How’s the Trade Show Business? Emerald Exposition’s Quarterly Results

Emerald didn’t report a great September 30 quarter.  However, there are some mitigating factors.  I’ll discuss those results and the factors below. 

 Before digging into the numbers, let’s focus on issues of strategy and tactics.  Emerald’s previous CEO was resigned about a year ago.  It happened suddenly and, to the outside world at least, unexpectedly.  I wondered why but never was able to find out.

Now, I might have a glimmer.  Sally Shankland has been President and CEO since June 2019.  She used a presentation during the conference call to describe her actions since becoming CEO and the company’s new strategy.  If you go to this link, scroll down a bit, and on the right, under “Third Quarter 2019 Earnings Call” click on “Earnings Presentation” you can see it for yourself.  I recommend reviewing the slides.

If you do that, you’ll notice three major things. 

First, there is what the presentation described as a “New Management Team.”  Everybody isn’t new, but there are at least three senior executive hires since Ms. Shankland came on board. 

Second, take a look at the strength/weaknesses slide from the presentation below.  There is more detail on each point in the presentation.

I can’t speak to the B to B trade show market outside of the active outdoor industry, but certainly the at least temporary cancellation of Interbike, the decision to consolidate two OR shows into the single end of January show in Denver with the Snow Show and what I see as the general industry desire to spend less money on trade shows suggest the first strength can be questioned in our industry.

I have no idea as to the dedication and passion of the employees.  However, my experience in turnarounds (of which Emerald is surely one) makes me certain, given the weaknesses slide (more on that in a minute), that the employees must be happy and relieved to have new leaders acknowledging and addressing the weaknesses that I guarantee the employees all knew about.

Those weaknesses on the right side of the slide are, I agree, fixable.  But as a group they are pretty staggering.  The list runs the gamut of operations.  Maybe 10 years ago when trade shows were “had to go to” events and when Emerald wasn’t a public company you could get away with this.  But not now and I’m glad to see them getting on with it.

One of the outcomes of addressing these issues is the introduction of value pricing.  As COO Brian Field puts it, “…this is research and analysis of live event pricing and promotion based on customers’ perceived values of available locations and packages.”  They’ve already begun the value pricing process at six shows including OR and Surf Expo.  They believe it can increase show revenue by four to eight percent.

For value pricing to work, the shows have to provide clear value.  They are working to use what they describe as their “unlinked and underutilized” customer information.  The idea is that “Bringing these types of data together allows for refinement in messaging, segmentation strategy and customer insights,” says COO Fields.

First, they have to identify the data.  Then they have to develop the best ways to sort and access it.  Then they have to look for insights.  But booth revenues are two thirds of total revenue.  CEO Shankland says she could “…see us in a place where our booth revenue is 50% of our total revenue. And the other half comes from conferences, from education, from sponsorships, from content marketing, from a whole list of things that we can be doing given the fact that we have a digital presence that we’re not offering today.”

Well, the digital presence not being offered is a little scary.  But the real challenge is to take the insights they develop from their (long overdue) data mining and create value customers will pay for when the trend in our industry trade shows is to pay less.

The third thing I noticed, in both the presentation and the conference call, is what’s summarized in the last strength as “Opportunities to supplement organic growth with tuck-in M&A.”  CEO Shankland puts it this way. “…we plan to continue to pursue M&A opportunities that make sense for us, which means where they meaningfully strengthen the existing business that we already own or where we bring considerable value to the acquisition that dramatically enhances the acquisitions growth trajectory. We will apply an even higher level of discipline and rigor to this process than we have in the past.”

When Emerald went public (May 2017) they presented the opportunity as a chance through acquisitions to roll up an industry with many small players.  It was portrayed as a major focus.  Now it’s not.  That’s a good decision- especially if they can grow “non-booth revenue streams” as they are trying to do.  Trade shows and conference events represented 83% of revenues in the nine months ended September 30.

