Art Van Furniture to close its stores, begin liquidation sales


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Artwork Van Furnishings, the metro Detroit-based firm and the Midwest’s prime furnishings and mattress retailer, introduced Thursday it’s shutting down and can start liquidation gross sales in any respect of its company-owned shops.

The surprising announcement comes simply three years after the corporate’s sale by the Van Elslander household to a private-equity agency.

Boston-based private-equity agency Thomas H. Lee Companions bought a majority stake in Artwork Van Furnishings in early 2017, a few 12 months earlier than the death of company founder Archie Van Elslander at age 87.

Artwork Van is anticipated to declare chapter early subsequent week. The submitting can be a Chapter 11 reorganization, but may probably consequence within the everlasting closure and liquidation of all Artwork Van Furnishings shops — except a number of consumers step ahead to rescue the retailer.

“Regardless of our greatest efforts to stay open, the corporate’s manufacturers and working efficiency have been hit laborious by a difficult retail setting,” Diane Charles, Artwork Van Furnishings spokeswoman, stated in a press release.

The liquidation gross sales will start Friday in any respect Artwork Van Furnishings, Artwork Van PureSleep and Scott Shuptrine Interiors in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, in addition to choose Levin & Wolf shops in Maryland and Virginia. The Artwork Van shops are to shut in 60 days.

Artwork Van has about 190 shops and about three,100 staff. Twenty of the shops are franchise places, located within the firm’s “outmarkets” together with the Higher Peninsula, Alpena, Mount Nice and Owosso in Michigan and in Indiana.

The Artwork Van liquidation and anticipated chapter — almost unthinkable just a few years in the past — marks the newest collapse of a preferred and once-healthy retail model within the wake of an acquisition by a private-equity agency. Payless ShoeSource, youngsters’s clothes retailer Gymboree and a popular New York grocery chain referred to as Fairway Market met comparable fates in recent times.

Non-public-equity corporations use debt to amass corporations, and the debt is then owed by the corporate. The debt hundreds can depart corporations with little room to maneuver if enterprise situations deteriorate. And any issues that come up could be exacerbated by the charges that private-equity corporations ordinarily cost corporations of their portfolios.

A supply aware of Artwork Van’s funds says the corporate has struggled amid modifications within the furnishings and mattress retail enterprise, particularly the expansion of on-line retail and decline in foot visitors at conventional brick-and-mortar shops. Product sales have been on a downward pattern, stated the supply, who wasn’t approved to talk on the document.

The corporate additionally could have over-expanded in recent times. Moreover, the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese language furnishings imports has had a detrimental influence on Artwork Van, in keeping with the supply.

The 2017 sale worth of the corporate was by no means disclosed, however was stated to be over $550 million. The corporate on the time had greater than 100 shops.

The scale of the corporate’s debt load from that deal additionally is not recognized, and will not emerge till the chapter submitting.

A Thomas H. Lee Companions spokesperson stated that buyers within the deal, together with the private-equity agency, “will lose 100% of their principal funding within the firm and by no means obtained any dividends or returns of capital from their investments.”

Commerce publication Furniture Today recently reported that Artwork Van’s private-equity purchaser led the corporate into sale-lease again transactions for places Artwork Van had owned. That transfer burdened the retailer with new hire obligations concurrently its enterprise troubles deepened, the publication reported.

“Artwork Van isn’t any completely different than some other brick-and-mortar retailer that has been impacted by the retail apocalypse,” stated Alex Calderone, a monetary adviser and turnaround guide with Birmingham-based Calderone Advisory Group.

“The personal fairness playbook, which nearly all the time ends in aggressive use of leverage, which will increase the chance of failure exponentially, has not labored out for different retailers prior to now and didn’t serve Artwork Van nicely both,” Calderone stated. “When an funding thesis doesn’t pan out, fairness sponsors have a tendency to chop their losses shortly.”

Artwork Van’s purchaser, Thomas H. Lee Companions, had expertise in shopper items although corporations corresponding to Snapple, Dunkin’ Donuts and MoneyGram, though Artwork Van was its solely portfolio firm retailing furnishings and mattresses.

Later in 2017, below its new possession, Artwork Van went on to purchase two Pennsylvania-based furnishings corporations, Levin Furnishings and Wolf Furnishings, with 35 and 18 places, respectively. Phrases of these gross sales weren’t disclosed.

