The Big Story

RetailWire Discussion: What happened this holiday selling season?

Tom Ryan, Retail Wire

In the first major post-holiday report, Mastercard projected U.S. retail sales grew 3.0 percent in the expanded selling season from Oct. 11 through Dec. 24, short of 2019’s four percent gain, but ahead of a forecast for 2.4 percent growth.

Mastercard SpendingPulse tracks online and in-store spending with all forms of payment.

The Wall Street Journal noted that Mastercard’s data showed U.S. retail sales rose only 2.4 percent for the two-month period — Nov. 1 to Christmas Eve — below the 3.6-to-5.2 percent growth predicted by NRF. The publication indicated a “more complete picture” of holiday spending won’t arrive until the government’s December figures and retail’s quarterly results arrive.

Some questions still unanswered:

Who were retail’s winners? Amazon, Walmart and other big boxes are expected to have gained share due to the ongoing appeal of one-stop shopping, online order pickup and expansive e-commerce capabilities during the pandemic. Aligned with stay-at-home needs, Mastercard’s report found strong double-digit gains in Furniture & Furnishings and Home Improvement categories, along with a nearly 20 percent decline in apparel.

  • Did online sales just replace in-store sales? Mastercard reported online sales accelerated 49.0 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 versus an 18.8 percent gain last year. Due to in-store restrictions, store traffic fell 31.3 percent over the seven days leading up to Dec. 24, according to Sensormatic Solutions.
  • Were profit margins depressed? Lean inventories helped reduce the need for markdowns but the online surge likely drove up shipping and logistical costs.
  • What’s the consumer mindset? On Dec. 22, The Conference Board reported consumer confidence registered its second-lowest reading since the pandemic lockdowns earlier this year. The performance was attributed to COVID-19’s resurgence and a deteriorating labor market.
  • Did the early deals help? Retailers began their holiday promotions early in October to reduce overcrowding in stores, ease e-commerce supply chain strains and to match Amazon’s delayed Prime Day.
  • Did the last mile deliver? ShipMatrix data indicates the three shipping carriers delivered high rates of on-time delivery for the week ended Dec. 19 with the aid of early cut-off dates, restrictions placed on large volume shippers and surcharges that incentivized early shipments.

Discussion Questions: How would you rate how the holiday selling season likely performed for most retailers versus plans? Which changes in holiday shopping behavior will clearly be considered to be pandemic-related when looking back in the years ahead?


Comments from the RetailWire BrainTrust:

I believe we didn’t know what we didn’t know going into an unknown event this season. A lot of retailers did start early. Many retailers adapted quickly, adding BOPIS, curbside pickup and home delivery to their purchase options. Local seemed to receive extra emphasis this year (which was a great thing). Some of what we saw will become the norm again next holiday season – I believe the contactless transaction will become more refined and more seamless.
Richard Hernandez, Director, Affiliated Foods, Inc.

Early results suggest that we’re likely going to see the continued pattern of “winners” and “others” through the holidays. The stores that were doing well before the holidays extended their gains, the stores and categories that were struggling had a tough time. I will be interested to see the impact of deep discounts in apparel and home and how consumers responded. And to see if it was enough to move through the glut of inventory they’ve been dealing with.
Gary Sankary, Retail Industry Strategy, Esri

This holiday shopping season was surely an anomaly for retail sales. In the end, online should be outpacing in-store sales just because of the logistical issues brought about by the pandemic. As the next COVID-19 surge hits following the post Christmas period, we will see even more changes in shopping as more of the nation undergoes stricter lockdowns.
Kai Clarke, CEO, President- American Retail Consultants

This may end up being a holiday sales season of extremes. There will be strong winners, and some losers, largely category dependent. It appears retailers were successful in getting consumers to shop early and spread out those sales. E-commerce took a front seat but it’s not clear from the data yet how successful retailers were at replacing in-store sales with online sales.

I find MasterCard data tends to reflect a slightly inflated view of the season, though not as overly optimistic as NRF. I suspect we’ll see large mass merchandisers tell a story of big sales gains, mostly from e-commerce and curbside pickup, with categories like apparel in the specialty segment not performing as well as they had hoped. Home goods and electronics likely did well. We’ll also need to see what happens with returns and gift card purchases to get the complete picture.

