The American Jobs Plan proposal, announced by the White House on March 31, is loaded with infrastructure related investments and spending. Most of us think of tangible roads, bridges, asphalt and steel when we hear the word “infrastructure.” However, about 4% of the eight year, $2.25 trillion proposal, or $100 billion, is earmarked to ensure all Americans have something not so tangible, but still integral to our modern lives – broadband access.
For many of us urban and suburban dwellers, it’s hard to imagine how we, or our family, friends and neighbors would function without access to broadband. From work-from-home and remote learning on Zoom, to Netflix, to shopping online, our lives rely heavily on high-speed connectivity. But not everyone has access to broadband. Estimates vary widely on how many of us have limited or no internet access. The FCC estimates that 19 million Americans do not have access to broadband, while the President cited an estimate of 30 million (including 35% of Americans living in rural areas of the U.S.) in his speech promoting the American Jobs Plan.
It is hard not to agree with the American Jobs Plan assertion that “Broadband Internet is the new electricity.” For years, the government has attempted to ensure widespread broadband coverage by funding expansion into rural areas, mostly by funding commercial providers. During the eight years through 2017, federal spending totaled over $47 billion, with another $20 billion earmarked for the next ten years for rural broadband, plus an additional $9 billion for high-speed wireless internet. Billions more were designated for broadband in the three huge pandemic-related relief packages.
Despite all of this spending, according to a former FCC official, America’s rural-internet policy has not been effective. “A lot of what we have is very slow,” she said. The broadband proposal in the American Jobs Plan is intended to remedy this deficiency as well as provide affordable access to all Americans, as it not only seeks to connect everyone, but to “future-proof” the connections so that they don’t have to be replaced years later because the technology is out of date. And the current administration’s path to providing universal, future-proof access proposed under the new plan is to encourage competition by funding networks affiliated with local governments and nonprofits, emphasizing that affordability is key.
The benefits of expanded broadband access are hard to underestimate, not only for economic and quality of life improvements for our fellow Americans, but commercially. Adding 30 million people, nearly the population of Canada, to the potential ecommerce customer pool is a huge growth opportunity for online businesses. And it’s a huge macroeconomic stimulus as we make our way out of the throes of the pandemic.
While not everyone agrees with the latest proposed path to universal high-speed connectivity (with notable objections from commercial broadband providers), the consensus is that we all need broadband, like electricity, to function in our modern world effectively and efficiently. It’s good for the economy too.
Headlines of the Week
Staples is once again looking to acquire a rival. The office supplies retailer said it is evaluating “all alternatives” to purchase certain assets of ODP Corp., whose brands include Office Depot, OfficeMax and CompuCom. The announcement comes after ODP, earlier this month, rejected a previous offer from Staples to acquire various assets, saying it lacked basic deal terms. Staples, owned by Sycamore Partners, said on Wednesday that its options may include ODP’s retail and consumer-facing business, its operations in Canada and certain other assets. Staples over the years has made several attempts to acquire Office Depot, but they failed due to regulatory concerns. In January, the company made an offer to buy ODP for $2.1 billion in cash. The offer was rejected, but ODP left the door open to a different deal.
Apparel & Footwear
Even with a pandemic that limited store capacity and left store comps down 28% in Q4, 2020 was a growth year for Lululemon. The company reported an 11% increase in net revenue for the year, to $4.4 billion, while revenue grew 24% in Q4 to $1.7 billion. In addition to maintaining its growth ambitions for Lululemon and reaching its e-commerce goal early, the company is also planning to invest further in 2021. An upcoming footwear launch (expected early next year) will enable Lululemon to offer “head-to-toe” products for customers, and this past summer’s Mirror acquisition is already exceeding expectations, to the point where execs plan to invest more to further its growth. For the full year, including before Lululemon’s acquisition, Mirror brought in $170 million in revenue, and McDonald said he expects that number to grow by 50% to 65% over the next year, reaching $250 million to $275 million.
