Ownership change at Chilliwack retail phenom

Chilliwack based women's retail company Auld Phillips has sold a majority share to Vancouver investment firm, CEO Steven Bowen explains.

Auld Phillips CEO Steven Bowen discusses the Chilliwack-based women's retail company's recent sale to a private Vancouver investment firm. 

Auld Phillips CEO Steven Bowen discusses the Chilliwack-based women's retail company's recent sale to a private Vancouver investment firm. 

Auld Phillips is one of Chilliwack’s most well-known homegrown retail success stories, and they’ve just been sold.

As finalized June 2, Auld Phillips Ltd. is now 66 per cent owned by Stern Partners, a private investment firm from Vancouver.

As many in Chilliwack will know, Auld Phillips began as a single women’s retail store at the corner of Yale and Nowell in the 1950s.

Today, they have 58 retail locations across Western Canada, operating under the brands Auld Phillips, Suzanne’s, Jenny’s and the Top Shop.

Steven Bowen has been involved with the company in an ownership and executive capacity for the last 17 years.

“For the next five years I’ll be here in the capacity I’ve always been in, CEO. Five years from now, I expect I’ll still be doing the same thing except I won’t have a one third ownership anymore,” he said.

Auld Phillips went to market in July 2015, represented by Meyers Norris Penny (MNP).

“I’m at the stage in my life where I want a partner. I want to share the ownership burden,” Bowen explained as the motivation behind the sale.

By January, they had attracted multiple offers from different companies, many of which were pure equity offers. Stern, however, was what Bowen described as “an ideal partner” due to their history with owning other retail.

The company already has ownership of Bootlegger, cleo, Ricki’s, Urban Barn, and Warehouse One, to name a few. They bring in $2 billion annually, with 7,000 employees.

Stern purchased their 66 per cent ownership for an undisclosed eight-figure number.

“Retail is a tough business and you want partners that understand how retail businesses work,” Bowen said.

With such a substantial change of ownership, many will wonder if there will be changes on the horizon for Auld Phillips as a company. But Bowen says – for the most part – it’s business as usual.

“[Stern] follow[s] the Warren Buffet philosophy of buying good companies, and leaving those companies alone to operate,” Bowen said. “They only get involved where they can help. The companies are left intact. They stand alone, they operate.”

The Auld Phillips distribution centre, which collects and distributes all product to the retail locations from Vancouver Island to Yorkton, Saskatchewan, will continue to operate and employ a local workforce right here in Eagle Landing.

Bowen doesn’t expect any significant change in employee turnover beyond their typical attrition.

So, what will change?

By partnering with Stern, Auld Phillips will have increased efficiencies and resources when it comes to aspects of the business such as buying and sourcing.

“We’re a very successful company,” Bowen says of Auld Phillips, which brought in around $30 million in annual sales and employed 265 employees at the time of the acquisition.

“So just making sure that we continue to be successful – that’s the main focus.”

Bowen hears from people all the time who are surprised to learn that what was once a single, small women’s fashion store now has such a large geographic presence, and that it’s always been based in Chilliwack.

With the acquisition, Bowen says that Auld Phillips will be able to offer their customers a better product offering for an even better value.

“I’ve lived in Chilliwack a long time; all my kids were born here. It’s really important for me that, one day, when I do leave Auld Phillips, it’s left in the hands of solid ownership.”

“It was the right time to do it, with the right people. I’m really looking forward to working with Stern.”