partners to liquidate its remaining assets, a process expected to be completed by yearend.

That's good news for consumers looking for great deals on baubles to add to their bling collections, but nothing positive for the employees and associates of a company that began in 1887 as a mail-order jewelry business and tried without success to adjust to changing times.
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