Emerald issued a press release today announcing that the Interbike show scheduled for September 2019 was a no go. Here’s the press release. I excluded the part at the end describing who Interbike and Emerald Expositions are.
It’s a hell of a time to be in the business of putting on trade shows in the active outdoor business. Reed Exhibitions has “postponed” the January Agenda show in Long Beach and is planning to evolve it towards a consumer-oriented show. After last January’s show, I wrote that I didn’t think I’d be back to Agenda next January. Apparently, I was right.
Meanwhile, the word from Emerald’s first November Outdoor Retailer winter market show in Denver is not too positive. People I spoke with as well as this article from SGB Media made clear there are some concerns.
That’s not quite true. I want to talk about Sanuk, though probably for the last time. There’s not a mention of the once high-flying brand in the conference call, and it only comes up in the 10-Q because, inconveniently I imagine, they have to acknowledge its existence.
For the quarter ended September Sanuk revenue was down 9.4% ($1.43 million) from $15.22 million in last year’s quarter to $13.80 in this year’s. The Sanuk wholesale business had an operating profit of $291,000 down from $1.23 million in last year’s quarter, a drop of 76.3%. Add any reasonable allocation of overhead, taxes, interest and the brand lost money during the quarter.
It’s not my purpose to simply report earnings. That’s why you don’t see an article every time an industry public company reports. By waiting for the actual publicly filed document, I hope to glean a few pieces of information that might make you think-bring you up short even- and perhaps help you run your business better.
VF has had a string of glowingly good reports and the one for the quarter ended September 30 is no exception. I’ll get to summarizing the numbers, but first here are some other things for you to consider.
Back in September, VF held a Vans investor day where they announced they were planning to take Van’s revenues from $3 to $5 billion in five years. I wrote this article looking at why they might, or might not, pull it off. I said, “Vans is well into an experiment to see if a truly “omnichannel” approach to branding and customer engagement change some of the rules for growing a brand.” They are betting they can outperform by doing the things all brands/retailers need to do but doing them better than their competitors.
What ever happened to “features and benefits” as the preferred way to differentiate products?
A year ago, a friend recommended Retail’s Seismic Shift, by Michael Dart, to me. It finally got to the top of my reading stack. Should have gotten there sooner. In the last chapter is an interview with former VF CEO Eric Wiseman. Good read.
Brand Extension Versus Distribution Management
One of the things we do in the new retail environment, and that VF thinks it can do better than most, is to be insightful about where we get sales growth. Too much growth in the wrong places, as it always has, equals brand damage. I’ve been making that speech for at least a decade, but it’s become more important as the consumer has become more knowledgeable, perhaps less brand loyal, able to find information easily and buy in multiple places.
In talking about Vans in Europe, CFO Scott Roe says, “It’s really about making sure that we don’t get over torqued in any one particular part of our business. And what we’re seeing there is some rationing, frankly, of some of the product as we ensure that not one style or not one category gets too much out of balance.”
And then, addressing The North Face, CEO Steve Rendle makes the comment, “I think the brand is absolutely anchored in that core Mountain Sports… Where we’ve seen really nice growth…is more of that Mountain Lifestyle component, the more contemporary logo-ed sportswear pieces that are taking their influence from the Mountain Sports category, the influence that, that’s having on Urban Exploration component of the line.”
“And what we’ve seen in Europe is a brand that’s moved beyond just an outerwear and equipment resource, but truly a brand that can deliver lifestyle apparel while being very anchored in that outdoor Mountain Sports category. And that’s exactly what you see taking place in Asia. More importantly, what we just saw this quarter here in the United States marketplace, where we saw a strong sell-through of daypacks, really good lifestyle sportswear logo.”
Talking about the Williamson-Dickie acquisition he notes, “We knew that it was a strong consumer-focused brand…But what we’re finding is that it’s anchored so well in the Work category, specifically here in the U.S., but as we’ve worked with management and begun to understand the consumer response to this brand, we’re seeing a much stronger work lifestyle component anchored in Asia and Europe that we see being able to bring back across the globe.”
CFO Rendle suggests in the conference call that they feel Timberland has the same potential as Vans, The North Face and Williamson-Dickie to maintain its core business but expand outside it.