Tommy Hilfiger has appointed Alegra O’Hare to serve as the chief marketing officer of Tommy Hilfiger Global. O’Hare’s hiring comes at a transitional time for both the Tommy Hilfiger brand and its parent company, PVH, which also owns Calvin Klein. Last June, Tommy Hilfiger’s CEO left to take the helm of Hugo Boss, and earlier this year, Stefan Larsson took over as CEO of PVH following the departure of Manny Chirico. O’Hare’s arrival at the company follows her exit from Gap after less than a year as CMO there. Gap Inc. also lost its CEO Art Peck in 2019 amid uncertainty about the company’s direction and a planned spinoff of Old Navy (which was then cancelled). Old Navy chief Sonia Syngal took over the position in March last year.
Wool sneaker maker Allbirds is putting the pieces in place to go public, based on a new job posting for an “SEC reporting & technical accounting manager.” Allbirds also has quietly hired Panera vet Mike Bufano as its new CFO, and added two independent directors. A source suggests that the company is preparing to go public, but hasn’t yet decided on a method or specific timing. San Francisco-based Allbirds, which sells both direct-to-consumer and via its own retail stores, was valued at around $1.7 billion in its two most recent venture capital financing rounds. The company declined comment.
Gordon Brothers announced it is providing a secured credit facility to Nicole Miller, the eponymous fashion and lifestyle brand founded and led by Nicole Miller. The facility is secured by the company’s intellectual property and will be used to fund strategic growth initiatives. “Being able to work with an iconic brand and designer like Nicole Miller is at the core of what we do at Gordon Brothers,” said Tobias Nanda, President, Brands. “Over the past thirty years we have successfully developed Nicole Miller into a leading lifestyle brand by bringing our unique design aesthetic to the ever-changing world of fashion, accessories and home décor,” said Nicole Miller. “Gordon Brothers understands the value of our business, and we are excited to partner with them as we continue to expand and grow.” Gordon Brothers’ most recent global brand transactions include bridge financing for American retailer Brooks Brothers, a secured term loan facility for global brand Mothercare, the acquisition of Laura Ashley and launch of their new collection and the sale of British brand Bench to Wraith, an affiliate of Apparel Brands Limited.
Athletic & Sporting Goods
Tonal, the most advanced strength and personal training platform that combines proprietary digital weight, artificial intelligence, and expert-led coaching, has announced $250M in new funding, valuing the business at $1.6B. This brings Tonal’s total funding to over $450M, as it continues to usher in a new era of intelligent fitness and further establishes itself as the clear leader in connected strength training. The oversubscribed Series E round is led by Dragoneer, a growth-oriented investment firm with a long track record of successfully identifying category and industry leaders, with participation by Cobalt Capital, new athlete investors, and existing investors including L Catterton and Sapphire Ventures.
Peloton, the leading interactive fitness platform, announced that it has officially closed the acquisition of Precor, one of the largest global commercial fitness equipment providers with a significant U.S. manufacturing presence. Peloton acquired Precor for $420 million in cash, subject to customary adjustments for working capital, transaction expenses, cash and indebtedness. The acquisition of Precor was announced on December 21, 2020. With this acquisition, Peloton establishes its U.S. manufacturing capacity, anticipates boosting research and development capabilities with Precor’s highly-skilled team and accelerating Peloton’s penetration of the commercial market. Peloton plans to produce connected fitness products in the United States before the end of the calendar year 2021.
Cosmetics & Pharmacy
Harry’s has raised a $155 million Series E round led by Bain Capital and Macquarie Capital. The valuation: $1.7 billion—roughly 25% higher than the $1.37 proposed buyout by Edgewell that was blocked last year by the FTC. “Jeff and Andy have real-world experience and think about the business like investors who create a portfolio of brands and opportunities,” says Jeff Robinson, a managing director at Bain Capital. “They have executed exceptionally well, and we think they have the capability and playbook to do it again in other segments of the consumer world.” For Katz-Mayfield and Raider, the Bain Capital-led round is a homecoming of sorts. The cofounders met as junior analysts at consulting firm Bain & Company. They say Harry’s, which has 900 employees and is profitable, will use the new capital to develop new products and make acquisitions in the booming direct-to-consumer market. Harry’s now has more than $200 million in cash to make deals. “There’s a ton of consumer brands out there that are high growth and disrupting existing categories,” says Katz-Mayfield. “M&A will be a pretty important part of the strategy.”
