Dillard's to Invest in Acumen Brands, Partner in Online Retail

by Lance Turner  on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 8:02 am  

Dillard's Inc. of Little Rock on Wednesday announced a $4 million investment in Fayetteville-based e-commerce company Acumen Brands.

The investment in Series B preferred stock by the department store chain is part of a $5 million round of growth financing in the company. Other participants include existing Acumen investors Noro-Moseley Partners, BLH Venture Partners, Gravity Ventures and the Arkansas Risk Capital Matching Fund.

Dillard's said it will work with Acumen to enhance both Dillards.com and Acumen's 12 online sites, and a Dillard's vice president will join the Acumen board.

"We are excited to partner with Acumen Brands, underscoring our continuing commitment to the growth of Dillards.com," Dillard's President Alex Dillard said in a news release. "We are impressed with this young company's accomplishments in the e-commerce arena to date and we look forward to collaborating with this highly talented team as we further develop our online presence."

Acumen offers branded online storefronts selling goods for a variety of targeted groups, including medical uniforms (ScrubShopper.com), work wear (ToughWeld.com), and western wear (CountryOutfitter.com).

Under the agreement with Dillard's (NYSE: DDS), Acumen will offer "technological marketing services and support to enhance Dillard's online presence."

Dillard's Vice President Kent Burnett, who is the department store's senior executive in charge of information technology and e-commerce, will serve on the Acumen board.

The move marks Dillard's latest investment in online retailing. Later this year, it's expected to open an Internet fulfillment center in an 852,000-SF facility in Maumelle. It has another 285,000 SF center in Nashville, Tenn. The Maumelle center is expected to employ more than 300 people and support "the continuing growth of its online store."

Acumen Brands is part of Acumen Holdings, a client of Innovate Arkansas, part of a state-funded initiative to grow Arkansas-based technology and knowledge-based businesses.

Acumen's CEO, John James, said the firm looks forward to working with Dillard's.

"We are honored to work with Dillard's in their efforts to grow their online business, and we look forward to learning from their vast experience and success as we work to shape the future of online commerce," James said.


Acumen started with four employees and 2,000 SF of space. In 2009, the company moved into a 10,000-SF space on the top floor at Nelson's Crossing in Fayetteville.

In 2010, Acumen raised $5 million in investments, including a $3.5 million lead investment from Noro-Moseley Partners, a leading venture capital firm in the Southeast; Gravity Ventures, a venture fund operating in Arkansas and Indiana; and the Arkansas Risk Capital Matching Fund, which is managed by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority.

Acumen more than 50 employees work in a seperate, 60,000 SF building that once housed a Coca-Cola distribution facility but had been vacant for more than 15 years. The employees share the space with 20 200-pound robots that help with online order fulfillment.

James says the workspace can be expanded to as many as 1 million SF, given the fact the leased property sits on 20 acres.

Last summer, Acumen planned to add two online stores per month for the foreseeable future, part of the company's drive toward on day going public.



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