Controlled distribution in a brand’s existing franchise to protect the brand’s credibility but look for growth in tangential areas for growth where it’s already accepted but the opportunity hasn’t really been exploited. This, I’m pretty sure, is a key criterion for VF’s evaluation of brands- both those that they buy and those that they sell.
Speaking of Buy and Selling
It’s not exactly a sale, but VF is spinning off their jeans business as a separate public company. Here’s what I wrote about the August announcement.
On October 2, 2017 VF acquired Williamson-Dickie for $800.7 million. It generated $252.8 million of revenue and $18.5 million of new income in the September 30 quarter.
On April 3, 2018, VF acquired Icebreaker for $198.5 million. It contributed $53.7 million in revenue and $7.0 million in net income during the quarter.
June 1, 2018 brought the acquisition of athletic and performance-based lifestyle footwear brand Icon-Altra for $131.7 million. During the recent quarter its revenue and net income contributions were $17.0 and $1.9 million respectively.
On April 30, 2018, VF sold the Nautica brand for $289.1 million and recorded a loss of $38.6 million.
VF sold its License Sports Group and the JanSport brand collegiate businesses on April 28, 2017, receiving net proceeds of $213.5 million and reporting a loss of $4.1 million.
And in October 2018 VF sold Reef. Finally, after all my years bemoaning that we got no indication of how Reef was doing, we get a few numbers as a going away present. Subject to some adjustments, the proceeds from the sale were $139.4 million. The expected loss $9.9 million. Reef’s revenues, we’re told in the conference call were around $150 million annually.
They’ve also sold the Van Moer business they got with Williamson-Dickie, but the numbers are very small.
VF has always characterized itself as a portfolio manager. I hypothesize that VF has stood up, sniffed and wind, and taken notice of the massive changes happening in brand and retail management. No kidding, right? Haven’t we all. Many retailers and brands, however, seem flummoxed bordering on paralyzed by the change. Or it’s just too late for them.
VF, on the contrary has looked at it’s size, it’s diversified portfolio, management discipline and processes, manufacturing and supply chain flexibility, solid financial condition and strength as a portfolio manager and seen an opportunity rather than a problem.
Over the years, we’ve watched lots of brand try and fail at extending their brand franchise into other distribution and new customer groups. This has been especially prevalent in public companies because of the pressure to increase revenues.
VF is very specifically restructuring its portfolio of brands to take advantage of the new competitive conditions in ways it believes many of its competitors can’t or won’t. Brands they acquire (and keep) will have the virtues they describe in talking about Vans, The North Face and Williamson-Dickie in the quotes above and will be positioned to benefit from the resources VF brings to the table. The jeans business they are spinning off is an excellent example of a business that doesn’t fit VF’s criteria.
Think about that while we move on to the numbers for the quarter.
Revenues as reported rose 15.2% from $3.39 billion in last year’s quarter to $3.91 billion in this year’s. The breakdown by channel and segment is shows below for this year’s and last year’s quarter.
Outdoor includes The North Face, Timberland, Smartwool, Icebreaker and Altra. The big dog in the Active segment is Vans. It also includes six smaller brands. Of those six, JanSport and Reef are now sold. Remember that Jeans is being spun off. The next chart shows revenue and operating profit by revenue by segment for the two quarters. It’s a little easier to compare the change in revenues than in the chart above.
Of the revenue growth of $515 million quarter over quarter $230.9 million was from organic growth and $323.5 million from acquisitions. Vans revenues rose 26% and The North Face 5%. Timberland revenue fell by 2%. Wrangler and Lee were down 5% and 9% respectively, in case anybody was wondering why they are being spun off.
The gross margin declined very slightly from 50.2% to 50.1%. “Gross margin in the three months ended September 2018 was negatively impacted by lower margins attributable to acquired businesses, acquisition and integration costs and certain increases in product costs, partially offset by a mix-shift to higher margin businesses and increases in pricing.”
SG&A expense was up 15.1% from $1.13 to $1.30 billion. As a percent of total revenue they declined from 33.3% to 33.2%. “The decrease…was due to leverage of operating expenses on higher revenues and was partially offset by expenses related to the acquisition, integration and separation of businesses and continued investments in strategic priorities.”
Net interest expense rose $3.0 million in the quarter “…due to higher levels of short-term borrowings at higher interest rates and lower interest income as compared to 2017, which was partially offset by lower interest on long-term debt due to the payoff of the $250.0 million of 5.95% fixed-rate notes on November 1, 2017.”