Being public and having access to capital markets might make sense if you’re busily rolling up small players in a consolidating industry.  If that isn’t the strategy anymore and you’re focused on operating better and generating non-booth revenues then perhaps you’d be better off as a private company.

Let’s spend a little time on the numbers.

Emerald currently operates 55 trade shows in additional to other conferences.  Remember when looking at their balance sheet that they receive a bunch of cash for shows in advance of the event.  They carry it as deferred revenue ($149.2 million at September 30) and don’t record it as income until the event is completed.  Most of you reading this, including me unfortunately, don’t get cash for your product before you provide it. 

Revenue was $75.6 million for the quarter, down $26.7% from $103.1 million in the same quarter last year.  The reduction “…partly reflected a net $13.3 million reduction from several show scheduling differences in the third quarter of 2019, most notably Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, which staged in the second quarter of 2019 versus the third quarter of 2018. In addition, revenues for the quarter were further reduced by $7.1 million as our Surf Expo and ISS Orlando shows were forced to cancel due to the impact of Hurricane Dorian. We recorded the associated $6.1 million insurance settlement…as other income in the quarter. Further, acquisitions made in 2018 contributed $1.9 million of incremental revenue in the third quarter of 2019, while 2018 third quarter revenues included $5.3 million from discontinued events, primarily our Interbike show, which did not stage in 2019.”

They tell us that including these adjustments, organic revenue was down $3.7 million, or 4.4%. 

Cost of revenue fell by $1.3 million compared to last year’s quarter to $24.6 million.  SG&S expense rose 13.5% to $33.7 million.  “The increase in selling, general and administrative expenses for the third quarter of 2019 reflected approximately $1.6 million in incremental costs from the 2018 Acquisitions and $1.2 million in higher non-recurring other items, offset by $0.6 million of lower costs attributable to show scheduling differences and $0.9 million in reduced costs related to discontinued events. The remaining $2.7 million increase in 2019 partly reflected additional senior management costs and incremental investment initiatives.”

There were also asset impairment charges of $26.3 million.  There were none in last year’s quarter.  “The impairment charges were due to a decline in fair value compared to the carrying value of goodwill, certain trade names and certain customer-related intangible assets, which were primarily driven by changes to future forecasted performance and decline in our stock price, which management deemed a triggering event and requiring quantitative analysis.”

Yes, it’s a noncash charge.  But you can see it implies a decline in future performance so it’s very real.

Pretax income was a loss of $23.3 million, compared to a pretax profit of $28.8 million in last year’s quarter.  For the nine months ending the same date, pretax income was $28.5 million, down from $86.7 million in last year’s nine months.

Sounds like the new management team is doing the right things and is fundamentally changing the business model.  I haven’t been following Emerald Exposition every quarter, but I think I’ll start.  This should be intriguing.

Big 5 Sporting Goods. What Should We Think About Their Solid Quarter?

At its September 29 quarter end, Big 5 had 433 stores down from 436 a year ago.  Big 5 “…provide a full-line product offering in a traditional sporting goods store format that averages approximately 11,000 square feet. Our product mix includes athletic shoes, apparel and accessories, as well as a broad selection of outdoor and athletic equipment for team sports, fitness, camping, hunting, fishing, tennis, golf, winter and summer recreation and roller sports.”

Almost 55% of their revenue for the quarter came from hard goods.  27.5% was from footwear and 17.1% from apparel. 

I’ve been in maybe a half dozen of their stores, most recently within a couple of weeks.  As you can see from their product description above, they carry a very diversified product mix.  I wouldn’t say it’s well merchandised and I certainly think of them as competing on price.

As I’ve said in prior reviews of their results, that’s not a compelling source of competitive advantage in our current environment.

Revenue for the quarter was essentially constant at $266 million.  But they grew the gross margin from 31.0% in last year’s quarter to 32.3% in this year’s.  They reduced SG&A expense from 29.2% of revenue to 28.9%.  The result was operating income that rose 89% from $4.8 to $9.1 million.  Net income more than doubled from $3.1 to $6.4 million in spite of a tax bill that rose from $0.84 to $2.0 million.

