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Gobble, Gobble: Retailers Catch Latest Consolidation Fever

Consolidation fever spread to the specialty store and direct market sectors, as Chico’s grabbed White House/Black Market and Alloy bought Delia’s.

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NEW YORK — Consolidation fever — already red hot in wholesaling and among department stores — is spreading to the specialty store and direct marketing sectors. Thursday’s announcements that Chico’s is buying White House/Black Market, and Alloy is purchasing Delia’s may just be the first in a wave of takeovers.

Cash-rich Limited Brands, Schottenstein Stores Corp., which owns American Eagle Outfitters, and May Department Stores are among the retailers said to be on the prowl and companies ripe for the taking include Eddie Bauer, Wet Seal and Bebe, as well as J. Crew, J. Jill and Club Monaco, according to financial sources.

Limited, which long ago said its next acquisition would be outside the apparel sector, is believed to be interested in buying a personal care brand, something small that could be expanded and would complement the corporation’s proprietary beauty brands. “LVMH [Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton] may be looking to get rid of one its brands,” said a source.

In addition, L.L. Bean is interested in Eddie Bauer, part of the bankrupt Spiegel Group that also could be sold. Eddie Bauer would require a huge image overhaul but market experts say there’s an opportunity for someone to cater to ageing yuppies and Baby Boomers who like active and outdoor apparel.

Meanwhile, American Eagle is said to be putting a team together to create a retail concept that would counter Abercrombie & Fitch’s latest strategy for a fourth retail division targeting an audience just older than its core A&F audience. A&F also operates abercrombie kids and Hollister for younger audiences, and has reportedly put Carol Kerner —whose background spans Donna Karan, J. Crew and Calvin Klein — into a key, full-time design position at the new division.

And, according to another source, “Talbots certainly has the money,” for an acquisition. “Years ago they did look at Brooks Brothers, but it was priced above what they viewed as fair value. So they would only buy something if it was priced right.” However, Talbots has been expanding through new stores carrying men’s wear, special sizes or accessories, in addition to its core misses division.
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