Operating income grew 14.4% from $575.5 to 658.7 million. Net income rose 31.4% from $386.1 to $507.1 million.
The balance sheet remains strong with no significant changes not explained by acquisitions and divestitures. Cash provided by operating activities fell from $217 to $103 million.
We went through a phase years (decades?) ago where I pronounced, correctly I think, that operating well was a competitive advantage because so few were doing it. As industry management sophistication increased (more or less) I decided that operating well had become just a requirement of getting a chance to compete offering no competitive advantage- companies that had survived were mostly operating well. Now VF, as well as a few other companies, believes they can make operating well- keeping up with a relentless pace of change- a competitive advantage again.
For its September 30 quarter, 436 store Big 5 reported a small decline in revenue and a larger decline in net income. More significant to me are comments in the conference call that suggest a very traditional retail focus, rather than one acknowledging the massive changes required to succeed at retail.
Revenue in the quarter fell 1.5% from $270.5 million in last year’s quarter to $266.4 million in this year’s. 54.8% of the quarter’s revenue was from hard goods. Apparel was 16.9% and footwear 27.8%. A 2% decline in comparable store sales was the major reason for the revenue decline. I want to highlight the following comment from the 10-Q as part of the revenue discussion:
“Sales from e-commerce in the third quarter of fiscal 2018 and 2017 were not material and had an insignificant effect on the percentage change in same store sales for the periods reported.” You might also want to look at their web site.
It’s 2018 and a 436-store retailer has e-commerce revenues that are “not material?” Hmmmm. Wonder how much e-commerce related expense it takes to produce “not material” revenues.
The gross margin fell from 32.4% to $31.0%. Revenue reduction was the biggest cause of the decline. Second was higher distribution expense of 0.73% including increases freight costs. Lot of that going on. Store occupancy costs accounted for 0.42% “…due primarily to lease renewals for existing stores.”
Finally, there was 0.10 decline in merchandise margins.
SG&A expense rose a couple of hundred thousand to $77.7 million. As a percent of revenue, they rose from 28.6% in last year’s quarter to 29.2% in this year’s. Minimum wage increases, especially in California where more than half of their stores are located, caused a $400,000 increase with more coming.
Operating income was down 52.7% from $10.2 to $4.8 million.
Interest expense rose from $447,000 to $860,000 reflecting both higher debt levels and an interest rate that rose 1%. That’s happening to many companies.
Income taxes fell from $3.79 million to $844,000 “…primarily reflecting a reduction in the federal corporate income tax rate…” The decline in net income was 47.7% from $5.95 million in last year’s quarter to $3.12 million in this year. Consider how much more net income would have fallen if not for the reduced income taxes.
Net cash used in operations for the six months ended September 30 was $8.06 million, up from $5.55 million in the same six months last year. You’d rather see cash generated by operations rather than used.
On the balance sheet cash, at $5 million is down about $300,000 from a year ago. Inventory has risen from $309.3 to $314.8 million. They note they are carrying over some inventory to next year- a common practice these days (but also indicative of a lack of product differentiation in the industry). The current ratio has improved from 2.07 to 2.36 times. Long term debt is up from $46.4 million a year ago to $83.5 million at the end of this year’s quarter. Equity has fallen by 11.3% from $203 to $181 million.
The quarterly dividend has been reduced from $0.15 to $0.05, reflecting the weaker financial position and operating results.
Let’s move to the conference call. On the positive side, Chairman, President and CEO Steve Miller says, “With our new POS system now in place, we are expanding our customer relationship management capabilities, which should provide enhanced customer analytics and improve the effectiveness of our marketing efforts.”
Collecting, slicing and dicing, and making better use of customer data is something every retailer has to be figuring out how to do better. They also are increasing their digital advertising spend at the expense of newspaper advertising.
But other comments seem traditional. There’s a generic statement about the change happening in retail, but what I hear in their comments is a tactical urgency to deal with the current financial situation (not inappropriate) rather than a strategic acknowledgement that a lot has to change- quickly.
“We are testing pricing strategies to be more responsive to an increasingly promotional competitive retail environment.” He mentions that again in part of his response to an analyst’s question.
