Express, Inc.’s New Boss Is a Retail Branding Maven

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The bankruptcy of apparel retailer Express, Inc. was long in coming and widely anticipated. Like the year-ago wreck of Bed Bath & Beyond (BB&B), the Express story sounded familiar at first–Wall Street vulture capitalists plundering another debt-hobbled enterprise. 

In the case of BB&B, the untapped value was not in the brand. Overstock bought it for only $21.5 million. The fat and fast profit was in liquidating the real estate assets, estimated to be worth as much as $250 million. Today the once iconic BB&B brand is just a memory.

But a second look at the Express bankruptcy finds, instead of a picked-over carcass, a brand with a good shot at a future.

The new owner is WHP Global, a relatively young retail brand investment and management company based in New York that has been on a tear.

WHP specializes in acquiring brands that have stumbled or become undervalued but have potential. Just five years after it first opened its doors, WHP says its portfolio – including Toys 'R' Us, Bonobos, Anne Klein, and Isaac Mizrahi – generates annual revenue of $7 billion.  

Express, Inc.’s new boss is WHP founder Yehuda Shmidman, a native New Yorker whose first job, while still in college, was with a startup brand-licensing venture. In 2003, barely into his twenties at the time, Shmidman is credited with co-engineering the then-trailblazing partnership between designer Isaac Mizrahi and Target. In 2011, at 29 years old, he made Crain’s elite list of “40 under 40” talented New York professionals.

According to Shmidman’s recently published remarks on a company-related website, it’s a good time to be a buyer of intellectual property. The pandemic created a glut of impaired brands whose owners are motivated to unload. The supply is good, he says. And demand is low. 

“We currently see very few buyers at the table willing to invest in brands as they wait for the macro environment to stabilize. The combination of more brands for sale with fewer qualified buyers has led us to the busiest IP market in memory.”

Shmidman said WHP’s strategy is reflected in its motto: “partner or perish.” According to a report on the industry news site, “For its takeovers, WHP Global regularly collaborates with other parties. For instance, it partnered with Express (a year ago) to acquire Bonobos.”

The future looks brighter for Express than the headlines have suggested, for all the reasons above plus one that may explain the others: Shmidman has a real passion for what he does. When bidding for brands, “we aspire to be the buyer of choice.”

He recalled that the 2021 acquisition of Toys ‘R’ Us, “has been one of the most exciting and most emotional brands to develop … due to the nostalgia factor. So many of us at WHP are former Toys ‘R’ Us kids; growing up with the brand and now getting to be a part of its comeback is as fun as it gets.”

Shmidman predicts the brand management business is at the beginning of a long boom.

Some of us who work in the retail industry look forward to an emerging next generation of leaders like him who bring youthful enthusiasm and creativity to an industry struggling to adapt to the new normal.


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retailers  retail  rebranding  brands  Future of Brands  Branding  Express

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