Staples-owner Sycamore offers to buy workplace wholesaler Essendant

Staples-owner Sycamore Partners on Wednesday reported a roughly 9.9 percent stake in workplace wholesaler Essendant and its offer to buy the rest of the company for $11.50 per share in cash.

Shares of Essendant, which closed at $11.03 a share, were up 2.45 percent in after-market trading, giving it a market capitalization of $415 million.

Sycamore’s offer is the clearest indication to date of its plans to push Staples further into business-to-business services and away from its challenged retail business. Sycamore structured its $6.9 billion acquisition of Staples in a way that would allow it to eventually wind down Staples’ weaker retail operations.

Essendant in April announced plans to combine with Genuine Parts Company’s business wholesaler S.P. Richards business. The deal is planned to be structured as a so-called “reverse morris trust,” with Genuine Parts and Essendant to form a new independent company.

Essendant on Wednesday confirmed it received Staples’ bid and said that Genuine Parts had made a pursuant offer of $12 a share, contingent on Essendant’s stock price.

For Sycamore, the play for Essendant comes with precedent. The private equity firm went hostile on women’s clothing chain Talbot’s and eventually acquired it for $391 million in 2012.

Meanwhile, the secretive private equity firm has quietly been acquiring pieces of retail destruction to create a new retail empire through its uniquely operational approach to deal-making. That approach often includes buying and breaking apart various retail businesses, as it may do with Staples and as it previously did with The Jones Group.

And as private equity firms are eschewing retail, Sycamore is in the process of raising its largest-ever fund.

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