What is clear is that in certain regions, in-store traffic was way down and we’ll have to see final data to know if digital sales compensated for that (they didn’t for Black Friday to Cyber Monday).
Ricardo Belmar, Retail Transformation Thought Leader

Read the entire RetailWire discussion here:

Headline of the Week

Consumer confidence is low for now, but there’s growing optimism about the next few months

Consumer confidence is still well below pre-pandemic levels, according to consumer sentiment indexes from The Conference Board and the University of Michigan. However, both reported optimistic numbers that suggest it will begin to rebound in the coming months.  Vaccine rollouts, stimulus checks, and the upcoming inauguration all likely contributed to the optimism about the coming months. Though COVID-19 cases are still on the rise, the rollout of the vaccine does provide hope for a light at the end of the tunnel, and the promise of new stimulus checks—which could now be up to $2,000—is also a cause for optimism.



Apparel & Footwear

Sycamore Partners vows to ‘unlock potential’ of Lane Bryant after closing acquisition

Ascena Retail Group has completed the sale of several of its brands, including Columbus-based Lane Bryant, to a new owner. New York City-based Sycamore Partners LLC bought Lane Bryant and its sister brands Loft, Ann Taylor and Lou & Grey, from the bankrupt New Jersey company for $540 million. The deal closed Dec. 23, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Sycamore, a private equity firm with $10 billion in assets under management, has a history of buying and quickly turning around struggling brands with aggressive and sometimes painful cost-cutting. “We’re pleased to have completed our purchase of these four highly respected apparel brands and are excited by the opportunity to unlock their full potential as part of our portfolio,” said Stefan Kaluzny, managing director of Sycamore Partners, in the statement.

Mango in deal with Simon to jumpstart U.S. expansion

A Spanish fashion giant is looking to grow its U.S. presence starting in early 2021. In collaboration with Simon, Mango will open three stores in Simon centers in the first quarter of 2021. The locations — Roosevelt Field, Garden City, N.Y.; Menlo Park Mall, Edison, N.J., and Dadeland Mall, Kendall, Fla.— were “strategically selected” to jumpstart the expansion of Mango’s Mediterranean brand to the American consumer, according to Simon. “Mango has been focused on enhancing brand recognition in the United States with investments in wholesale and e-commerce distribution,” said Daniel López, Mango’s director of expansion and franchises. “The next logical step is acceleration of our physical presence, which will materialize with our Simon openings.” Mango has been selling in the U.S. since 2006 via various channels, including its 2019 wholesale launch in select Macy’s flagship stores and direct-to-consumer e-commerce launch.

Retailers brace for flood of returns from online shoppers

A huge surge in online shopping during the pandemic has been a savior for retailers, but it comes at a price. Shoppers are expected to return twice as many items as they did during last year’s holiday period, costing companies roughly $1.1 billion, according to Narvar Inc., a software and technology company that manages online returns for hundreds of brands. Retailers don’t want the returns, but they do want shoppers who may not feel safe going to stores to be comfortable buying things they haven’t seen or tried on in person. Many companies are offering more locations where customers can drop off returns, which cuts down shipping costs and gets refunds to shoppers more quickly. Happy Returns, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based startup that works with about 150 online retailers like Rothy’s and Revolve, has increased its number of drop-off locations to 2,600, from more than 700 last year. That includes 2,000 FedEx locations.

Pierre Cardin, ground-breaking fashion designer and master marketer, dies at 98

Pierre Cardin, who during his more than seven decades in fashion brought geometric shapes to haute couture and put his name on everything from clothing to furniture to perfume to pens, died Tuesday. He was 98. Cardin went from the world of bespoke high fashion for private clients to ready-to-wear designs for the masses. The son of a wealthy wine merchant, Cardin was born near Venice on July 2, 1922. He and his family moved from Fascist Italy to France when he was 2. In 1953, he presented his first women’s collection and the following year, he founded his first ladies boutique, Eve, and unveiled the bubble dress. By the 1970s, he became a pioneer in branding, putting his name on practically everything, including cars — American Motors Corp.’s Cardin AMX Javelin starting in 1971 — perfume, pens, cigarettes, even sardines. He was dubbed a “branding visionary” by The New York Times, which noted in a 2002 piece that some 800 products bearing his name were being sold in more than 140 countries, bringing in $1 billion a year.