Infinite Looks, Inc., today announced a $4.2M Series A funding round led by Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc. (JJDC) with participation from additional investors including Ignite Venture Studio and Symrise Inc. The funds will be used to fuel the continued development of innovative products for the Infinite Looks brand, Sunday II Sunday, which provides solutions to the challenges that sweat and activity create for textured hair. In addition to the signature products within the Moisture Balance line, Sunday II Sunday has launched various new product lines including Hair Flourish Vegan Biotin Gummies and an Essential Oils Trio with additional products in development. This announcement comes on the heels of Sunday II Sunday’s seed funding round which was also led by JJDC and announced in September of 2020. As 40% of Black women report that they avoid exercise due to the challenges it creates for their hair, the brand aims to remove this barrier to exercise for women by providing solutions to cleanse, refresh and replenish textured hair in between less frequent washes.
Discounters & Department Stores
More retailers could end up in the coffers of their mall landlords if a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last month gains any traction. Proposed changes to the idiosyncratic rules governing publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), which have bipartisan support, are being touted as good for retailers, though so far the backers are mostly landlords and their industry groups.
Lenders are taking equity stakes in Mall of America after its owner defaulted on the multibillion-dollar American Dream development, according to reports in the Financial Times, Bloomberg and other media. Triple Five Group put up a potential 49% stake in Mall of America, and another mall in Canada, as collateral on debt used to finance the American Dream project in New Jersey, according to public documents.
Walmart has once again partnered with Drew Barrymore for an exclusive product launch. Beautiful Kitchenware, a brand developed by the actress and Made by Gather, released its first product line exclusively at Walmart. The collection features a touchscreen air fryer, toaster, blender and coffee maker, according to a company press release. Beautiful Kitchenware will release over 150 kitchen appliances and cookware in a selection of colors, with the majority of products priced under $100.
Kohl’s and a group of activist investors are doing a well-publicized dance that will likely result in a contested board election on May 12. Despite reports in the Milwaukee Business Journal of “constructive conversations,” Kohl’s amped-up its defensive posturing last week. The activist group led by Macellum Advisors GP LLC. which purchased 14.7 million Kohl’s shares (9.3% of Kohl’s outstanding stock) has been overly critical of the company’s trajectory. The group notes sales have essentially remained static since 2011 with compounded same-store sales declining by 0.6% over the decade-long period. They also state that the company has between $7 billion and $8 billion in non-earning real estate assets that could be put to work to revitalize the operation and better position the company long-term.
Emerging Consumer Companies
PAIR Eyewear, a New York-based customizable eyewear brand with offerings for the whole family, raised $12 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Javelin Venture Partners, with participation from Norwest Venture Partners, Precursor Ventures, Bolt and Gingerbread Capital, as well as strategic investors, including Christian McCaffrey and David Rogier. Founded in 2017, the company focuses on making glasses an affordable accessory that can be changed up daily. Base frames cost $60 and “top frames,” which attach to the front of the base to change the look, range from $25 to $30 apiece.
Tempo, which competes with Peloton Interactive in the home fitness market, is finalizing a more than $100 million investment led by SoftBank, The Information reported, citing two people familiar with the matter. The company’s new valuation couldn’t be learned, but it is expected to be less than $1 billion, one of the people told the news website. Tempo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment while SoftBank declined to comment to the Information.
