| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 11 KKR & Co LP and Carlyle
Group LP are competing for National Vision Inc, the
fourth-largest U.S. retailer of eyeglasses and contact lenses,
in an auction that could fetch up to $1 billion, people familiar
with the matter said this week.
The two private equity firms are among those making it past
the first round of an auction for National Vision, the people
said. Meetings with the company's management are currently under
way, before solicitation of final offers, they added.
The Lawrenceville, Georgia-based company, which is owned by
private equity firm Berkshire Partners LLC, is working with
Barclays Plc on the sale process, people familiar with
the matter have previously told Reuters.
Berkshire Partners, KKR and Carlyle declined to comment,
while National Vision did not respond to a request for comment.
National Vision, which focuses on low-cost glasses and
contacts, operates more than 700 retail locations in 43 states
under chains that include America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses
and Eyeglass World. It competes in the United States with
Luxottica Group Spa, Wal-Mart Stores Inc and
Visionworks of America Inc.
Last year National Vision extended for five years a
partnership with Wal-Mart that allows it to manage 227 stores
within Wal-Mart, according to Standard & Poor's Rating Services
National Vision also has stores inside retailer Fred Meyer
Inc and military bases, and sells its products online.
The company employs more than 6,000 people, according to its
Berkshire Partners took National Vision private in 2005 in a
$190 million deal that was funded with $153 million in debt and
included the simultaneous acquisition, for $88 million, of
Consolidated Vision Group Inc, an optical chain that was backed
by private equity firm Kelso & Co.
The buyout firm has more than recouped its original 2005
investment in the company, even before any sale.
This is because National Vision last year carried out a
dividend recapitalization, borrowing $300 million to fund a $117
million dividend, according to Moody's Investors Service Inc.
That followed an $88 million dividend two years earlier funded
through more debt, according to Thomson Reuters Loan Pricing
Boston-based Berkshire Partners, which raised its latest
$4.5 billion fund in 2011, has invested in several other retail
companies, including women's apparel chain Aritzia and jeans
maker Citizens of Humanity.