Athletic & Sporting Goods

Echelon Pulls In $65 Million In Funding As ‘Connected’ Fitness Takes Off 

Echelon Fitness of Tennessee has raised $65 million in funding as the internet-connected fitness company takes advantage of pandemic-fueled growth.  Echelon said it offers online classes with everything from “heart-pounding, high-intensity workouts, to calming yoga,” covering fitness needs at all levels. The company’s products include bikes, rowing equipment and treadmills along with “an app experience that allows its members to participate in both live and on-demand fitness classes.”  Echelon said in a press release that the latest funding round was led by Goldman Sachs Growth, along with participation from existing investor North Castle Partners.  Lou Lentine, Echelon president and CEO, said his company was dedicated to offering innovation along with “affordable prices.” He said the new funding would “propel our business even further.”  Echelon’s products are available online as well as through retailers that include Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Costco and Amazon.

Parent company of Bass Pro and Cabela’s plans to acquire Sportsman’s Warehouse

Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s and Sportsman’s Warehouse will soon be all part of the same company if a deal between the Great American Outdoors Group and Sportsman’s Warehouse goes through.  Utah-based Sportsman’s Warehouse has entered into an agreement with the Missouri-based Great American Outdoors Group, which owns Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, White River Marine Group and a collection of nature-based resorts. The Great American Outdoors Group will remain a private company. Sportsman’s Warehouse will be acquired for $18.00 per share in cash.  Sportsman’s Warehouse has been in business for 33 years and has 112 stores.  Bass Pro acquired Cabela’s three years ago and there are 169 Bass Pro and Cabela’s stores combined.

Innovatus Capital Partners Acquires the Assets of Kranos Corporation including Schutt Brand

Innovatus Capital Partners, LLC announced that it has formed Certor Sports, LLC (“Certor Sports”) to actively consolidate sporting goods brands faced with significant headwinds due to Covid-19 and the corresponding disruption in youth, collegiate, and professional sports.  Certor Sports, through its subsidiaries, has acquired substantially all of Kranos Corporation’s assets, IP and brands including Schutt, ProGear Shoulder Pads, Tucci Bats, Hollywood Bases and Adams USA. Earlier this year, Certor Sports, through its subsidiaries, also acquired the assets of high-tech football helmet startup VICIS. “Certor Sports will leverage the strengths of VICIS, Schutt, and its other brands to offer a broad scope of sporting goods in the marketplace,” said Ravi Bhagavatula, Partner and Head of the Lower Middle Market Distressed Strategy at Innovatus.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Target selling Dermstore to UK online retailer for $350M

Target Corp. is selling Dermstore, an online skincare subsidiary, to a Manchester, England-based online retailer for $350 million. The Hut Group has agreed to pay cash for the site, which Target has owned since 2013. Reuters reports that The Hut Group expects to add sales of $180 million and increase its customer base in the U.S. through the purchase. U.S. antitrust authorities are expected to clear the deal late next month. Dermstore was founded in 1999 by a board-certified dermatologist and carries over 750 brands. When Minneapolis-based Target announced its purchase of Dermstore, it said the deal “positions Target to expand its share of the rapidly evolving online beauty market and will further differentiate the company’s offerings in this important retail segment.”


Discounters & Department Stores

Jill Soltau leaves J.C. Penney

J.C. Penney’s new owners, mall REITs Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management, on Wednesday said they have launched a search for a new chief executive officer to replace Jill Soltau, who is leaving the company. Simon Chief Investment Officer Stanley Shashoua will serve as interim CEO starting Jan. 1, according to a J.C. Penney press release. Otherwise, the “new ownership group will establish a temporary office of the CEO to include key members of JCPenney’s current leadership team,” the company said.

