Kohl’s stock surges on buyout talks with Franchise Group

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Shares of Kohl’s rose as much as 12% Tuesday morning after the retailer said that it is in advanced talks to be sold in a deal worth about $8 billion.

The Wisconsin chain said late Monday that it was in a three-week exclusive takeover period with the owner of Vitamin Shoppe for $60 per share.

The buyer, the Franchise Group Inc., which focuses on franchise companies, will make final financing arrangements and complete due diligence before signing off on the deal during that period.

Last month, Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass said the company had received multiple offers from parties looking to buy the business. At the time the department store chain said that its board was working with Goldman Sachs to explore strategic alternatives, which had included engaging with 25 parties. The board had requested fully-financed final bids to be submitted.

Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, said that while the Franchise Group’s plans are not clear, franchising a department store is much more difficult than franchising a single retail category like vitamins, pet products or furniture. He also pointed out that Kohl’s would by the biggest and most prominent acquisition for Franchise Group, and he’s not sure whether it has the bandwidth to right Kohl’s direction.

Kohl’s struggled with anemic sales before the pandemic. Sales and profits rebounded in 2021, but the department store is now battling higher costs and a pullback from its price conscious shoppers who are being more selective in the face of surging inflation and rising gas prices.

Kohl’s Corp. cut its annual earnings and sales forecast last month after a disappointing first quarter. Sales at stores opened at least year dropped 5.2%.

“There is a lot of work to be done to put Kohl’s on the right track, and we are not entirely convinced that Franchise Group has the expertise to make all the required changes,” Saunders wrote Tuesday.

Kohl’s, however, is now holding “a very weak hand,” which makes it hard to reject the offer.

In May, Kohl’s also announced that its shareholders rejected all 10 board nominees pushed by activist investor Macellum Advisors. The hedge fund has urged Kohl’s to explore strategic options, including a sale, if the chain didn’t take action to improve its business and increase its stock price. Macellum Advisors, which owns 5% of Kohl’s shares, had put up its own slate of board nominees.

Kohl’s has more than 1,100 stores in 49 states.

The potential deal between Kohl’s and Franchise Group still needs approval from the boards of both companies.

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