(Bloomberg)—Claire’s Stores Inc., known for tween jewelry and ear piercing, has become the latest victim of the retail apocalypse.
The company filed for bankruptcy Monday and said it reached an agreement with creditors including its private-equity backer, Apollo Global Management LLC, to restructure around $1.9 billion in debt. Its plan to survive rests on its reputation for trendy merchandise and a unique service that it says can’t be replicated by shopping online: ear piercing. Claire’s is ranked No. 453 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 1000.
“To date, the company estimates that it has pierced over 100,000,000 ears worldwide,” said Scott Huckins, Claire’s chief financial officer, in court papers as part of the Delaware Chapter 11 filing. The company began piercing ears in 1978.
But even a business model that “remains a compelling proposition over the long term” wasn’t enough to immunize the company from a decline in mall traffic, which fell around 8% year over year, Huckins said in a court affidavit. The company also had too much debt, costing it $183 million a year alone in interest payments, he said.
Claire’s is the latest in a string of recent U.S. retail bankruptcies including children’s clothing chain Gymboree Corp. (No. 392), athletic gear seller the Sports Authority Inc. and toy seller Toys R Us Inc. (No. 38).
CEO Ron Marshall has been trying to revive Claire’s North American operations, which have been under pressure as shoppers shun the malls where the company has many of its 7,500 total locations. The task was hindered by payments on its debt load and efforts to tame its liabilities—including a debt exchange in 2016 and a refinanced credit line last year—didn’t do enough to bolster cash.
Apollo, which took the company private in 2007, exchanged around $183.6 million of debt in the company as part of the 2016 transaction. As of the filing, Apollo owns 98% of the company’s equity, and around 28% of three types of the company’s debt, totalling around $48 million, according to court filings.
Claire’s agreed to a restructuring plan with a group of creditors led by Elliott Management Corp. and Monarch Alternative Capital LP, according to a statement Monday. The ad hoc group of first lien lenders will provide the company with about $575 million of new capital, including a $250 million first lien term loan.
According to court papers, a debtor-in-possession, or DIP loan to fund operations in bankruptcy will include $75 million revolver and a $60 million term loan with Citibank N.A. as an agent to other lenders.
The company plans to emerge from Chapter 11 in September with more than $150 million of liquidity and to reduce its debt by about $1.9 billion, according to the statement. International subsidiaries of Claire’s are not part of the U.S. filings. The company’s bankruptcy doesn’t include $245 million in funded debt at affiliates, according to court papers.
“This transaction substantially reduces the debt on our balance sheet and will enhance our efforts to provide the best-possible experience for our customers,” Marshall said in the statement.
A voluntary Chapter 11 filing typically allows a company to keep operating while it works out a plan to turn the business around and pay its creditors.