Michael Hill poised for US market

Chris Ellis, a partner with Boston-based investment banking firm Consensus Advisors, which is working with Michael Hill, said Thursday that Consensus believes a purchase deal is imminent and should be signed within the next few days. 

Ellis believes Michael Hill, a Brisbane, Australia-based retailer with stores in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, chose the Chicago market on the premise that it would be a good test market for Michael Hill's entrance into the United States.

Despite the difficulties that mid-market jewelers have faced in the struggling U.S. economy, Ellis said from the chain's perspective, now is the perfect time to enter the U.S. market. He said Michael Hill will be able to purchase stores for a low price and bring something "fresh" to the table.

Chicago-based Whitehall filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection June 23. On Aug. 13, liquidation sales began at all 373 of its stores in 39 states.

But representatives for the liquidators have said that the sales do not necessarily preclude another retail chain, such as Michael Hill, from purchasing Whitehall locations.

Whitehall ranks as the fifth-largest North American retailer by store count, according to National Jeweler's 2008 State of the Majors report.

 It operates Whitehall Jewellers, Lundstrom Jewellers and Marks Bros. Jewellers stores.

By Michelle Graff, National Jeweler