UPDATE: August 13, 2019: Francesca's has finished a review of strategic alternatives and decided "at this time" to go it alone, focusing on its current turnaround plan, according to a Tuesday press release. In announcing the review in January, the women's apparel retailer said it was considering a possible sale.
Francesca's also said it entered a new $10 million term loan agreement with Tiger Finance meant to improve liquidity and support its strategic initiatives. The loan matures in 2022 and currently gives Francesca's net additional liquidity of $7 million. It also comes with covenants that restrict the retailer's capital spending unless certain payment conditions are met.
Francesca's interim CEO Michael Prendergast said in the release said that the loan "represents a vote of confidence in the Company's turnaround efforts."
Francesca's is exploring "strategic and financial alternatives" including a possible sale, financing or a refinancing, the company said Thursday in a press release. The company hired Rothschild & Co and other advisors to assist in the process.
Executive shuffling is also in order. CEO Steve Lawrence resigned to pursue other opportunities and will be replaced by Michael Prendergast effective Feb. 1, according to the company. Prendergast's appointment is subject to finalization of an agreement with Alvarez & Marsal, where he is a senior director in the firm's private equity performance improvement retail practice.
The company set no timeline for completion of the process and said it will not comment further unless the board approves a move, the process is concluded or if some further disclosure is appropriate or required by law.
Francesca's, a largely mall-based boutique chain, is struggling to find its footing in an environment where its specialty peers are still pruning unprofitable stores and adjusting to new consumer behavior.
In its latest quarter, which ended Nov. 3, the company reported a 10% decline in net sales, reaching $95.4 million. Comps plummeted 14%, on top of an 18% decline in the year-ago period. The drop was primarily due to a loss of traffic, though it was partially offset by 24 net new stores, the company said in a press release at the time.
Even then, CEO Lawrence said the company needed to evaluate its real estate holdings and close underperforming stores. "Our biggest challenge and focus is to drive improved traffic trends in brick and mortar," he said in a statement. "We are stepping up our marketing efforts with increased investments in influencers, and digital and social media. Our primary focus of this is to increase frequency of visits with existing guests through increased engagement, while winning back lapsed shoppers who have not purchased with us in the last six to twelve months."
The company also hired a consulting firm at the time to help it rethink traffic drivers through merchandising initiatives and window displays.
Francesca's is certainly not the only mall-based specialty chain to resort to restructuring efforts or a possible sale. Within the last year, A'gaci, Claire's, Nine West and Brookstone have all filed for bankruptcy. With substantial mall closures from anchors like Sears and Bon-Ton (which also filed Ch. 11) retail vacancy rates rose to 9.1% in the third quarter of 2018, the largest quarterly increase since 2009 and a seven-year high. Since then, malls have begun to stabilize, but the shockwaves may still be reverberating through chains like Francesca's.