Claiborne Offers $366 Million for J. Jill

New York-based apparel manufacturer Liz Claiborne is trying yet again to acquire the outstanding shares of Hingham, MA-based cataloger/retailer The J. Jill Group.

On Friday, Claiborne offered $18 a share for J. Jill–40% more than J. Jill’s Nov. 17 closing price of $12.79 a share.

In a Clairborne release, the company said it hope to rejuvenate J. Jill’s well-regarded but underperforming brand. J. Jill would “benefit significantly from our product and merchandising expertise, lower sourcing and logistics costs, and increased marketing and advertising support,” according to the statement. The company had been trying to acquire J. Jill during the past two years, it said, and a $17 per share offer made in March was “flatly rejected.”

For its part, J. Jill Group’s board of directors said in a release that “it will meet in due course to review and discuss the Liz Claiborne proposal and thereafter will advise shareholders of its position regarding the proposal.”

J. Jill’s direct business has been sputtering during the past few months, as the women’s apparl merchant struggles to effectively transition from being a cataloger to a cataloger/retailer. The company targets active, affluent women age 35 and older.

In addition to its namesake brand, Liz Claiborne owns apparel brands Dana Buchman, DKNY Jeans, Ellen Tracy, and Kenneth Cole New York, among others. Although some of its brands operate stand-alone stores and direct divisions, most of the company’s revenue comes from sales to department stores. Acquiring J. Jill would expand Liz Claiborne’s retail presence and give it a stronger online and catalog channel.

Larry West, president of New York-based investment bank West Cos., says Liz Claiborne realizes that to maximize growth it must go multichannel: “This is another understanding that the retailers are primed to enter this multichannel market with proven expertise and solid brands, and one of the best ways to do it is by acquisition.”

Goldman, Sachs & Co. is acting as financial adviser to Liz Claiborne, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison is acting as legal adviser. Peter J. Solomon Co. is acting as financial adviser to J. Jill, and Kirkland & Ellis and Foley Hoag are acting as legal advisers.

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