Sycamore Partners has announced that it has bought 9.9% of Express ($EXPR), a specialty retailer brand of women’s and men’s apparel in the United States. It plans to proceed with due diligence to help it value the company for a buyout offer.
You can find out more about Sycamore’s investments here. These investments capture the essence of what Sycamore Partners is trying to accomplish. It is building a vertically integrated apparel company with many verticals. You can think about it being a system composed of multiple customers facing brands such as Express supported by MGF Sourcing, the manufacturing logistics arm of Sycamore.
In a world in which information is becoming near perfect and free, retailers gain a huge advantage from the ability to analyze and disseminate all customer and product information as quickly as possible. Each customer purchase, social media mention, or interaction is valuable information for the company to make decisions along the value chain that will impact the product, marketing strategy, manufacturing processes, and so forth. Clayton Reed brought to our attention the importance of information speed in retailing in the context of $APP, $GIL, Zara, and Uniqlo.
A vertically integrated retail company has more control over the dissemination of information to its customer touch points. This means better control over the brand and the image which is a key source of value for a retailer. Zara is a great example of a company that has optimized its system for better flowing information, resulting in great benefits.
There are very few vertically integrated retailing assets and we believe that they will continue to benefit from advances in information technology for many years to come.
If you come across such a vertically integrated retailer trading at a cheap price you might want to build a position and ride it for a very long time. In addition, we believe that a retailer focused on selling into specific vertical markets might become an acquisition target for firms operating vertically integrated systems especially if its stock becomes cheap.