Tory Burch vs. J. Crew -- IPO-Off!

"IPO-off" may not be a term, but the battle is real -- sort of. J. Crew and Tory Burch are on the IPO path, and investors need to make a choice.

Andrew Marder
Andrew Marder
Jan 16, 2014 at 8:00AM
Consumer Goods

We're going to start out with two assumptions -- both Tory Burch and J. Crew are on their way to an IPO and you, the retail investor, only have room in your portfolio for one. Tricky, isn't it? For the uninitiated, Tory Burch is a high-end designer in the mold of Michael Kors (NYSE:CPRI) and who sells $250 ballet flats to the rich and famous. J. Crew is better known, in that it's priced for a broader audience. The company is run by Millard "Mickey" Drexler and is like a New England prep school version of Gap's (NYSE:GPS) Banana Republic brand.

The word on Wall Street is that both businesses are looking forward to going public in the near future, and 2014 may be the perfect time for both. For Tory Burch, it will be an introduction to new funding and give the business the potential to fuel its expansion -- the Kors model, again. For J. Crew, an IPO would be a return to the market and mean a massive payday for the brand's owner.

Tory Burch history and financials
Before you can make a decision, you'll need to know a bit about the businesses. Let's start with Burch. Tory Burch was founded in 2004 by Tory Burch, the designer. Burch opened with a single store and an online presence. By 2010, the brand was opening European flagship stores and launching a co-branded eyeglasses line with Luxottica. In 2014, Tory Burch is sitting on 100 stores around the world and looking forward to a joint venture with watchmaker Fossil, which is hitting shelves later in the year.

For investors, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was Burch's ex-husband. Last year, the couple finalized their divorce and the financial fallout, with Chris Burch ridding himself of his 28.3% stake in the business. Now Tory Burch is free to move ahead, and investors are very interested.

Last year, the company likely hit sales of more than $1 billion -- the brand pulled in $800 million in 2012. That success has made the comparison with Michael Kors all the easier. Kors pulled in $758 million in revenue in fiscal 2011, the year before it went public . In fiscal 2013, Kors reached more than $2 billion in sales.

In short, the Tory Burch investor is looking for fast growth from a hot luxury brand. The rapid growth of Kors and the general strength in the luxury sector both make Tory Burch look like a surefire winner.

J. Crew on the road to an IPO
While Tory Burch is betting on high margins from a smaller buying pool, J. Crew has reached out to the masses. The brand now operates 300 locations -- three times Tory Burch's footprint -- but generates only twice the revenue.. On the other hand, it's given the brand an immense amount of public awareness.

J. Crew is the natural rival to Banana Republic, and the two often coexist in malls and shopping centers across America. Banana has a distinct size advantage over J. Crew, but instead of being a deterrent, that may actually point to the achievements that J. Crew still has in store for itself. Banana Republic earned $572 million in revenue in its last quarter alone in the U.S. and almost $700 million worldwide. The brand has twice the number of U.S. locations as J. Crew, giving investors a footprint to dream about.

In addition to being a good-looking brand, J. Crew has also already spent time on the market, making it a likely candidate for a return. The business was taken private back in 2010 for $3 billion and the owners are likely looking to cash out sooner rather than later, now that the business has stabilized.

Final thoughts
The differences between Tory Burch and J. Crew make both companies interesting options for a portfolio light on retailers. The strength of both brands coupled with their growth potential is good news for investors, and the strong and proven leadership at both should help you rest easy. For many, it will simply come down to how fast you think Tory Burch can grow compared to how big you think J. Crew can be. I'm a fan of the latter, but I can see the case for the former.