Well, okay, but if you’re planning to compete on price with brands lots of others carry with your current real estate model in an environment of over supply and limited product differentiation, you might have a hard time. No brick and mortar pricing strategy is likely to win in an online world unless the product offerings are distinctive in ways that probably have to go beyond the actual product attributes.
“From a product standpoint, we are accelerating the pace of change within our assortment. This includes downsizing certain product categories to position us to be more aggressive in pursuing product opportunities that we believe have higher growth potential.”
Again, fine, but tactical. Have you acknowledged the fact that brands are going to turn over faster? How are you identifying and bringing in new brands and what’s the process for getting them in the right stores? How’s the micro sorting going?
There are a couple of mentions of finding new ways to reduce expenses. That’s great, but of course there’s a limit to it and as they describe it, it sounds tactical. Successful retailers won’t be the ones that reduce expenses; they will be the ones that increase expenses in a way that improves margins, provides a better customer experience, and ties brick and mortar and online together in a way that ultimately reduces costs.
It’s hard to know too much about what’s going on from what they say in a conference call, but I work with what they give me. I suggest you visit a Big 5 store then perhaps a Dicks and see what you think. I’d like to see more sense of urgency from Big 5. An acknowledgement of the interdependence of brick and mortar and online as a means of providing customers with the flexibility and connection they require would make me feel a whole lot better too.
Serendipitously, I hear this is also the last season of the TV show “The Walking Dead.” But while I expect that TV franchise to continue in some form, the same can’t be said for Sears. I know it’s supposed to be a restructuring, but no amount of financial engineering can compensate for Sears’ lack of customers and a defendable and identifiable market position- especially after the most valuable assets have been stripped.
You might read this excellent article on Wolf Street to understand how Sears got to where it is- at least from a financial perspective- and why it’s prospects are grim.
What could have Sears have done differently? Human behavior being what it is, probably nothing. In a perfect world, management would have recognized 20 years ago some of the changes that were coming. That’s expecting too much.
By the time they figured out where things were heading, it might have been too late. And as you will recognize if you read the article linked to above, the interests of the CEO and hedge fund owner who controls some of Sears’ prime assets and is a secured creditor were not exactly aligned.
In our industry we’ve watched some public companies get into trouble, I’ve argued, specifically because they were public and simply could not do, as public companies, what they needed to do. Neither Quiksilver or Skullcandy, to use a couple of examples, had a strategy that was consistent with building their brands in the changing retail market and meeting the requirements of being public. They ended up in private hands- exactly what should have happened and where the brands have the best chance to succeed.
There’s no public data, of course, on how Skullcandy, Quiksilver, Roxy or DC Shoes are doing. But at least now they can focus on branding and distribution in a way appropriate to how they need to compete. They couldn’t (didn’t) do that when Wall Street was requiring regular, significant revenue growth.
Sears should have gone private too. Not in the form of hundreds of big stores in malls selling everything. That ship has probably sailed due to online/Amazon/millennial habits/demographics/etc.
What would have happened if somebody at Sears had had the vision to say, “We need to do something risky, dramatic and different if we’re going to be a viable business?
JC Penney tried that. They brought in Ron Johnson from Apple to completely remake the brand. As you may recall, that didn’t work. Neither Mr. Johnson or the Board of Directors or Penney’s balance sheet had the patience or the ability to withstand the pressure his aggressive new strategy generated. I’d argue that it would not have worked even if they’d had the patience, as JC Penney has the same problem Sears has; too many stores that are too big selling too much commodity like stuff.
Sears had some valuable brands. These include Diehard, Lands End, Kenmore, Craftsman. Am I forgetting any?
Anyway, most of these have been sold. But what if, years ago, somebody way smarter than I am had the foresight to say, “In its present form, Sears doesn’t have much of a long-term future.”
Yeah, I know. If that person is out there, you’d like to meet them, hire them, work for them. Me too.
That visionary might have suggested that each of Diehard (a battery brand but let’s think of it as auto repair), Lands End, Kenmore, Craftsman, perhaps others each had potential to find life as companies/brands independent of the Sears name. The challenges of the new consumer and retail market would still have existed but starting with a strong brand is a leg up. Vans comes to mind. It was a $400 million public company in trouble when VF bought it.