DOJ sues Walmart, alleges it helped drive the opioid crisis

The Department of Justice sued Walmart on Tuesday, alleging that the retail giant, with its 5,000 pharmacies, filled thousands of improper opioid prescriptions and “shirked” its role as a distributor of the drugs. The department accused Walmart of violating the Controlled Substances Act and is seeking civil penalties that could add up to billions of dollars. Walmart, which sued the DOJ and Drug Enforcement Agency in October for more clarity around compliance, fired back with a scathing statement. In it, the retailer said it has blocked “thousands of questionable doctors” and “always empowered” its pharmacists to refuse filling problematic opioid prescriptions.

Nordstrom brings supply chain talent into the C-suite

Alexis DePree, Nordstrom’s executive vice president and chief supply chain officer, will become the newest member of the company’s executive team on Jan. 3, 2021, after joining the retailer in January, the company announced last week. DePree came to the fashion retailer from Amazon where she was the vice president of sort centers and planning for the Americas. She is one of the five female executives on the company’s 12-member executive team. “With the acceleration of digital sales to 54 percent this year, our supply chain network must be ready to serve our customers across every aspect of our business — from full-price and off-price to online and in-store,” Pete Nordstrom, chief brand officer and president of Nordstrom, said in a release. DePree’s expertise in supply chain transformation and retail will serve the company in getting product to customers, Nordstrom added.

Target recalls 480,000 pieces of infant, toddler clothing over choking hazard

Target is recalling 480,000 infant and toddler rompers and swimsuits due to choking hazards, according to multiple Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) notices. The recall covers approximately 299,000 Cloud Island infant rompers and 181,000 Cat & Jack Infant-Toddler One-Piece Rashguard Swimsuits. According to the agency’s warnings, the rashguards on the swimsuits have defective snaps that can break or detach, “posing choking and laceration hazards to children.”



Emerging Consumer Companies

Jane, online marketplace for boutique sellers, raises $40 million

Jane, a Lehi, Utah-based online marketplace for boutique sellers, raised a $40 million Series A led by Tritium Partners. Jane allows small business owners to sell clothing, accessories, shoes and home decor to buyers across the country, and currently has more than 3,000 sellers on its platform. The company said it is projecting $250 million in sales this year with plans to increase 20 to 30 percent next year, roughly the same rate of growth it saw in 2020. The Series A is Jane’s first outside financing since it was founded.

Rebag, luxury resale platform, opens micro-store in New York City

Luxury resale company Rebag announced the opening of its Rebag Bar, a 180-square foot micro-store, in New York City inside The Shops at Columbus Circle. The store features all categories Rebag carries, including bags, watches, fine jewelry and accessories. Customers can sell items within an hour at the location, and can not only shop a curated selection of products but will also be able to digitally access the company’s entire inventory at the Rebag Bar. Rebag, which was primarily known for its secondhand luxury bag offerings, broadened into other categories last year, namely watches and fine jewelry. The company landed $15 million in Series D funding last May.



Grocery & Restaurants

Boston landmark Legal Sea Foods sold to PPX Hospitality Brands

PPX Hospitality Brands on Tuesday announced the acquisition of Legal Sea Foods, a Boston institution founded by the Berkowitz family in 1968, now with 27 casual-dining locations in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Boston-based PPX was launched in January of 2020 as the parent company of steakhouse chain Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group and The Strega Group, which operates three Italian chophouses in the Boston area under the Strega Italiano brand as well as Strega Caffe, a coffeehouse on the campus of Northeastern University. PPX will own and operate the Legal Sea Foods restaurants, but Roger Berkowitz, who had been president and CEO since 1992, will retain the name outside of restaurants, in channels such as e-commerce and retail.


Punch Bowl Social files for bankruptcy, citing pandemic

“Eatertainment” concept Punch Bowl Social filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the District of Delaware, blaming operating restrictions related to the pandemic, according to court documents. Once with 18 locations, the Denver-based company had permanently closed four units by August, and only three remained open, in Denver, Cleveland and Atlanta, at the time of the bankruptcy filing. The restaurant chain’s senior secured lender, CrowdOut Capital, had pledged continuing support for Punch Bowl as recently as August. Punch Bowl Social has been on shaky financial ground since the pandemic started. In late March, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, which had taken a minority stake in the concept in July of 2019, said it would not continue to invest in the brand.


