Lululemon Athletica Gets a Boost From Private Equity

Last week, lululemon athletica (NASDAQ: LULU) founder, former CEO, and former board member Chip Wilson agreed to sell half of his stake in  the little yoga brand that made it big. In doing so, Wilson freed the company from having to fight some difficult battles over board members and the company's direction, both of which Wilson had been vocally critical of in recent months.

Wilson's role is going to be diminished, as he has agreed to sell half of his 27.7% stake in the company to Advent International, a private equity firm with around $32 billion in assets under management. For investors in Lululemon, the question now is: What does Advent's increased role mean for the future of the business?

Lululemon has gotten some new, old blood.

Advent first invested in Lululemon in 2005, when Lululemon was running just 40 locations. Lululemon now manages over 260 stores and generates over $1.5 billion in revenue annually. Advent exited its first Lululemon investment in 2009 when the business had grown to include 124 locations.

The return of Advent

Now Advent is back, adding two of its managing directors to the Lululemon board, which will increase the size of the board from 10 to 12. To understand the firm's outlook, it's helpful to look at some of the other investments that Advent has made. In addition to Lululemon, Advent has holdings in Bojangles' Chicken and Five Below. It has also exited from positions in clothing brand Fat Face and the HMV Group, a European retailer.

Advent has been invested in Bojangles' Chicken since 2011. In its initial announcement of that investment, Advent pointed out the fast growth potential that the business had, comparing it to other quick growers like Five Below and Lululemon, which the firm had also invested in. .

In fact, most of what Advent has been involved in to this point has been early entry into businesses before the IPO, or investment in fast growing companies like Bojangles' that can be sold to private investors.

A much closer match to the Lululemon example can be found in Fat Face, though. Fat Face is a loosely ski-themed apparel business based in the U.K. but with international reach. When Advent acquired the business in 2005, Fat Face was a strong brand but it lacked financial and operational efficiency. On top of those shortfalls, the company also had a very limited reach, dealing mainly through physical locations.

Fat Face is Advent's best comparison for Lululemon.

Advent sank money into the brand's distribution, expanding its international footprint, growing the online business, and launching a wholesale division. While Lululemon has shown online strength -- online sales grew 25% last quarter -- there is a definite lack of international exposure and the company's wholesale business is minuscule. Wholesale, warehouse, showroom, and outlet sales combined to account for just 7.9% of revenue last quarter.

Good news for Lululemon

Hopefully, Advent's positions on Lululemon's board and its influence in operations will help the company expand as it strengthens its core business. Of particular interest will be how Advent can help Lululemon get its international expansion up and running in a meaningful way. The retailer has taken baby steps to international expansion, and sales outside of North America only accounted for 6% of total sales.

Advent is a good fit for Lululemon; it has a history with the business; it can help buffer the future impact of Chip Wilson; and it can help Lululemon expand internationally, which is one of the business's largest opportunities.

Investors are clearly happy about Wilson being put on the back burner, but the added benefits of Advent's involvement make Lululemon look even more attractive. Look for more expansion talk over the coming fiscal year, and don't be surprised if wholesale revenue starts to make up a larger slice of this business.

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Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder worked in retail for years, holding jobs ranging from bookseller to bank strategy analyst. He has worked for the Motley Fool since 2012, and loves coffee.

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