UPDATE: Bon-Ton on Wednesday announced the locations of 42 previously announced mall-based stores slated to close, including Bon-Ton, Herberger's, Carson's, Bergner's, Younkers, Boston Stores and Elder-Beerman stores, according to a company press release. Many of these stores will close in Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, among other states. A full list is available on the company's website.
Bon-Ton and consulting firm AlixPartners have also outlined a turnaround plan to stanch sales losses and create momentum for growth, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Initiatives include a revamp of merchandising and marketing to save money and attract shoppers, a boost to e-commerce and a reduction of its physical footprint.
The company will scrutinize 100 of its worst performing stores. The company may also sell two stores plus a distribution center, according to the filing. That could save some $1.9 million in payroll, lease and other costs. Another 20-plus stores are on a "watch list" for closure. Bon-Ton is also in talks with lenders to restructure its debt, including the sale of a controlling interest for $45 million, according to the filing. Plans include different financing scenarios that could occur outside or within bankruptcy protection.
Much of what is in Bon-Ton’s new plan seems too little, too late. By its own reckoning, private label apparel would be a key differentiator, yet it’s outpaced by rivals in that regard. Bon-Ton aims for private label to make up 25% of its assortment; Macy’s goal is to reach 40. Meanwhile, Kohl’s private label accounts for 46% of its offerings and J.C. Penney's private label accounts for 52%.
The company is also late to e-commerce and now hopes to boost its digital sales to 20% from 12% of its overall total, which would bring some $200 million in revenue and incremental earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $40 million.
In addition to store closures, which the company says reside in under-performing malls, the company plans to revamp its better-performing stores. Bon-Ton is mulling 14 store openings in desirable locations and center core remodels to select flagship stores, according to the filing. Streamlining could include name changes — the company operates some 260 stores across its portfolio.
Bon-Ton’s operational problems, illustrated by its sweeping plan to correct them, shows that its troubles don’t just stem from the decades-long overall decline of the sector, however, according to retail analyst Nick Egelanian, president of retail development consultants SiteWorks International.
The issues "go well beyond the troubles in the department store industry to fundamental management deficiencies at Bon-Ton — perhaps compounded by undercapitalization," he said in an email to Retail Dive. "Having the right products on the shelf is a fundamental retail imperative that frankly is a bit of a head scratcher. With all the challenges that department stores have from a macro-perspective, individual retailers must at least get all the blocking and tackling right, and it appears that Bon-Ton failed in the most basic way."
Adding to a growing sentiment among analysts, Egelanian said Bon-Ton is unlikely to escape bankruptcy court. "I don't see a happy ending," he said.