- Charming Charlie's intellectual property assets sold for about $1.1 million in an auction held last week, according to court documents. The sale requires approval from the federal judge overseeing the retailer's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.
- The winning bidder, CJS Group LP, is a real estate investment company owned by Charming Charlie founder Charlie Chanaratsopon, according to Debtwire, which reported on the auction.
- CJS narrowly beat out the second-highest bid by women's fashion retailer Cato Corporation, according to David Peress, an executive with Hilco Streambank, the retailer's consultant on the IP sale.
Charming Charlie's IP sale is a reminder that there is still value in the brand of a defunct retailer. Peress said in court papers that Hilco had contact with nearly 500 potential buyers of Charming Charlie's assets. Ultimately, 13 interested potential buyers signed non-disclosure agreements and five submitted bids ahead of deadline. The opening bid was $200,000.
All of the women's apparel and accessories retailer's stores are now closed, Peress noted in court papers, and its e-commerce site currently notifies customers that it is not taking orders but to keep checking back. Included in the sale along with trademarks and typical brand signifiers are hordes of data from Charming Charlie's mailing lists and loyalty program.
The IP of retailers that have wound down can still fetch big dollars in bankruptcies. Some examples from the current period of retail consolidation:
- The Nine West and Bandolino brands sold together for $340 million last year in a bankruptcy sale to the private equity-backed Authentic Brands Group, which has picked up a few brands from retail's graveyard.
- Gymboree sold off the Janie and Jack brand assets to Gap Inc. for $35 million and its Crazy 8 and Gymboree brands to The Children's Place for $76 million.
- Toys R Us actually canceled an auction for its IP assets, leaving them with lenders after some thought that the IP asset sale could be the largest in retail history.
The sales represent the range of potential buyers that go bargain shopping at retailer fire sales, among them brand-holding companies, rivals and investors. In Charming Charlie's case, the man who created the retailer's brand — known for its color-coded merchandising scheme — came back to fetch it out of bankruptcy.
It's not clear yet what he'll do with it, but the options are several. Some retail brands end up on product labels, some reemerge as online-only players and a fair number come back with physical footprints. In that latter category recently are Toys R Us, Bon-Ton, Charlotte Russe and H.H. Gregg. In every case, the resurrected physical footprints are modest, very modest even, relative to those that were liquidated.
However, the money and effort involved are reminders that retailers fail for all kinds of reasons — and ultimately because of a mismatch between expenses and sales in a given moment in time — but failure doesn't mean that those brands have zero value. What's left may be greatly diminished, but it's still often a better deal than building a brand from scratch.