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Mexico Department Store Liverpool Acquires Walmart Chain Suburbia

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Mexican department store company El Puerto de Liverpool SAB de CV announced on August 10 that it has acquired the retail chain Suburbia from Wal-Mart de México SAB de CV for a total of Mx$19,000 million (approximately US$1 billion), pending review by Mexican regulatory agencies.  The purchase ends months of speculation as to who would be the new owner of Suburbia after Walmart announced in January that it was seeking a buyer for the retail chain, which had 119 outlets as of the purchase, all located within Mexico.  Other potential candidates rumored to be interested in Suburbia included Mexican chains Coppel and Sears (operated in Mexico by Grupo Sanborns), as well as Chile-based multinational retailer Falabella.  The acquisition further consolidates Liverpool’s position as one of the biggest national retailers in Mexico during a year of exceptional retail sales growth and overall economic stability, and further advances Walmart’s efforts to refocus on its core business and growing online sales.

What Liverpool Gains

The Suburbia acquisition is Liverpool’s second major deal in the past two months, following the early July purchase of Chilean department store chain Ripley.  With the purchase of Suburbia, Liverpool adds the 119 Suburbia outlets to its existing store network, which includes Liverpool’s 193 retail outlets in Mexico as of the close of 2015.  The Ripley deal adds an additional 43 stores in Chile (276,080 sqm) and 27 stores in Peru (177,799 sqm), per company filings.  All told, Liverpool has added over 900,000 square meters of retail space to its portfolio since July 1 2016.

While the Ripley purchase changes Liverpool’s positioning from a domestic retailer into an international one, the Suburbia acquisition greatly strengthens Liverpool’s position as a dominant figure in the Mexico retail landscape.  Suburbia, like Liverpool’s Fábricas de Francia brand, is oriented towards consumers from income groups C and D, with the Liverpool brand oriented towards higher-income groups A and B, according to the companies.  The Suburbia acquisition improves Liverpool’s position with consumers from groups C and D.  In the announcement of the acquisition, Liverpool additionally cited the addition of a new business model and the fact that Suburbia’s positioning as a clothing and footwear specialist aligns with Liverpool’s growth strategy, which identifies these categories as priorities.

Besides Liverpool, a number of other retailers both within Mexico and abroad were rumored to be potential buyers of Suburbia.  Of the other candidates, Chilean department store Falabella was viewed by many as the most likely alternate buyer.  Several months ago, Falabella announced it would be expanding into Mexico for the first time via a joint venture with Mexican retailer Soriana to open Sodimac home improvement specialist outlets in Mexico over the next 5 years.  Had Falabella acquired Suburbia, it would have given the Chilean chain a much stronger position in Mexico and in the region, although admittedly targeting a lower-income consumer group than its Falabella brand does.  Liverpool’s acquisition of Suburbia prevents Falabella from gaining a rapid foothold in the apparel space in Mexico.

Why did Walmart sell Suburbia?

Walmart also stands to gain from this deal.  Beyond getting the nearly US$1 billion at which the deal is valued, selling Suburbia aligns with Wal-Mart’s global strategy of refocusing on its core grocery and general merchandise businesses both within Mexico as well as abroad.  This mirrors Wal-Mart’s global investment of an additional US$2 billion in e-commerce investments between 2015 and 2016, as Walmart seeks to build a position as a leader in e-commerce, citing perceptions that the retailer is “playing catch-up” to fellow US-based retailers, Target and Amazon.  Walmart’s recent US$3.3 billion acquisition of US internet retailer and Amazon rival Jet.com also forms part of this objective.

The strategy of streamlining the company to focus on core businesses and internet retailing is reflected clearly in actions taken by Wal-Mart de México SAB de CV.  The company sold restaurant chain VIPs to Alsea SAB de CV in 2013 in part to focus on its retail brands, and announced in March that in 2016 it would focus on improving productivity in 2016, rather than on opening new stores, via an investment of approximately US$829 million in 2016 alone, with much of this investment going towards logistics and technology.  Selling Suburbia – which with its focus on apparel and footwear has a different product mix than other Walmart banners – is another action in line with this strategy.

Looking Ahead

Suburbia is the second-largest apparel and footwear specialist in Mexico, with just under 12% of the channel’s total sales in 2015, behind Inditex’s brands, including Zara, which had 17% of the apparel and footwear specialist channel in 2015.  Due to differences in positioning, however, Inditex and Suburbia compete only indirectly.  The outlook for apparel and footwear in Mexico is generally positive, with Euromonitor projecting sales of these categories to increase at a CAGR of just under 5% through 2020 (in constant 2015 terms).  With the Suburbia acquisition, Liverpool is strongly positioned to take advantage of this growth once the deal closes.

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