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Why Men's Wearhouse bought Joseph Abboud

July 18, 2013: 1:24 PM ET
Joseph Abboud

Joseph Abboud

Behind the sale of Joseph Abboud to Men's Wearhouse.

FORTUNE -- Men's Wearhouse (MW) has done a deal with private equity, but it's not exactly what most people had in mind.

The men's apparel retailer today announced that it has agreed to acquire the parent company of Joseph Abboud from private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates for $97.5 million. Still no word on if recently-ousted Men's Wearhouse chairman George Zimmer has found private equity partners for a buyout of the business he founded, or if he'll simply take over as the Dos Equis pitchman when the current one retires.

Anyway, I spent some time discussing the deal with Adam Suttin, a J.W. Childs partner who has served on the  Joseph Abboud board of directors. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:

FORTUNE: You've owned JA Holdings since 2004, so were you looking to sell?

Suttin: Not really. We didn't go out an market the business. This was a bilateral conversation that evolved over time. Joseph Abboud has been selling product in Men's Warehouse for a number of years, and they also buy product from some of our licensees and have a direct retail license where they were producing some goods under our label. In the last six months they also hired Joseph Abboud, the man who developed the product 20 years ago, as chief creative designer, and I think they realized that once they had Joseph they could do something very strategic if they also owned the brand.

Did Joseph Abboud, the man, have any operational role still with the company?

No, he hasn't been employed there for the past six or seven years... He actually sold the business to an Italian company that we originally bought it from in 2004, and wasn't involved at that time. We were able to bring him back a few years after we acquired it, but it didn't work out in the long term for a variety of reasons.

Care to share any of them?

No, it's kind of old news.

You originally bought the company for $73 million, and are selling it nine years later for $97.5 million. A positive return, but not great given the length of ownership...

The equity return is about 2x because we did generate free cash-flow that allowed us to make a dividend. So it's a double, which is below the average of our fund and below our objectives, but we think it was a nice recovery given that the business got hit so hard by the recession. When the economy goes south, demand for suits gets very weak.

What changes did you make that helped you weather the economic storm?

The business today is quite different than what we acquired, which was primarily a wholesale business manufacturing suits in Massachusetts with a small licensing business. What we did was evolve it to be much more about licensing. Licensing probably grew five-fold as we focused more on that and expanded into new geographies like Asia. We also expanded into different price points and categories, making it more lifestyle than just suits. For example, we now have some housewares and home furnishings.

Do you make fewer suits than when you bought it?

Yes.

What impact, if any, did the George Zimmer situation have on your sale to Men's Wearhouse?

I really shouldn't be commenting on their business, you should call Men's Wearhouse.

I'm asking about its impact on your business, as the seller.

We did not see a change in their engagement. George Zimmer was not someone who was visible from our perspective in the process, so it did not have a noticeable impact.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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