Grocery & Restaurants
Sun-Maid Growers of California has entered the prepared baby and children’s food categories with the acquisition of Plum Organics from The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, NJ. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Plum Organics offers a range of products for babies, toddlers and children. All of the company’s products are certified organic and Non-GMO Project verified. Campbell Soup acquired the business in June 2013. The Sun-Maid Growers product portfolio currently consists of raisins, sour raisin snacks, yogurt covered products, bites, dried fruit and a variety of organic fruits. The transaction is expected to close in the spring of 2021, according to the companies.
8th Avenue Food & Provisions, Inc., which is partially owned by Post Holdings, Inc., has reached an agreement to acquire the Ronzoni dry pasta brand and a dry pasta manufacturing facility located in Winchester, Va., from Riviana Foods Inc. in a transaction valued at $95 million. According to Information Resources, Inc., the Ronzoni brand generated dollar sales of $132.48 million in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 21, which was up 29% from the same period a year ago. Riviana Foods, which is a unit of Madrid, Spain-based Ebro Foods, sold most of its dry pasta business last November to TreeHouse Foods. With the pending sale of Ronzoni, Ebro Foods effectively will have departed the dry pasta category in the United States. Ebro maintains a presence in the North American market through its dry and fresh pasta businesses (Garofalo, Bertagni and Olivieri), frozen products (Ebrofrost), rice and other high value products (Carolina, Mahatma, Minute, Success, Tilda and RiceSelect). The 8th Avenue Food & Provisions unit includes Dakota Growers Pasta, Attune Foods, Golden Boy Foods and American Blanching Co.
Maine-based specialty foods company Stonewall Kitchen has acquired longtime organic coffee roaster Vermont Coffee Company. The coffee company, founded by Paul Ralston in 2000, joins a small portfolio of specialty food brands owned by Stonewall Kitchen, including the Stonewall brand, Village Candle, Tillen Farms (pickled and jarred foods) and Napa Valley Naturals (oils and vinegars). The Boston-based private equity firm Audax Private Equity purchased a controlling stake in Stonewall Kitchen in 2019, precipitating a wave of six acquisitions.
Home & Road
Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. is focusing on inventory management in the next phase of its $250 million program to drive modernization and innovation in its technology platforms. The home goods chain, which announced in October 2020 it would spend $250 million on technology as part of a larger $1 billion to $1.5 billion three-year internal investment strategy, is deploying cloud-based inventory management software from Relex Solutions. The Relex technology will deliver automated forecasting, replenishment, and allocation planning to improve the company’s in-stock position and inventory turnover. As a result, Bed Bath & Beyond intends to enhance the customer experience while driving sales and gross margin improvements. The retailer will begin to implement Relex technology in spring 2021 as part of a broader ERP rollout that includes the Oracle Retail platform.
According to outdoor fabric manufacturers, the pandemic has created an increased level of demand that hasn’t been seen for years. “For first time in 15 years, outdoor furniture is hot, hot, hot. If companies can deliver it, people will buy it,” said Anderson Gibbons, vice president of marketing for Specialty Textiles Inc. (STI), parent company of Revolution Fabrics. “Because of the pandemic, our outdoor spaces have become safe spaces for entertaining or spending time with extended family members,” he noted. “People are putting money into their homes and not into other things, like traveling or dining out.” Homeowners spent, on average, $13,138 on home-related services this year, up from $9,081 last year, according to the State of Home Spending Report by home improvement website HomeAdvisor. With more time at home, outdoor living has become even more important.
Jewelry & Luxury
Consumers are more aware of lab-grown diamonds, though their perception of them differs from their view of natural diamonds, according to De Beers’ latest Diamond Insight Flash Report. The company’s latest poll of 5,000 U.S. consumers—conducted by 360 Market Reach—found that two-thirds were aware of lab-grown diamonds. That’s higher awareness than the company has found in the past, though lower than what’s been found in other surveys.
