Lois/USA has succeeded in selling 300,000 shares of common stock, at $6 a share, through an initial public offering handled by Denver-based William Smith Securities. The agency, ranked by Advertising Age as the nation's 50th largest last year with estimated billings of $271 million, is the first major shop to go public in many years.
It's the second Wall Street venture for Mr. Lois, who 32 years ago led the second agency ever to go public, Papert, Koenig, Lois.
This time around Lois' agency has raised $1.8 million in its initial offering, funds Mr. Lois and his longtime partner, Ted Veru, agency co-chairman and chief operating officer, have said they want to use to help expand the agency through executive talent and acquisitions.
But most importantly, the offering-coupled with $2 million in revolving creditfrom Chemical Bank and a $1 million addition to its credit line there- has allowed the agency to retire $3.2 million in subordinated debt to creditor and New York investor Steven Sands. That debt "constrained" Lois' growth, according to the agency's prospectus on file with the Securities & Exchange Commission.
After fairly active account activity in 1992, Lois experienced a lull in 1993. According to its prospectus, Lois that year had a net income loss of $320,000, after posting net income of $588,000 in 1992. For the first nine months of 1994, net income was back on the upswing at $157,000.
In 1994, the agency lost Data General Corp.'s $10 million account and Lifetime Television's estimated $7 million account. Lifetime moved its account in-house while the SEC reviewed Lois' preliminary prospectus in September. Last May, the agency won Minolta Corp.'s $7 million camera and copier account.
While Messrs. Lois and Veru maintain they have ambitious growth plans for the offering funds, some industry watchers speculate the Wall Street venture indicates the executives are preparing to ease out of the agency founded as Lois Pitts Gershon in '78.
"I think it's more to provide liquidity with senior shareholders than anything else," said Dean Witter Reynolds analyst James Dougherty of the offering, noting that it's unlikely Mr. Lois will become a major player in the publicly traded advertising arena.
Messrs. Lois, 63, and Veru, 62, vehemently deny any plans to leave the agency but refused further comment, citing a 45-day "quiet period" imposed by the SEC.
"Hopefully it'll be 30 years from now but they're going to carry me outta here dead ... I'm an ad guy; I'm not an entrepreneur," Mr. Lois said.
Noted Jordan Rednor, the VP in charge of the advertising group at Chemical: "I'm confident that their bags aren't packed yet; I believe there's a lot of life left in these guys."
The brash, Bronx-born executive is known for penning such commanding taglines as "I want my Maypo," "I want my MTV," "Go to Elle" and "Pump up and air out" for Reebok. He's also credited with conceiving Esquire's famous cover designs in the 1960s and 1970s.
Lois' clients include American Drug Stores, its largest; Alberto-Culver Co.; and Kayser-Roth Corp. The agency has offices in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.