Let’s say that with the full support of the board of directors and the stock market, Sears spins off these brands and closes the rest of Sears.
Didn’t I just make that sound easy? Here in the highly inconvenient real world there would be shareholders, a board of directors, all the real estate people who have long term leases with Sears, debtholders who have some of those assets as collateral- well, you get the picture. The bottom line is it can only happen though a bankruptcy filing where shareholders lose everything, unsecured creditors lose most of what they are owed, store leases can be rejected, and a deal can be made with the secured creditors. Basically, bankruptcy is a legal process for allocating losses when the assets are no longer worth what people paid for them.
You also must hope that the brands being spun off, either as separate public companies or sold to private equity, haven’t been so damaged by corporate attempts to generate cash flow at any cost that they have lost their cache. Can you think of any brands in our industry that applies to?
The lesson here is about the dynamics of change. You need to act sooner rather than later but the realization of the need to do something different often doesn’t happen soon enough and the resistance to doing it is extreme until outside stakeholders force action.
Back on September 11, due to some speculation in the media, Amer Sports confirmed that it had “…received a non-binding preliminary indication of interest…from a consortium comprising ANTA Sports Products Limited and the Asian private equity firm FountainVest Partners…” to buy all of Amer Sports’ shares at a cash price of forty Euros per share.
Here’s a link to the Amer Sports web site. The brands the company owns include, among others, Salomon, Arc’teryx, Armada and Atomic.
ANTA describes itself as follows:
“Established in 1994 and listed on the Main Board of Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2007, ANTA Sports Products Limited (stock code: 2020.HK) is the leading sportswear companies in China. Up to Nov. 2016,ANTA’s market value was summed up to USD 7.39 Billion.”
“For many years, we have been principally engaged in the design, development, manufacturing and marketing of ANTA sportswear series to provide professional sporting goods to the mass market.”
“In recent years, we have started moving full steam ahead with the strategy of “Single-focus, Multi-brand, and Omni-channel” to deepen our footprint in the sportswear market.”
The ANTA web site can be found here. They are a public Chinese company with reported 2017 revenue of 16.7 billion renminbi (about US$ 2.4 billion at the current exchange rate).
ANTA’s purchasing partner FountainVest “…FountainVest is a leading private equity firm investing in companies that benefit from China’s growth, now managing total assets over US$4.5 billion…Our investment strategy has consistently focused on businesses that benefit from the secular growing needs and rising aspirations of the expanding Chinese middle class. While we are a generalist fund that invests across sectors, we have strong experience in areas of healthcare, consumer retail, media & entertainment and lifestyle. Our deal types are both control and growth capital oriented, with us having a high operational focus and a dedicated portfolio management team.”
And here is their web site if you want more information.
On October 11 Amer Sports, by press release, confirmed that there have been discussions between Amer Sports and the potential buyer “…to ascertain whether there is a basis to commence a more formal process to facilitate a possible recommended transaction.” You can find the press releases here if you’re interested.
We are a long way from a deal, but they’re talking. As of the end of June, Amer Sports had 116,517,285 shares outstanding. The stock price closed at 33.89 Euros on October 12. A purchase price of 40 Euros would represent a premium of 18% and an enterprises value of 4.66 billion Euros. The stock price has risen from around 29 Euros since the September 11 announcement, with most of the increase coming at the time of the announcement. It will get closer to 40 Euros if the market comes to believes a deal is more likely to happen.
A quick look at ANTA’s balance sheet leads me to believe they don’t have the financial capacity to pull off the deal alone, hence the involvement of FountainVest.
I don’t have any staggering insights on this transaction, but I hadn’t seen it mentioned and thought you’d be interested in knowing about it. We are in an industry where it’s good to be big.
From time to time, just for fun, I review public filings of companies I haven’t written about. Hibbett Sports, with 1059 stores in 35 states at the end of their August 4th quarter, is one of those companies. The quote in the title got my attention, to put it mildly.
It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, because their fiscal 2018 2nd quarter was a year ago. Here’s a link to their web site. Everybody, even Hibbett management, will concede they are way behind the internet/e-commerce/omnichannel curve. How might this have happened and what are they doing about it?
Here’s how they describe themselves.