Neiman Marcus refinanced $1.1 billion in debt after emerging from Chapter 11 last fall, buying the company time and adding funds for a turnaround. The luxury retailer refinanced a portion of its exit facilities with new senior secured notes, due 2026 and which carry an interest rate of about 7.1%, according to a company press release. The recently completed bond issue lowers Neiman’s annual interest payments by $30 million and pushes out debt maturities. CFO Brandy Richardson said in a statement the bond sale also adds “financial flexibility as we invest in our supply chain, elevate our digital excellence and deliver unparalleled luxury experiences.”
Blue Nile is opening two new showrooms in California—one in San Jose, the other in Los Angeles—bringing its nationwide total to 10. Its San Jose brick-and-mortar store, located at the Valley Fair shopping center, opened on March 26. Another showroom, in Century City in Los Angeles, will open on April 9. The brand also has a third California showroom, in Newport Beach, which opened last year. Company CEO Sean Kell has told JCK he envisions opening 50 stores within the next five years.
Florence-based luxury fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo has officially confirmed the exit of creative director Paul Andrew. His last collection with the brand will be the Pre-Spring 2022 presentation set for early May 2021. The move comes as the latest shift by the family-owned luxury brand as it revamps its board after years of struggling and losing market share to luxury fashion conglomerates like LVMH and Kering. Amongst the major changes on the board, current chairman, Ferrucciio Ferragmo is set to step down from his role and will be replaced by his brother Leonardo. Joining Leonardo are three other independent board members.
Office & Leisure
An entertainment concept that combines tech-infused mini-golf with food and drink is set to open its first U.S. location. Puttshack will make its U.S. debut in Atlanta, at new mixed-use development The Interlock, on April 21. The concept was created by Steve and Dave Jolliffe, original founders of Topgolf and World Golf Systems, and Adam Breeden, co-founder of Flight Club, Ace Bounce and All Star Lanes. The 25,000-sq.-ft., upscale-looking space in Atlanta will feature four tech-driven, “highly-competitive” mini-golf courses, a high-concept menu, a full bar and an indoor-outdoor rooftop patio. Puttshack’s courses are colorful and high-energy, with custom-themed holes, interactive leader boards and a digital prize wheel. Children are welcome to play, but only to a certain time on certain days and they must be supervised by an adult. The courses are not recommended for children under the age of seven. Puttshack’s Atlanta site will join the brand’s three current locations in London.
GameStop Corp said on Tuesday it named Amazon.com Inc executive Elliott Wilke as chief growth officer, the latest top level appointment after shareholder Ryan Cohen took charge of the video game retailer’s e-commerce pivot. GameStop is in the process of shifting its business away from the brick-and-mortar retailer model into an e-commerce business that can compete with large-scale retailers like Target Corp and Walmart Inc, as well as technology companies Microsoft Corp and Sony Corp. Signaling a broader overhaul, at least two executives have recently departed – Chief Customer Officer Frank Hamlin and Chief Financial Officer Jim Bell. Wilke, who has spent nearly seven years at Amazon and last led its Fresh Stores business, will oversee growth strategies and marketing at GameStop. The company had hired another former Amazon executive, Jenna Owens, as Chief Operating Officer earlier this month. She had managed multi-channel fulfillment and distribution at Amazon. This was preceded by the appointment of Matt Francis as its first ever Chief Technology Officer last month. He was also an Amazon head of the engineering team at Amazon Web Services.
Eurazeo Brands, the division of Eurazeo focused on high growth, differentiated consumer brands, has signed an exclusivity agreement under which it will invest EUR68 million in Ultra Premium Direct as a majority shareholder. Eurazeo is investing alongside co-founders Sophie and Matthieu Wincker and Eutopia, existing minority shareholder via Otium Consumer, which would reinvest in the transaction via its new fund. Founded in 2013, Ultra Premium Direct (UPD) has quickly become a leading player in the French premium pet food market. As a digitally-native brand, it has a strong and engaged community, and was selected as one of the French Tech 120 in 2021. Thanks to its unique positioning and direct approach, Ultra Premium Direct aims at democratising premium pet food, offering natural products which cater to pet needs at an attractive price point, directly through its own website and subscription service.