The stock market of course loved that, but I want to dig a little deeper into how they did it.

While total revenues didn’t rise significantly, same store sales were up 0.3% compared to a 2.0% decline in last year’s quarter.  They note that “Sales from e-commerce in the third quarter of fiscal 2019 and 2018 were not material.”  That’s kind of a concerning statement. 

The improvement in the gross margin had three main components.  First was a 0.98% increase in merchandise margins.  “The increase primarily reflects a shift in sales mix towards higher-margin products and a decrease in promotional activities.”

Second was a reduction of 0.78%, or $2.1 million, in distribution expense.  “The decrease primarily reflected a reduced provision for costs capitalized into inventory compared with the third quarter of last year.”  Sounds like a one-time thing.

Third was a $0.6 million increase in store occupancy expense.

From the conference call: “Multiple factors contributed to the margin gains, including the benefit of a product mix shift, reflecting reduced sales of lower margin firearms and ammunition products and increased sales of higher margin opportunistic buys. Additionally, and quite significantly, our margins benefited from a favorable response to our strategic efforts to optimize our pricing and promotion.”

I wonder if those “high margin opportunistic buys” are a repeatable, intentional part of their strategy and would love to hear more about how, exactly, they are optimizing their pricing and promotion.

The $0.8 million reduction in SG&A expense resulted from three factors.  First was a $0.9 million reduction “…due mainly to lower newspaper advertising.”  Most of us are familiar with those ubiquitous Big 5 advertising inserts.  If they are reducing them, I wonder what they are replacing them with.  There’s no mention of a social media strategy.

Second, store related expenses were down $0.7 million “…due primarily to reductions in certain employee benefit-related expenses such as health and welfare expense, partially offset by increased employee labor expense.”  The increased labor costs were the result of minimum wage increases.

Finally, administrative expenses increased by $0.7 million. 

The balance sheet hasn’t changed much since last year, except that the current balance sheet reflects the new accounting standards for reporting operating leases.  Cash provided by operations improved from a negative $8.1 million in the nine months ending last September 30, 2018 to a positive $13.7 million for the nine months ended September 29, 2019.  I also want to highlight the nine months capital spending decline from $8.4 million to $6.1 million. 

So here we are with a solid quarter from Big 5 as measured by the bottom line.  I’ve been encouraging a bottom line rather than top line focus for years now.  This strong bottom line improvement, however, seems caused by one-time events and expense cuts that can’t be continually duplicated.  I am not as optimistic as the people who drove up the stock when the earnings were announced.

We still seem to have a brick and mortar retailer that’s competing based on abroad product offering and price, and its online performance isn’t significant they say.  There was no discussion of strategy in the 10Q or on the conference call- at least partly because no analysts took part in the call to ask questions.

Based on the information Big 5 is providing in its public documents, I don’t understand their strategy for success.

Kathmandu Buys Rip Curl: Analysis and Questions

I admit it.  Before this deal, I’d never head of Kathmandu, a public company headquartered in New Zealand.  If you haven’t either, you can visit their consumer facing web site or their investors web site where you can pour over all the deal related documents I’ve looked at.  Mostly, though, I think you’re happy to leave that chore to me.

Kathmandu “…is a designer, marketer, retailer and wholesaler of clothing, footwear and equipment for travel and adventure. It operates in New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom and United States of America,” as described in their public filing for the fiscal year ended July 31, 2019.  Below are some summary numbers for its last two full years.

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An Inevitable Deal: SPY Purchased by Bolle

I never learned why SPY went public in the first place all those years ago.  I imagine it was because a group of people who may not quite have understood the industry saw potential fast growth and a chance to make a lot of money.  Those were different times.  I have some experience with that way of thinking from the snowboard industry.

The benefit to me, and to you, was in being able to follow a smaller niche player with a solid brand and see how they could compete among the big players in an industry where meaningful product differentiation wasn’t easy to come by.

