FINANCE

United Retail files bankruptcy, to sell company

BY Marianne Wilson

Rochelle Park, N.J. — United Retail Group Inc. announced that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection as it looks to sell itself to private-equity firm Versa Capital Management. United Retail owns the 433-store Avenue chain, which specializes in plus-sized women’s apparel.

“We are seeking relief from disproportionately high costs for many of our leases that were signed prior to the recession,” United Retail CEO said in the statement. “Through Chapter 11 relief and a lease renegotiation process, the turnaround of Avenue can continue.”

The retailer signed an asset purchase agreement with an entity controlled by Versa Capital, which it plans to submit to the bankruptcy court as the stalking horse bid for a court-supervised auction of the business. Versa has agreed to buy inventory, a distribution facility in Ohio, and leases for at least 300 stores, subject to higher bids in the Chapter 11 process.

United Retail has begun closing 14 stores, and has identified 100 "chronically underperforming" stores where it hopes to get out of or renegotiate its leases, according to Reuters.

United Retail is a subsidiary of Redcats USA, owned by Paris-based retail conglomerate PPR SA.

“This sale was part of a strategic decision by Redcats USA to focus its business online moving forward, and we are pleased to have found a company that can continue the turn-around process we envisioned from the beginning,” said John Heaney, executive VP of Redcats USA.

United Retail listed assets of $117.2 million and debt of $67.3 million in documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. It has arranged for a $40 million debtor-in-possession credit facility from its existing revolving credit lender, Wells Fargo & Co. to provide sufficient capital for Avenue stores to continue its operations as usual.

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OPERATIONS

Dillard’s to enhance web presence with strategic investment

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Little Rock, Ark. — Dillard’s said Wednesday it has made a strategic investment in e-commerce company Acumen Brands in a move toward enhancing the department store retailer’s website dillards.com, as well as Acumen’s 12 e-commerce sites.

Dillard’s invested $4 million in Series B preferred stock of Acumen Brands, leading a $5 million round of growth financing which also included participation from existing investors Noro-Moseley Partners, BLH Venture Partners, the Gravity Fund and the Arkansas Risk Capital Matching Fund.

Acumen, based in Fayetteville, Ark., offers branded storefronts for a variety of professions and lifestyles including medical uniforms, work wear and western wear.

Under the agreement, Acumen will offer technological marketing services and support to enhance Dillard’s online presence, while Dillard’s VP Kent Burnett will serve on the Acumen board to provide strategic guidance for the company. Burnett is the Dillard’s senior executive in charge of information technology and ecommerce.

Recently, Dillard’s announced an increased commitment to the growth of its online store with a new Internet Fulfillment Center in Maumelle, Ark., opening in spring 2012.

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OPERATIONS

Dick’s Last Resort teams with PlayNetwork for multichannel entertainment experience

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Redmond, Wash. — PlayNetwork on Wednesday announced a partnership with restaurant and entertainment chain Dick’s Last Resort, to provide original video, social engagement and custom music programs.

PlayNetwork said it is producing "Dick’s TV," which features a lineup of original programming and product promotions.

"Dick’s has always been about serving great food and entertainment," said Ted Moats, CEO of Dick’s Last Resort. "PlayNetwork has helped us find new, creative ways to make the dining experience even more engaging, plus our online fans now have a vehicle to share the Dick’s experience with friends."

Restaurant patrons and servers will be invited to contribute to the experience by uploading photos, text messages and Tweets to the displays throughout the restaurants. Store managers are also able to post new messages instantly to restaurant displays.

To maximize the impact of the new programming, PlayNetwork is installing new state-of-the-art A/V systems in all 10 existing Dick’s Last Resort locations, as well as new restaurants scheduled to open later this year.

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