Hibbett Sports, Inc. is a leading athletic-inspired fashion retailer primarily located in small and mid-sized communities across the country. Founded in 1945, Hibbett stores have a history of convenient locations, personalized customer service and access to apparel, equipment and coveted footwear from top brands like Nike, Under Armour and Adidas…As of August 4, 2018, we operated a total of 1,059 retail stores in 35 states…
The Hibbett Sports store is our primary retail format and is an approximately 5,000 square foot store located primarily in strip centers which are usually near a major chain retailer such as a Wal-Mart store. Our Hibbett Sports store base consisted of 820 stores located in strip centers, 27 free-standing stores and 212 enclosed mall locations as of August 4, 2018.
Our primary strategy is to provide underserved markets a broad assortment of quality brand name footwear, apparel, accessories and athletic equipment at competitive prices in a conveniently located full-service environment. At the end of the second quarter of Fiscal 2018, we successfully launched our ecommerce website. We will continue to grow our online business aggressively, while continuing to enhance our stores to improve the overall customer experience. We believe that the breadth and depth of our brand name merchandise consistently exceeds the product selection carried by most of our competitors, particularly in our smaller markets. Many of these brand name products are highly technical and require expert sales assistance. We continuously educate our sales staff on new products and trends through coordinated efforts with our vendors.
There are a few phrases in that lengthy quote I’ll come back to.
- “…located in small and mid-sized communities…”
- “…provide underserved markets a broad assortment of quality brand name footwear, apparel, accessories and athletic equipment at competitive prices in a conveniently located full-service environment.”
- “…the breadth and depth of our brand name merchandise consistently exceeds the product selection carried by most of our competitors, particularly in our smaller markets”
- “Many of these brand name products are highly technical and require expert sales assistance…”
First, let’s look at their numbers to provide an introduction to Hibbett. Below is a chart from their most recent 10-K that gives summary income statement numbers for the last three years.
The most recent fiscal year ended February 2, 2018. As you see, sales and comparable store sales haven’t performed well, and net income is down a bunch. Note that the most recent year was a 53-week year, which adds a week’s worth of revenue ($16.9 million) compared to the prior two 52 week years.
Here’s the breakdown of their revenue. They are increasingly footwear focused.
Below is a breakdown their store locations as of February 2nd. Texas and Georgia have the most stores. There are only 6 in California and none up here in the Northwest. The Northeast is also underrepresented. At the end of their February 1, 2014 fiscal year, they had 927 stores. At the end of their most current fiscal year, the number had risen 16.4% to 1,079.
The balance sheet at August 4, 2018 was pretty solid. $120 million in cash, inventory down 10.1% compared to a year ago even with quarter over quarter sales growth of 12.3%. Solid current ratio, no long-term debt. For the 26 weeks ended August 4, cash provided by operations was $62.5 million, up from $57.2 million in the same period the previous year.
Now that we’ve been introduced to Hibbett properly, Let’s get back to the phrases I pulled from the quote and try to figure out why Hibbett is so far behind the curb in e-commerce. They know they are, and their first listed risk factor is, “If we are unable to successfully maintain a relevant omni-channel experience for our customers, we may not be able to compete effectively and our sales and profitability may be adversely affected.” That’s from their 10-K from last February. It ought to say “implement” instead of “maintain.”
SGB Executive had an interesting interview with Hibbett management focusing on their e-commerce efforts. You can read it here. Hibbett has just launched “buy online, pick up in store” as part of their omnichannel efforts.
How does a large retailer get so far behind on something this fundamental?
Profitability and a strong balance sheet can have something to do with it. It reduces the sense of urgency, I guess. As you know, my point of view is that being profitable and having a great balance sheet are requirements for addressing the changing retail environment- not a reason to avoid it.
Perhaps that their stores are in smaller, under served communities has something to do with how they thought about e-commerce. I can understand that, but the definition of “under served” has changed in the days of the internet, Amazon, and endless places to get information on and buy anything.
I also question whether the “breadth and depth” of their merchandise is better than that of their competitors in the modern retail environment. I guess that depends on how they define their “competitors.”
Overall, their description of their business and competitive positioning with particular focus on smaller, underserved markets was valid- even insightful- in the brick and mortar environment of some years ago. That customers belonging to their loyalty program generate 60% of their transactions says to me it’s still important.
They are running as hard as they can to catch up with the online world but have a way to go. E-commerce sales represented 8% of revenue in the most recent quarter, and “the bulk” of their online orders are fulfilled from stores. I don’t know how much “the bulk” is.