Save A Lot shifts to wholesale model

Save A Lot is transitioning to a wholesale business model in which the discount grocer plans to sell more than 300 corporate-operated locations to current and new retail partners. St. Louis-based Save A Lot, owned by Canadian private-equity firm Onex Corp., said Monday that it has sold 51 company-operated stores in the Tampa, Fla., market to independent grocer Fresh Encounter Inc., which will continue to run those locations under the Save A Lot banner. To date under the relicensing program, Save A Lot has executed seven sale transactions encompassing 82 stores, including the Tampa locations being sold to Fresh Encounter. Save A Lot said that as multiple transactions near completion, the company expects to wrap up the transition of most corporate stores to independent ownership in 2021. Plans call for Save A Lot to retain 21 corporate-operated stores in St. Louis, which will serve as a testing ground for innovations to help the company’s retail partners nationwide. Onex acquired Save A Lot in December 2016 for about $1.4 billion from Supervalu Inc.

Home & Road

CriticalPoint Capital Completes Acquisition of the Agway Farm Supply Distribution Division from Southern States Cooperative

Affiliates of CriticalPoint Capital, LLC announced it has completed the acquisition of substantially all of the assets of the Farm Supply Distribution division from Southern States Cooperative, one of the largest farm supply retail and service cooperatives in the United States.  The division will be rebranded as Agway Farm & Home and will continue to nurture its deep agricultural roots as a wholesale product distribution company providing a vast network of farm and home retailers with their seasonal home and hardware, farm supply, lawn and garden, bird, pet and animal health needs. Since 1964, Agway has served a network of over 1,250 private dealers and Southern States Cooperative-owned retail locations throughout the East Coast. Outside of the Southern States Cooperative-owned locations, each store is individually owned and operated and offers an extensive selection of branded and private label products uniquely chosen for each market. The transaction represents CPC’s third completed acquisition in the last two months.  In October, CPC announced the acquisition of from Walmart and AECOM’s Power Construction division.

Franchise Group completes acquisition of FFO Home, begins rebranding

Franchise Group Inc., owners of American Freight and Buddy’s Home Furnishings, has completed its acquisition of FFO Home, a furniture retailer with 31 stores in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Oklahoma. The acquisition was first announced in November. “The FFO Home acquisition allows American Freight to accelerate its growth plans, including new market entries,” said Brian Kahn, CEO of Franchise Group, about the acquisition. “It provides customers who used to shop at FFO Home with an enhanced customer experience, with additional products and payment options.” Subject to a voluntary Chapter 11 relief filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, FFO has continued normal business operations throughout the sale process, and Franchise Group provided a debtor-in-possession loan as part of the bankruptcy proceedings. More than 30 FFO Home stores throughout the Midwest will be rebranded to American Freight Furniture, Mattress & Appliance.

Furniture Insights: New orders remain strong in October

New orders for furniture continued to roll in at high levels in October, up 40% compared with October 2019, putting orders 14% ahead of levels through last year’s first 10 months. Those are the results of the latest Furniture Insights survey of residential furniture manufacturers and distributors from accounting and consulting firm Smith Leonard. October’s increase followed a 43% increase in September, a 51% increase in August, 39% in July and 30% in June. New orders rose for 77% of survey participants, down from 91% reporting increases in September. Year-to-date orders increased for 59% of surveyed companies, up slightly from September’s report. October shipments, which were up for 61% of those surveyed, rose 8% compared with the same month last year after increasing 4% in September and 3% in August.

Study forecasts sleep product demand to increase 2.6% per year through 2024

Sleep product demand is forecast to grow 2.6% annually for the next four years, according to a recent report from Freedonia Focus Reports, and better sleep on premium mattresses will be a key marketing driver for the bedding category. In its “Sleep Products: United States,” FFR says the advances each year will be driven by increases in household formation, home sales and higher levels of disposable personal income. Marketing the importance of a good night’s sleep and the potential benefits of high-end foam and hybrid mattresses will continue to support purchases of premium bedding, the report notes. In addition, the aging population of relatively affluent Baby Boomers will increase demand of premium products that offer relief for problems such as back pain. The Freedonia report also noted that, in the short term, COVID-19 will continue to spur demand for new mattresses, citing consumers who are experience negative effects to the quality of their sleep while working from home and spending more time in their bedroom.