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An Agnostic Moat; Zumiez’s Most Recent Quarterly Results

Zumiez had a great quarter ended August 3 (remember I don’t write until I have received and digested the 10-Q).  They did it with sales that rose just 4.3% from $219.0 in last year’s quarter to $228.4 million in this year’s.  But they also increased their gross margin from 33.1% in the same quarter last year to 33.8% in this year’s quarter.  And their selling, general and administrative expenses as a percent of revenue declined from 30% to 28.7%.

The bottom line was a net income that more than doubled from $4.38 to $9.03 million.  They’ve got an imminently solid balance sheet.  Combined with improved margins and reduced expenses over a modest revenue increase and you end up with a great bottom line.

More on that later.  You’re probably wondering what I mean by an agnostic moat.  If not, I wasted a lot of time coming up with that title.

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Globe Sells Dwindle and Files Its Annual Report

Globe filed its annual report for the year ended June 30, 2019 pretty much concurrently with the announcement that it had sold Dwindle to Highline Industries Corporation.  Skatewire reported that the purchase price was $1.5 million, but what the annual report says is that the carrying value of the assets was $1.5 million.  I haven’t seen the purchase reported anywhere.  The transaction will close and be accounted for in the first half of Globe’s current fiscal year.  If you haven’t, you might also read the interview with Bod Boyle and Steve Lake on Shop Eat Surf about the deal.

According to Globe’s annual report, “The transaction includes the brands, working capital, domain names, social media accounts and the personnel attached to the Dwindle business.”  Maybe they shouldn’t have worded it so it sounds like they sold the employees.

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Consolidation and Finding New Participants; Vail Buys Peak Resorts

It was July 22nd when Vail announced it had reached an agreement to purchase Peak Resorts for $11.00 a share or a total of $264 million.  Peak Resorts, traded publicly under the symbol SKIS, closed at $5.19 on July 19.  Hard to say “no” when somebody offers you more than double your stock price.  Vail will also assume or refinance Peak’s debt, which totaled around $230 million on April 30.

Vail operates 20 mountain resorts in the west (I guess Australia is “west.”).  Peak has 17 ski areas in the northeastern U.S.  Vail also has 240 retail locations.

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Hibbett Sports Says Some Interesting Things: Can They Catch Up in Ecommerce?

In its conference call and 10Q filing for its May 4th quarter, Hibbett said some interesting things about what it’s doing.  Let’s take a brief look at Hibbett and its numbers then talk about how Hibbett is trying to adjust to the changing retail world after its very late start.

Hibbett describes itself as “…a leading athletic-inspired fashion retailer primarily located in small and mid-sized communities across the country.”  As of May 4, it had 1,144 stores in 35 states, “…composed of 985 Hibbett Sports stores, 141 City Gear stores and 18 Sports Additions athletic shoe stores.”

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Is There Value in Reporting Comparable Store Sales? Zumiez’s Quarterly Results

A couple of years ago Zumiez stopped reporting comparable store sales changes and started reporting just comparable sales changes.  That is, they no longer told us how their brick and mortar stores were doing in isolation from ecommerce.

They were one of the leaders in making this change.  Now, it’s how most retailers report.  Their argument was that they needed to think of their market as one sales channel- the proverbial omnichannel.  It didn’t matter where the sale “happened” and they couldn’t always tell where it “happened” anyway.  If a customer first saw a product they purchased on their phone in the store, where’s the credit for the sale?

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How VF Keeps Doing It: Size, Flexibility, Diversification, Disciplined Management Processes, Balance Sheet

VF’s secret sauce isn’t secret.  It’s just hard to do.  Executing the strategy takes leadership, a quality team, organizational consensus, and a certain level of confidence and perhaps willingness to fail to take advantage of uncertain times.

You’ve probably realized that every company needs those things.  So let’s take a deep dive into how VF does what it does with less emphasis than usual on the nuts and bolts of the financials.  The results for the year were strong and some numbers will show up in this discourse.  Here’s a link to VF’s 10-K.  Not suggesting you get down into the footnotes but reviewing the first maybe 10 pages on their business and strategies might be useful.

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