Thought leadership

The Edgars Group – From Rags to Riches and Back Again

September 11, 2023

The retail industry in South Africa has faced many challenges since the start of the Edgars Group in 1929. This iconic brand found its way into the hearts and minds of South African’s who needed to clothe themselves and their families, who often required access to credit so that the goods and services could be paid off over time, in monthly manageable repayments – enter the 6 months to pay an account.

The Edgars Group has gone through many phases in its history when it has been revered as the leading retailer in its segment, only to fall on hard times, struggling for existence. In 1998 the Edgars Group was again fighting for existence when Steve Ross was brought in by SAB to help turn the company around. For the first two years, he focused on positioning the group in order to offer better value to customers, and
also to stop competing internally between the various retail brands, and instead compete externally. After two years the company had started to make good inroads and it again became the darling of the investing community on the JSE. With the increase in its fortunes and an attractive 31% market share, private equity investors saw an opportunity to buy out the company and take it private in 2007.

In hindsight, the deal could not have happened at a worse time, as the subprime lending crises happened in 2008, which suppressed retails sales and left the group struggling to service a high-interest burden, due to the highly leveraged buyout from the previous year. The over-geared group did not at the time have the ability to invest in stores, merchandise, people, and systems, which ultimately reduced its
relevance to rapidly changing consumer demands.

Two restructurings and recapitalizations of the business later, the group was making some inroads into turning the business around by December 2019. Sadly the group was hit by the unforeseen COVID- 19 pandemic events, which dented consumer confidence and in turn negatively impacted retailer sales, stopping the performance recovery in its tracks. The board had no alternative but to put the company into business rescue.

The challenge then became; how to sell off businesses and assets to maximise value and save as many jobs as possible. Skip to the present day, the business rescue process has been a success. More than 10 000 jobs have been saved. The Edgars chain was sold to Retailabilty as a growing concern with 125 viable and profitable stores, and the Jet chain was sold to TFG with 430 viable and profitable stores. This ensured the sustainability of these two iconic household brands.

Nimble had mobilized quickly to move its staff into a work-from-home model at the beginning of lockdown. We saw that credit markets had not frozen up but in fact, remained relatively functional. Armed with funding from the IFC to purchase distressed debt, the debt acquisition team moved quickly to find solutions for the parts of the debtor’s book which were not sold to RCS.

Nimble came to a fair and attractive offer with the Business Rescue team while also ensuring they could make the required rate of return for its stakeholders. The transaction allowed the Nimble group to create 200 new positions and open a new office in KZN, right in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Joining the Nimble team has been an enlightening and enjoyable experience for the previous Edcon team, and it’s most rewarding when we watch team members who were facing a bleak road ahead of unemployed, rise to the challenge of their new roles in this young and dynamic company where people are at the heart of the business.

Author: Ian Wood, Nimble Group Executive

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