Apparently, they used their web site to get rid of clearance product. That’s partly responsible for the decline in inventory. Hopefully, they’re through that problem and have realized that using their web site for too many closeouts can have a negative impact on the Hibbett brand. Management also talks in the conference call about e-commerce sales separately from brick and mortar. Encouraged by the analysts they talk about a $70 million in revenue breakeven for e-commerce.
The best retailers resist distinguishing between e-commerce and brick and mortar revenues, recognizing that there’s only one revenue stream. With total revenue declining in the last complete year, it’s kind of pyric victory for Hibbett to talk about a break even in e-commerce. An online sale that comes at the expense of a brick and mortar sale doesn’t help you. As most players have figured out, you end up with the same revenue but more cost.
Hibbett seems to be making some technical progress, though they’ve got a ways to go. Perhaps more importantly, it sounds like they require an attitude adjustment. I’ll feel way better about Hibbett once management sounds focused on how the integration of online and brick and mortar into a single revenue stream meeting customer requirements. Until then, I’m going to think of their e-commerce efforts as reactive and defensive.
On September 12, VF’s management team made a lengthy presentation to the investment community outlining Van’s expected future growth. In the accompanying press release they stated, “Over the next five years, the Vans® brand expects diversified and balanced growth across all product categories, channels of distribution and geographies, driven by disciplined execution and investment to continue to fuel growth.”
They expect to grow footwear “…at a five-year compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) between 10 percent and 12 percent.” The CAGR for apparel and accessories is projected to be between 13% and 15%. Direct to consumer is expected to be between 13% and 16% including digital growth of 30% to 35%.
Wow. Just “WOW!”
Just so you know, I’m working from the presentation slides, press release, and some miscellaneous comments I found. I couldn’t listen to it live and so far, there’s no transcript available, though the press release says it will eventually be.
Certainly, VF has done a fantastic job with Vans since acquiring it in 2004, growing it, we’re told, at a 17% compounded annual rate until it’s reached $3 billion in revenue. VF President and CEO Steve Rendle says, “I am confident in the Vans team’s ability to deliver on a bold $5 billion revenue target which will be a key driver of VF’s plan to deliver superior total return to shareholders over the next five years.” (I added the emphasis).
In writing about VF and Vans, I’ve made three main points.
First, that I have tremendous respect for VF’s systems and procedures, discipline, and portfolio management talents.
Second, echoing CEO Rendle, VF has a dependence on Vans for its overall corporate results.
Third, that I’ve never seen a brand that could grow forever without hitting some form of roadblock.
Will Vans, at least for five more years, be the exception to the rule? In the immortal words of Rocky Rococo, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” Let’s look at both cases.
The case for “no” isn’t hard to state. Vans make’s shoes, apparel and accessories that aren’t functionally different from other brand’s shoes, apparel and accessories. Differentiation is based largely on marketing (though that means something different from what it used to mean). The products are already widely distributed (JC Penney, Kohls, Sears.com, Walmart for example) in a market where creating differentiation from functionally identical products has required some caution in distribution bordering, at times, on scarcity.
Where is all this new revenue going to come from? Who are the new customers? In the presentation David Gold, Vans Vice President for Business Strategy tells us that Vans has only 6% of a $41 billion market opportunity. For apparel it’s 1% of a $46 billion opportunity.
Vans describes itself as a skateboard-based brand. “Skateboarding is a core differentiator for Vans,” they say. Just to go old school for a minute, we’re seen an awful lot of brands in our industry get into trouble when they tried too hard to expand beyond their core. In the past, I’ve written about, nay warned, to be cautious in expanding beyond the point where your potential new customers can identify with the brand because your brand strength is your main point of differentiation.
Vans sounds like they are extrapolating from the past into the future- perhaps an over simplification. There’s no discussion in the slides of, for example, the possibility (near certainty?) of a recession in the next five years or of some other unexpected geopolitical or financial inconvenience. And the idea that the growth will happen across all product categories, channels and geographies with nary a negative surprise does not reflect my business experience.
