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Robbins Bros. Reportedly Seeks Partner

Robbins Bros. Reportedly Seeks Partner By SHELLY GARCIA Senior Reporter A New York-based publication is reporting that Robbins Bros. The World’s Biggest Engagement Ring Store is seeking an equity partner. The newsletter, MergerMarket, quoted an unnamed source who said that Glendale-based Robbins Bros. signed on with international investment bank Rothschild several months ago. Steve Robbins, chairman and CEO of the retail company, did not return phone calls to the Business Journal seeking comment on the reports. Tracey Lyles, a spokeswoman for the company, responded by e-mail saying that the company is currently funding a national expansion plan and it has no intentions of going public. Family-owned Robbins Bros., with seven stores and an annual sales volume estimated at $75 million to $100 million, is believed to be scouting Texas and other locations to begin a national rollout. The company somewhat more than a year ago also launched a second division, World Class Weddings, which seeks to capitalize on its share of the market for engagement rings with a series of wedding-related services, such as wedding planning and honeymoon travel services. In a presentation to the Young Entrepreneurs Organization last year, Robbins conceded that there have been several hiccups in the launch of World Class Weddings, which he hoped to establish as a distinct, self-sustaining and profitable entity. And more recently, a source familiar with the company said that the fledgling division had not yet begun to pay off. “I must tell you that developing this start-up business has been painful, although it has had a huge impact on selling more engagement rings and over delivering great service to our customers in our stores,” Robbins told the YEO group, “it has also been way more expensive to launch and taken far longer.” Other alternatives Rothschild, the investment bank that managed the acquisition of Woodland Hills-based Weider Publications to American Media Inc., among other deals, also works in the area of restructuring, refinancing and recapitalization, which might mean that Robbins is seeking alternatives for financing its World Class Weddings division and not necessarily a merger partner while it begins its national expansion plan. Officials at the investment bank in New York did not respond to a phone call. It is also possible that the search for an equity partner involves the minority share of the business currently held by Skip Robbins. Although the brothers are featured together in the company’s commercials, Skip Robbins has stepped back from the business. “He lives in Seattle and has his own engagement ring business,” Steve Robbins told the Business Journal last year when the company was featured as the San Fernando Valley’s Best Employer. Any deal to come is not likely to involve Steve Robbins relinquishing control of the company. Robbins Bros. has been in the family since the 1920s when it was started by Ben Robbins, Steve and Skip’s grandfather as William Pitt Jewelers in Seattle. Dad Eugene Robbins brought the store to L.A. in 1959. The brothers came into the business in the late 1970s and were responsible for reengineering the stores to focus on engagement rings and wedding bands in 1995. Since then the brothers have worked tirelessly to build and expand the franchise, achieving 25 percent bottom line and top line growth in five consecutive years as of 2003, Steve Robbins told the YEO group. Steve Robbins quoted a favorite philosophy to the YEO group: “Stay focused on a niche where you can be the biggest fish, or to say it another way, be the 800 pound gorilla or don’t play.” The company’s category killer strategy is likely to be commanding more resources now than ever as Robbins Bros. expands across the country, and it may be difficult to manage the other auxiliary businesses and projects Robbins has planned. In addition to World Class Weddings, the company had earlier announced it was in planning stages for a 100,000-square-foot shopping complex in Southern California, that would be anchored by a Robbins Bros. and bring the full gamut of wedding products and services tuxedo and wedding gown stores, florists and even wedding venues all under one roof.

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