Gary Van Elslander, one of many founder’s sons and an organization board member, stated on the time of the sale that below its new possession, Artwork Van had enlargement plans for a number of Midwest markets, together with Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

The Chicago enlargement proved unwise, in keeping with an Artwork Van insider, and people market places started to cannibalize one another and lose cash.

Artwork Van began encountering cash-flow issues in January when collectors and suppliers grew to become involved concerning the enterprise’ trajectory and tightened credit score. Some suppliers later stopped making deliveries.

Crain’s Detroit reported in February that the Van Elslander household was contemplating a bid to purchase again the retailer if it fell into chapter 11. A consultant for the Van Elslander household workplace was not instantly obtainable for remark Thursday.

A retailer clerk with Gardner-White Furnishings, a family-owned firm primarily based in Auburn Hills, stated they’re already receiving quite a few job inquiries from Artwork Van employees.

East Detroit roots

Began in 1959 as a single retailer in East Detroit (now Eastpointe) by Archie Van Elslander, Artwork Van Furnishings thrived for years in Michigan as a midprice retailer that was particularly fashionable with first-time dwelling consumers. 

The corporate opened headquarters in Warren within the early 1970s and outlasted many regional opponents, together with Wickes Furnishings and the higher-end Scott Shuptrine Furnishings, which Artwork Van purchased within the late 1980s. After closing down the Shuptrine shops by the early 2000s, the corporate later revived the model as Scott Shuptrine Interiors.

Parade nonetheless on

Artwork Van Furnishings has been a longtime sponsor of Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Artwork Van Elslander saved the parade from being canceled 30 years in the past by writing a $200,000 examine.

The retailer has two years left in its lead sponsorship contract for the parade, and if it cannot fill that function, the parade nonetheless has the monetary sources to go ahead this 12 months, stated Tony Michaels, president and CEO of the Parade Firm, which places on America’s Thanksgiving Parade.

He declined to present the scale of Artwork Van’s yearly contributions to the parade.

“We’re on very stable floor and the parade will probably be there Thanksgiving Day with bells and whistles,” he stated.

Artwork Van has skilled govt turnover because the 2017 sale. CEO Kim Yost retired in early 2018, quickly after the elder Van Elslander’s dying. His alternative, Ron Boire, a previous chief govt for Barnes & Noble, left the corporate final August. 

Present CEO Gary Fazio, a former Mattress Agency chief govt, got here out of retirement in September to take the job.

Fouts is livid

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts issued a livid assertion Thursday afternoon in response to the closure announcement.

He stated he’ll attain out to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to see what choices there are to power Artwork Van’s private-equity agency proprietor “to honor their dedication to the employees and taxpayers.” The Metropolis of Warren will get greater than $2.2 million a 12 months in tax funds from the retailer, Fouts stated within the assertion.

“Artwork Van would doubtless be turning over in his grave attributable to this outrageous chain of occasions,” Fouts wrote. “There needs to be a nationwide or state legislation that might prohibit funding corporations from shopping for off and promoting all property on the expense of the employees and the neighborhood it’s in.”

Early calamity averted 

Earlier than it grew to dominate Michigan’s furnishings market, Artwork Van Furnishings narrowly averted an earlier calamity within the 1960s.

In a 2009 Free Press interview, the elder Van Elslander recalled how his furnishings firm had grown from one to seven shops by 1964 however was on the snapping point due to over-expansion.

“We had a warehouse filled with furnishings however no money,” he recalled.

Artwork Van Elslander dug himself out of that bother by staging an eight-day, closely promoted Sunday-to-Sunday emergency clearance sale on the previous Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit. 

“We had been open and promoting day by day from early morning till 10 p.m., then we would run the vehicles all evening, refilling the ground with furnishings from the warehouse,” he stated.

The Hail Mary labored.

“That sale saved the enterprise,” he stated.

The closure announcement Thursday stated that Levin & Wolf Furnishings in Ohio and Pennsylvania will probably be offered to Robert Levin, pending court docket approval. Eight Wolf Furnishings shops in Maryland and Virginia may also be liquidated.

Contact JC Reindl:313-222-6631 or jcreindl@freepress.com. Comply with him on Twitter@jcreindl. Learn extra on business and join our business newsletter.

Learn or Share this story: https://www.freep.com/story/cash/enterprise/2020/03/05/art-van-furniture-bankruptcy-liquidation/4951107002/



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