Bankers don't make loans to businesses they feel uneasy about. And one industry that has long left many bankers cold is retailing. Not only are they put off by retailers' erratic borrowing needs, but they blanch at the thought of having to sell off a borrower's inventory to recover capital.
But if your retail business is having trouble getting money, don't give up. It's worth it to contact a financier who specializes in offering services to retailers. Because he or she knows how the industry works, the retail financier is more apt to see ways to manage the financial and operational risks -- and increase your financing options.
Players in this market are few and far between But one company that's become more active recently is Gordon Brothers, in Boston. The privately held 300-employee company offers retail-industry clients a range of services, including --
Inventory-value guarantees. Say a bank offers to lend a retailer 30% of the cost of inventory. Often, that figure will be overly conservative, says Ward Mooney, head of Gordon's merchant-banking area, because most bankers don't really know what the assets would fetch in liquidation. To help retailers get larger amounts from banks, Gordon can -- for a fee of around 1% -- give the bank downside protection on the value of inventory. "It's like an insurance policy," Mooney says, "and it can give banks the comfort to take greater risks."
Merchant credit supports. Retailers with bad credit histories usually have trouble getting terms from their suppliers. That makes it hard to buy inventory. To help clients in that bind, Gordon will use its credit (once again, charging a fee): Gordon buys the inventory and promises to pay the vendor; the retailer agrees to pay Gordon as it generates sales. "This gives retailers the cash flow they need to stay in business," explains Mooney.
Asset conversions. Gordon routinely gets involved in advising ailing retailers how to reorganize their operations (either in or out of bankruptcy). "Typically," says Mooney, "we'll help them identify locations that need to be closed and show them how to get the most for excess inventory." For instance, one client, Chelsea Corp., a Detroit-area retailer, recently emerged from Chapter 11 with eight fewer stores after following Gordon's advice.
Working-capital loans. In selected cases, Gordon is moving beyond facilitating the extension of credit to originating its own working-capital loans. Through a new financial arm, the company will make loans typically in the $1-million-to-$5-million range, notes Mooney. The interest rates? Around three to four points above prime, which he admits is more expensive than bank loans. "The difference," he says, "is that we understand retailing. And we won't just cut and run."
-- Bruce G. Posner* * *
If you're looking for other companies that help retailers get money, here are two more to try: Maurice L. Rothschild & Co., in Skokie, Ill., offers credit support and liquidation expertise; and RAI, in Hackensack, N.J., finances customer receivables.