Technology & Internet
Canadian blockchain technology company Dapper Labs has secured $305 million in private funding — some of it from current and former NBA players, including Michael Jordan — to scale up its virtual NBA trading card site, the company said Tuesday. Vancouver, British Columbia-based Dapper says NBA Top Shot has rung up $500 million in sales and registered more than 800,000 accounts since its public beta testing phase began in October. The virtual cards come in the form of a floating digital cube that includes a video highlight of an NBA player and come with a nonfungible token (NFT), backed by blockchain technology, certifying its authenticity and scarcity. Besides the NBA, Dapper partners include Warner Music Group, Ubisoft and UFC. The company says the new round of funding will help it expand its NFT and blockchain products to a wide range of businesses. The most recent round of funding was led by New York-based private equity firm Coatue Management and brings Dapper’s total capital raised to $357 million.
Squarespace has acquired reservations platform Tock for more than $400 million in cash and stock, the ecommerce company said Wednesday. New York City-based Squarespace said the acquisition of the system, developed by the Alinea Group co-founder and co-owner Nick Kokonas, would allow its customers to integrate Tock’s “best-in-class” system for managing reservations and tables and taking orders for takeout and events. Kokonas launched Tock in 2014, initially allowing his super-fine-dining restaurant Alinea to sell reservations in advance. Since then it has expanded its capabilities to include dynamic pricing — such as charging extra for prime-time reservations — takeout and delivery and event planning. In response to the pandemic it launched Tock to Go to allow restaurateurs to schedule their own takeout orders instead of relying on third-party delivery services. The release said Tock is now being used by more than 7,000 operators, including neighborhood and destination restaurants, wineries and pop-ups, in 200 cities in 30 countries. It has processed more than $1 billion in pre-paid experiences as well as millions of standard reservations.
With the rising dependence on food delivery through the pandemic, several dozen cities, counties and even states have pushed back by capping commissions at 15 percent of the total cost of orders — what DoorDash can charge restaurants for generating a sale and delivering food. In the most comprehensive look at commission delivery caps, NBC News has found 68 localities that have passed such caps. Last month, DoorDash said on a call with investors that it had counted 73 caps by the end of 2020. As of March 15, Uber said it was facing 78 caps nationwide. DoorDash has not taken the pushback lightly. To recoup what it considers lost revenue, DoorDash has tacked on another flat surcharge of $1 to $2.50, which it often calls a “Regulatory Response Fee.” The money goes straight to DoorDash. Only when customers click a tiny button does an explanation pop up saying the city has “temporarily capped the fees that we may charge local restaurants.” NBC News found that DoorDash added supplemental local fees in 57 of the 68 locations that have fee caps, far more than have previously been reported. The newer surcharges have befuddled the legislators who thought they had finally made progress to limit the cost of takeout food in the pandemic.
Finance & Economy
Job growth boomed in March at the fastest pace since last summer as stronger economic growth and an aggressive vaccination effort contributed to a surge in hospitality and construction jobs, the Labor Department reported. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 916,000 for the month while the unemployment rate fell to 6%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for an increase of 675,000 and an unemployment rate of 6%. The total was the highest since the 1.58 million added in August 2020. The labor force continued to grow after losing more than 6 million Americans at one point last year.
Even with the impacts of the pandemic, Easter 2021 is looking to make an impact on the record books, according to the National Retail Federation. In its annual Easter survey, the National Retail Federation surveyed 8,111 consumers at the beginning of March and respondents indicated a majority of them will be celebrating the holiday in some form or fashion. The NRF says, nearly 8 in 10 consumers will mark the holiday this year and a lot of that has to do with the positive momentum the U.S. is seeing heading into the Easter and spring season. Average consumer spending is expected to reach the highest point it has ever been this Easter at $179.70 per person, according to the NRF.