In April 2020, Gordon Brothers acquired the global Laura Ashley® brand, archives and related intellectual property from its U.K. administrators, PwC.
Our multifaceted role in this transformation—acquiring the brand, affording the opportunity for a going concern with a contingent alternative, closing the stores and disposing of all retail merchandise—speaks to our ability to execute a variety of transactions.
Gordon Brothers provided Laura Ashley’s Administrators with the highest value for the stock while preserving the brand’s value and image. The conversion of an inefficient vertically integrated business to a flexible and scalable licensing business secured the long-term commitment from all key existing licensees and franchisees and further portfolio expansion. It bolstered the brand’s e-commerce presence and supported the development of strategic sourcing and wholesale and retail relationships.
Gordon Brothers’ previous experience allowed for the seamless undertaking of Laura Ashley 153 store closures in the U.K. and Ireland, even amid challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sales began as soon as retail stores could reopen in the U.K. and Ireland following pandemic-related shutdowns. Online trading through Laura Ashley’s e-commerce platform was an important sales component, especially while stores remained closed. Website promotional sales started a month before stores reopened to boost sales and ensure awareness of Laura Ashley’s transformation while protecting the brand’s image. Online sales were strong with solid results out of the home and fashion areas.
We assumed full financial risk of the retail stock disposition by providing the Administrators with a guaranteed baseline result during unprecedented uncertainty. The store dispositions included the sale of all store furniture, fixtures and equipment that provided a turnkey solution and empty stores were returned to landlords without further cleanup expenses. Additionally, Gordon Brothers sold some inventory to licensees and franchisees ensuring continuity among remaining sales channels as the brand prepared for relaunch.
The store closures were completed in August 2020 and disposed of 120 million pounds of retail inventory, excluding franchises. Laura Ashley’s creditors benefited from the financial success since an upside sharing agreement was included as part of the guaranteed result.
The purchase of Laura Ashley’s global intellectual property included trademarks, logos, designs, archives and customer lists. We based our investment decision on the global consumer awareness of Laura Ashley and customer affinity for the brand. Converting the business into an asset-light licensing operation was a key component of our plan given the longstanding network of licensees. Additionally, Gordon Brothers completed a key retail partnership in October with NEXT plc in the U.K. that will include a 3,000 square foot shop-in-shop in London, dozens of concessions and the relaunch of lauraashley.com in spring 2021.