Ibex might get a second chance
A Vermont investment firm hopes to bid on the brand and keep jobs and innovation in the state.
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Ibex Outdoor Clothing, which plans to close its doors in February, might be revived under the leadership of Terry Bicycles CEO Liz Robert. She confirmed Thursday that Vermont Works, a private equity firm of which she is a director, is exploring a bid on the Vermont-based apparel brand.
Robert says she sees potential in Ibex, which has a strong, loyal customer base and a good product. There’s synergy between Terry Bicycles and Ibex that she hopes to be able to leverage to keep the brand—and its jobs—within the state of Vermont. Robert formerly ran Vermont Teddy Bear Co. and purchased Terry Bicycles in 2009, moving it from Rochester, New York.
“People thought I was kind of crazy to do that,” she said Thursday. “People talk about the high cost of doing business in Vermont. But I’m a big believer that we need to try to support economic development in the state. I have a particular passion for Vermont, and a particular passion for keeping jobs in Vermont.”
Robert and Robert Zulkoski, chairman and managing partner of Vermont Works, told the Valley News, a newspaper based in New Hampshire, that VF Corporation could also be a potential bidder. VF, which recently acquired Icebreaker (also a purveyor of outdoor wool apparel,) told the paper it would not comment on rumors.
In November, Ibex laid off 12 of its 32 staffers, and in July, the brand announced it would move to a direct-to-consumer only model starting in 2018.
It’s all hypothetical at this stage, of course. But it’s clear Robert has high hopes for Ibex, and that she’s already thought deeply about how to take it under her wing. Before Ibex said it would cease operations entirely, it announced that it would move to a direct-to-consumer-only model. Robert said she hopes to bring wholesale back to Ibex, albeit on a smaller scale.
“I certainly won’t do it the same way,” she said. “At Terry, we’ve managed to sort of shift, organically, to less of a proactive approach with smaller accounts, which can be very expensive. It’s very expensive to put together sale samples, go to trade shows, and hire rep groups. With Terry, we’ve been successful in creating outreach, but the smaller retailers come to us.”
At Terry, for example, line presentations are done through Skype.
“We’re happy to sell to any and all retailers who want to sign up, but we’ll do it in a much more frugal way,” she said.
As for whether Ibex would remain Ibex, Robert has thought of that, too. When she ran Vermont Teddy Bear, it was completely separate from sister brand Pajamagram to the consumer eye, yet backend operations, accounting and finance departments, and the warehouse were consolidated. That’s her vision for Terry and Ibex, too, she said: separate websites, separate catalogs, separate product teams and brand strategy, but cost-saving consolidation behind the scenes.
“We feel there’s a lot of opportunity with the product,” Robert said, noting that the brand already has a loyal customer base. “Maybe [we’d] dial the assortment back a bit, and really focus on the core pieces that have been so beloved in the market, and think about ways in which can build out gradually from there.”
Hilco Streambank, the company managing the sale of Ibex and its assets, said Thursday that it could not comment on the sale. In its listing for the brand, though, it calls Ibex “a growing and scalable business with a strong, differentiated product offering in the outdoor, performance and premium apparel segments.” Further, the brand is “poised to experience transformational growth in the future.”
The deadline for bids is Dec. 27.