Former Myer execs acquire Colette by Colette Hayman out of administration

Bernie Brookes said the brand has private label margins and a strong customer base. Photo: Inside Retail

The group of companies trading as Colette by Colette Hayman has been acquired out of administration by a team of investors led by Bernie Brookes and John Skellern, who previously worked together as the former CEO and former general manager of procurement at Myer, respectively.

The transaction was approved by creditors of the group at their second meeting last week, although details of the deal were not disclosed.

Brookes will be the major shareholder and chairman of Colette by Colette Hayman, while Skellern will serve as the CEO.

The new owners have retained a number of the brand’s key managers and staff, who will provide a “kick start” to the business, and concluded negotiations with landlords to ensure the streamlined store network will be able to continue trading. Relationships with suppliers have also been maintained, meaning much-needed fresh stock can be delivered immediately to stores.

The freshly recapitalised handbag and accessories brand will continue trading through 35 bricks-and-mortar stores in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia, and a burgeoning online store.

This is a significant reduction from the brand’s previous footprint of 138 stores across Australia and New Zealand, and revenue is expected to decline accordingly. The group previously had sales in excess of $140 million.

“The new Colette footprint comprises only one-third of the original stores, and a fledgling online business, which with dedicated resources and focus will deliver one-third of total revenue,” Brookes said in a statement shared with Inside Retail.

The retail veteran acknowledged that some might question his investment in a bricks-and-mortar fashion business given the challenges the sector is facing right now, but he defended the decision, citing Colette by Colette Hayman’s strong brand, private label margins and great customer base.

“My decision to take the majority shareholding will be viewed as contrary to the current difficulties facing bricks and mortar retail,” Brookes said.

“Owning a fashion retail chain is about true omnichannel retail; a strong online presence and physical stores. Our purchase will enable the business to land in a future post Covid-19 in advance of any cessation of lockdowns and restrictions in the future, and our core offer of handbags and jewellery will continue, with a fresh focus on the strong performing stores retained, and a significant investment in the digital space.”

Brookes said the new owners plan to stabilise and then build the brand while investing in the business.

The acquisition has preserved the jobs of nearly 300 employees, including close to 100 permanent roles, according to a statement issued by Deloitte Restructuring Services partners Vaughan Strawbridge, Sam Marsden and Jason Tracy, who were appointed voluntary administrators of the group on January 31.

The administrators reportedly received offers from several parties, despite the market uncertainty brought on by Covid-19.

“The sale of the business to a group of experienced retail investors represents a significant achievement in the current environment, and reflects the strength of the brand and the commitment of the group’s employees to its future,” Marsden said.