Jewelry & Luxury

Online Jewelry Sales Increased 44.6% This Holiday Season, Study Says

Online shopping has been the bright spot in U.S. retail this year, and a new report shows that consumers leaned heavily on e-commerce channels this holiday season in particular. According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracked all forms of consumer spending (including cash and check) from Oct. 11 to Dec. 24, holiday retail sales—excluding cars and gas—grew 3% this year. And online sales grew approximately 49% compared to 2019. Jewelry, which the report broke out as its own category, saw a 44.6% increase in e-commerce sales, compared to 2019—though jewelry sales dipped 4.3% during the same period overall.

Future of luxury: A look at the year ahead

Back in early March, when parts of Europe went into lockdown, and designers began to panic as collections got stuck in warehouses or were refused by the department stores that had ordered them, analysts warned of an “unprecedented crisis” for the £2.2tn fashion and luxury industries. Eight months later, that “unprecedented crisis” looks more like a blip — especially at the higher end of the price spectrum. While luxury goods sales shrunk by about a fifth last year, according to Citi and Bain estimates, a strong third quarter and the rapid deployment of a vaccine has led some analysts and executives to predict a near-full return to 2019 revenues in 2021.

Tiffany & Co. Shareholders Approve New LVMH Deal

The long-running saga over LVMH‘s acquisition of Tiffany & Co. now appears to be over, after the New York-based jewelry label’s shareholders voted to approve the deal. Following the vote, Tiffany & Co. will be removed from the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, with the deal expected to close early this year. Final approval of the acquisition follows a tumultuous time since LVMH first agreed to buy the company in November 2019. Since then, the deal has been hit hard by the economic impact of Coronavirus. Following multiple delays to the deal in 2020, Tiffany & Co. sued LVMH over its collapse, with LVMH counter suing the luxury label over the deal. Eventually, a new price was announced in October 2020, as LVMH lowered the overall price of the deal by $425 million USD.


Office & Leisure

The LEGO Group is planning an entire network of US airport stores

The LEGO Group is planning to launch a string of LEGO Stores in airports across the US. The company’s first US travel shopping destination recently opened its doors at Salt Lake City International Airport. But it won’t be the last: in conjunction with retail partner Marshall Retail Group (MRG), the LEGO Group is apparently planning to open up to 12 more LEGO Stores in US airports in 2021. It might seem like madness to focus on travel retail in the middle of a pandemic, but the coronavirus outbreak may actually be the driving force behind this new expansion. That’s because while international travel is heavily restricted, domestic travel across the US has spiked in 2020. Dotting LEGO Stores throughout airports therefore places bricks in front of many more potential shoppers.

Fanatics and Lids grow college presence with Barnes & Noble Education investment

Licensed sports merchandise retailers Fanatics and Lids have jointly invested US$15 million in Barnes & Noble Education (BNED), which operates 775 retail stores on college campuses across the United States. The deal, which has been dubbed ‘a long-term strategic omnichannel merchandising partnership’, sees Fanatics and Lids – which is half-owned by Fanatics – acquire more than 2.3 million shares in BNED, which says it will use the fresh injection of capital to ‘further bolster its strategic growth initiatives’. BNED, the college retailer spun off from bookseller Barnes & Noble in 2015, operates official stores at major universities including Harvard, the University of Michigan, Penn State and UNC. Following the deal, Fanatics will help develop ecommerce offerings for BNED’s college bookstores by expanding its product selection across online and mobile sites, as well as creating what it calls ‘a progressive direct-to-consumer platform’. Fanatics already has existing partnerships with more than 150 universities to operate ecommerce and mobile stores, while it also sells college merchandise for more than 500 schools via its own online shop.

Guitar Center exits bankruptcy

Guitar Center Inc. has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, eliminating a big chunk of its debt in the process. The musical instruments retailer, which filed for Chapter 11 in November, said it has concluded its fast-track reorganization, and emerged with a stronger balance sheet as a result of the elimination of nearly $800 million of debt and $165 million in new equity funding. In addition, Guitar Center said the recapitalization transactions boost its liquidity, supporting the company’s ongoing operations and enables it to invest in its strategic growth initiatives and execute its business plan. Guitar Center operates nearly 300 stores under its own banner and more than 200 Music & Arts stores, which specialize in band and orchestral instruments for sale and rental. It also operates Musician’s Friend, a direct marketer of musical instruments.

