Rent-A-Center‘s decision to sell itself to Vintage Capital comes amid a continuing expansion of so-called “alt lending” options for consumers, which could make it more difficult for the chain to reinvent itself as it becomes a private company under its new ownership.
Vintage Capital affiliate, Vintage Rodeo Parent LLC, said this week it would buy Rent-A-Center for $15 per share — for a total of $801 million — and take it private. Including net debt, the total deal is worth a reported $1.37 billion. The agreement comes after Rent-A-Center rejected a similar $15-per-share deal from Vintage nearly a year ago.
Rent-A-Center operates 2,400 stores in North America but has recently fallen on hard times. To save $65 million annually, the company recently said it would lay off about 250 employees, “about a quarter of its corporate staff,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Rent-A-Center has shuttered about 160 stores over the last 12 months as it faced increased competition from Aaron’s rent-to-own consumers.
Vintage also owns rent-to-own operation Buddy’s Home Furnishings.
Brian R. Kahn, managing member and founder of Vintage, said, “We believe that the combination of Rent-A-Center, Buddy’s and Vintage is a compelling opportunity to utilize our resources and expertise to enhance value and create a leader in the rent-to-own industry.”
The number of physical rent-to-own stores have declined in recent years, according to the latest data from Association of Progressive Rental Organizations, which focuses on the rent-to-own industry. It counted some 6,700 rent-to-own stores in the United States in 2016, down from 7,100 in 2014. The home furniture rent-to-own industry also has experience at least small decline in the United States, with annual revenue growth down 1.3 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to research from IBIS World.
“Over the five years to 2018, customers have increasingly purchased furniture due to increasing per capita disposable income,” the firm said. Along with that, “mass merchandisers and warehouse clubs [are competing] with rental companies mostly on smaller items.”
The Rent-A-Center deal and the changes in the overall industry come amid the ongoing rise of lending options for consumers short of cash and purchasing power. For instance, Affirm recently announced it is partnering with various brands and retailers to offer shoppers a simple, no-interest monthly payment option on purchases of any size.
Entrepreneur Max Levchin founded Affirm with the aim of enabling shoppers to make transparent payments over time for purchases up to thousands of dollars, with terms ranging from three to 36 months. Affirm — which already partners with over 1,200 merchants, including fashion brands like Tamara Mellon, Rebecca Minkoff, Paul Evans and Shinola — wants to craft relationships with thousands of additional merchants across all price points.
“After talking to many of our merchant partners, we determined that there’s demand from shoppers to buy with Affirm no matter what they are purchasing, especially in fashion,” said Rob Pfeifer, chief revenue officer at Affirm.
Such expansion activity for alt-lending platforms like Affirm come after a recent industry slowdown in momentum, at least according to an alternative lending timeline from CBI Insights. The firm said, that “2017 saw the highest number of acquisitions, mergers and shutdowns in the sector to date, while a formal crackdown in China aimed to reduce the thousands of players operating in the country’s sector.”
The report also analyzed eight alternative lenders that have gone public since late 2014, finding that “valuations for four of these companies — Lending Club, OnDeck Capital, PPDAI Group, and Qudian — have fallen over 40 percent since their IPOs. However, the others have traded up following their public offerings, and all U.S.-listed shares have outpaced S&P 500 returns over that time.”
Growth in alt-lending is also happening in Latin America, where volumes jumped “by over 200 percent in the completed year 2016,” according to Lending Times. “The industry grew from $110 million to an estimated $342 million.”
Such growth seems like to continue, especially as mainstays like Rent-A-Center struggle to right the ship.