Things have been tough for Pier 1 Imports. The Fort Worth-based company struggled mightily over the summer, with net losses of $4.1 million between late May and late August. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, that’s down from a net income of $3.2 million from the 2015 earnings. Sales are down 6.7 percent in that time, and Alex Smith, the company’s CEO, announced his retirement plans at the end of 2016.
It’s not like the company’s 2015 numbers were stellar, either—in April of that year, the company announced plans to close 100 stores amid tumbling sales. By the summer, Pier 1 began once more relying heavily on in-store promotions—a challenge for staff and an unfocused strategy for driving sales—a move that Smith once said would put a company in the “the dumb camp.” It’s a familiar story for retail: online competitors cut into the market, and their own online sales efforts struggle to keep up with shipping and overhead costs.
This isn’t the first time that Pier 1 has stumbled. In 2007, its stock hit a low of $0.11 a share before rebounding to as much as $17. (For the story of that comeback, check out D Magazine‘s 2010 profile of the company.) Now, though, the company’s current leadership has a bigger challenge than just slumping sales, online competition, and floundering stock prices: It’s got to fight off a takeover attempt. As the Dallas Morning News reported last week:
A New York-based hedge fund on Monday disclosed a 9.5 percent stake in Pier 1 Imports.
Alden Global Capital said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it’s been in talks with the board about operations, the search for a new CEO, board composition and the company’s ownership structure and it intends to continue those contacts. Aiden Global has purchased 7.9 million shares of Pier 1 and said the retail chain is at “a critical juncture.”
The company responded by amending its stockholder agreement to prohibit any person or group from buying more than 10 percent of the company’s stock. That wouldn’t prevent a change in ownership, necessarily, but it would make such a change tougher to pull off—anyone who acquires more than 10 percent of the stock would face “substantial dilution,” which would make such a takeover challenging without the support of the company’s board.
Alden responded to the move by characterizing it as “a nonsensical scare tactic,” and according to the DMN, the relationship between the company and its newest investor is as frosty as one might expect considering the word “takeover” is involved.
Heath Freeman, president of Alden, said it’s ironic that Pier’s entire board minus CEO Alex Smith, who is leaving, together own only 0.6 percent of the company’s shares and therefore have “very little of their own skin in the game.”
Freeman hasn’t yet responded to questions about whether Alden Global is seeking Pier 1 board seats.
“We were incredibly surprised and disappointed to learn that Pier 1’s board of directors has taken the unusually aggressive step of adopting this unduly restrictive poison pill less than 10 days following our 13D filing and just four days after our in-person meeting with chairman Terry London,” Freeman said.