Bankruptcies are often an ugly process in the retail space.
Wet Seal saw its entire team at headquarters gutted during a trip through the bankruptcy process. People flew out the door on fears of getting canned or because they actually got canned in order to save money. Tons of stores were closed. Only now is the company finding its footing, having emerged from bankruptcy, much slimmer and with a team that is moving with a sense of urgency. But during the process, it lost share to fast-fashion houses such as Forever 21 and H&M.
The exact same thing has happened at fellow teen-apparel retailer Aeropostale (AROPQ) : a good number of staff cuts and stores in many locations holding closeout sales. Aeropostale will still be around thanks to a deal it inked with mall owners such as Simon Property (SPG) , but make no mistake it's a far weaker player in the space post-bankruptcy because it has lost market share to American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) .
These latest examples are reminiscent of what happened with Circuit City (Best Buy (BBY) won), RadioShack (Best Buy won here, too) and others during their trips through the courts. So ugly.
While ugly for the bankrupt companies, something always seems to happen in these retail cases: an industry consolidator emerges and becomes a winner. Once Circuit City went under, that left Best Buy as the only electronics retailer in the neighborhood in many instances. When Linens N' Things closed up shop, that shifted purchases of household goods to Action Alerts PLUS holding TJ Maxx's (TJX) HomeGoods division and to a lesser extent, Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) .
There are two consolidators emerging once again in the retail space, and it could prove beneficial to play each name (if you haven't already) heading into the holiday season.
The first, and most obvious, is Dick's Sporting Goods (DKS) . Dick's swooped in quickly to secure some of bankrupt Sports Authority's best retail stores, which will be re-branded. It even bought the company's digital database for a song. Now, the company will very likely pick through the remains of bankrupt Golfsmith -- selecting the very best sites and possibly re-branding them as Golf Galaxy. What's not to like about all of this?
-- Dick's gets top sites on the cheap.
-- Dick's grows the Golf Galaxy brand.
-- Dick's gets bigger and becomes more influential with suppliers.
-- Dick's becomes the leading destination for all things golf, which is still a highly relevant sport despite what non-golfing reporters suggest.
Dick's is even gobbling up old Sears (SHLD) locations! At my local mall, the company is midway through remodeling a three-level Sears store into a mecca for all things sporting goods.
As for the other retail consolidator, it's J.C. Penney (JCP) . Now, the company it's slowly eating up -- Sears -- hasn't technically filed for bankruptcy. But one could make the case Sears has been 'bankrupt' for years, supplying its stores with horrible merchandise and virtually no customer service due to dwindling cash and a dearth of executive talent. And as a note from Moody's this week suggested, things could be about to get very ugly for the beleaguered retailer next year as it searches for badly needed cash.
In the meantime, J.C. Penney is moving quickly to roll out appliances to 500 stores by the end of the fall, which could serve as one of the final nails in the coffin for Sears. Another could come as J.C. Penney continues to aggressively improve its apparel assortments and markets a message of affordability to customers, which will likely hurt Sears this holiday season.
Should Sears file for bankruptcy protection sometime in 2017, there will be many notes out bullish on J.C. Penney's prospects. It would be wise to get into the name before those notes hit the newswires.