Guitar Center pre-negotiated a restructuring support agreement which included new financing from existing creditors, plus $165 million in new equity from owner Ares Management Corp., along with Carlyle Group and Brigade Capital Management.

L Catterton to Sell Inspired Pet Nutrition to CapVest

L Catterton announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to sell Inspired Pet Nutrition (“IPN”), the U.K.’s leading independent pet food platform, to funds managed by CapVest Partners LLP. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. IPN, best known for its dry dog food and pet treats under the Harringtons and Wagg brands, is a third-generation family enterprise which has become a market leader within the U.K. pet food landscape. Since investing in the Company in March 2015, L Catterton worked closely with Richard Page, IPN’s Chairman, to promote exceptional individuals from within and to recruit industry-leading executives into the IPN franchise. With L Catterton’s support, this talented team significantly expanded IPN’s manufacturing acumen by building a new wet dog food facility, a super-premium baked dog food facility, and a state-of-the-art distribution center, all while enhancing IPN’s core dry dog food capacity. These investments, combined with an enhanced focus on brand marketing and direct-to-consumer capabilities, enabled growth across all facets of IPN’s portfolio.

Pet Supplies Plus expands footprint with 40-store acquisition

Pet Supplies Plus is extending its reach by buying 40 stores from a failed competitor. The specialty pet food and supplies retailer will acquire and rebrand an estimated 40 stores throughout Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia that were previously operated by Pet Valu. Some of the acquired stores will reopen with Pet Supplies Plus branding, products and services as early as January, 2021. According to company executives, the former Pet Valu stores will be a mix of corporate and franchisee-owned Pet Supplies Plus locations. In November, Pet Valu announced it was shutting down its U.S. operations, including its 358 stores and website.

Technology & Internet

Amazon to buy podcast maker Wondery

Amazon announced Wednesday that it’s acquiring podcasting company Wondery, expanding its catalog of original audio content. As part of the deal, Wondery will join Amazon Music, the e-commerce giant’s music streaming business. Amazon Music in September added podcasts to its platform, looking to carve out a share of the increasingly competitive podcasting market, in which Spotify, Apple and others have gained ground. Wondery, founded in 2016, has produced some of the most popular podcasts in recent years, including true crime series like “Dirty John,” “Dr. Death” and “Over My Dead Body.” The podcast producer and network says it counts more than 10 million unique listeners each month. The deal comes at a time when Spotify, Apple and others continue to jockey for dominance in the podcasting market. Amazon, Apple and Spotify have all sought to add podcasts to their streaming services as the medium has become the most popular way to listen to music and it allows them to differentiate their services with original podcasts.


Finance & Economy

Holiday sales grow by 3%, a much bigger jump than during the last recession

Mastercard just released its annual report on holiday spending, and it estimates that U.S. retail sales jumped by 3% this holiday season — higher than forecast, given that a lot of people are out of work and it’s unclear when the pandemic will end. This is not what happened in the last recession. During the holiday season of 2008, sales fell by more than 2%.  In 2008 as the holidays approached, retailers were sitting on a ton of inventory that they needed to sell, so they offered deep discounts. That cut into their sales numbers for the season.  This time around, the recession hit in the spring. So retailers had time to plan, and they took a different approach to the holidays. They stocked fewer items, but they held the line on discounts.


Weekly jobless claims rise less than expected, but hold above 800,000

Jobless claims rose less than expected last week as employers weighed a wintertime spike in Covid-19 cases against expected relief from a pending $900 billion stimulus package, the Labor Department reported.  The number of first-time unemployment-benefits filers decelerated to 803,000 in the week ended Dec. 19. Economists polled by Dow Jones expected initial claims to rise to 888,000.  Initial claims for the previous week were revised higher by 7,000 to 892,000, the highest point since early September.  In all, 20.4 million Americans were receiving some kind of unemployment benefits through Dec. 5, the report said.