The presentation (download it here) is full of warm and fuzzy affirmations. Here’s one: “VANS REMAINS AUTHENTIC TO OUR CORE CONSUMERS AND WELCOMING TO ALL.” Can they do that? Is it really a source of growth of the magnitude they project? I’ve just been writing above (and in many articles over the years) about how destructive to brands that approach can be. Go page through the presentation and see for yourself. Are they/will they/can they all be true? I don’t know. When we get to the “Maybe Yes” discussion below, I’ll tell you why they might be.
The presentation is like a list of all the things all brands and retailers need to do. I’d say it’s an accurate list. Vans sustainable competitive advantage, then, is in its ability to do more of these things better than everybody else with more flexibility, and to develop more actionable insights. Are they really able to execute that much better than their competitors?
The “Maybe No” case is simple to sum up. Despite the superlative job VF has done in managing the Vans brand, where are they going to find the additional customers and revenue in an already over supplied market facing a probable recession with product that’s not fundamentally different from their competitors without damaging the brand? Is doing the same stuff everybody else needs to do only better the source of a sustainable competitive advantage?
Let’s start by addressing the recession issue. It’s not that a recession wouldn’t impact Vans and VF. It will impact everybody. But somewhere in the depth of VF (And, I can tell you, in other companies) there is recognition that the next recession will probably be the way the retail consolidation plays out. I know things are looking better at retail right now, and let’s hope it continues. Longer term (I’m always looking longer term) the consumer’s ability to demand more for less, the cost of providing what they demand, the continuing evolution of ecommerce, and the advantages of being a large brand or retailer suggest consolidation isn’t over. VF and Vans will be a winner in that scenario.
Size matters. As I’ve written about our market in general there is an advantage to being large and having a strong balance sheet.
Vans and VF have those advantages and discuss them in the presentation. In a slide titled “Power of VF” they point to the leverage the size and sophistication of VF gives Vans. These include:
- Deep and complex consumer research
- Expert-led innovation
- Geographically diverse, efficient supply chain
- International and DTC platforms
- Access to capital
I suspect some of those advantages will decline over time. Right now, they are significant.
The most interesting part of the “Maybe Yes” case is the implication that distribution doesn’t matter the way is used to. I scoffed at brands a few years ago that said, “Don’t worry- we’re going to be in Walmart but it won’t hurt our brand.”
Vans will be thoughtful about distribution. More importantly, they are saying that their research, resources, flexibility, brand power, speed of reaction and process of connecting to the carefully segmented consumer through surprises and experiences obviates some of the traditional concerns about distribution. They believe they can do these things better than most of their competitors. If so, brand perception and attractiveness will be determined more by Vans actions and less by brick and mortar retailers (Except of course for Vans own retail stores).
Finally, they’ve got the Vans brand to work with. It’s powerful, established, and a broad range of customers feel connected to it. Not a bad place to start.
Those are the “yes” and “no” cases in simplified form. Vans is well into an experiment to see if a truly “omnichannel” approach to branding and customer engagement change some of the rules for growing a brand. Because Vans is so critical to VF’s overall performance, they need to make it happen.
That’s a lot to cover. I had some hope this would be short. Let’s start with strategy and quote CEO Rick Brooks from the conference call.
“Our top and bottom line results…are a direct result of our relentless commitment to winning with today’s empowered consumer. Our success continues to be driven by the strength of our diverse and differentiated assortments that are presented through a seamless shopping experience across all consumer touch points, accompanied by the world class customer service that our teams continue to deliver globally.”
“With the increasingly blurred lines between retail channels, we’ve moved toward a channel-less world in which the empowered consumer isn’t focused on going into a store or buying online but rather transacting with a trusted retailer. With the barriers between the physical and digital worlds coming down and the increased speed at which individuals communicate, trend cycles are rotating faster than ever before. The same holds true for the pace at which demand for emerging brands can go from local to global in nature. In this type of environment where consumers can access so much information, a new level of transparency in retail is being created that is driving out inefficiencies within the market and forcing consolidation in the industry.”
It’s conceptually that simple, but really complicated to do, requiring a long-term perspective, flexibility in thinking and structure, a different attitude towards risk, and a strong balance sheet. What, exactly, is the formula for management structure and discipline on the one hand, but raging flexibility on the other?
The bottom line, as you see in the quote, is that Rick thinks many of Zumiez’s competitors can’t do it. Is just operating at the level required by the new environment now a long term strategic advantage?
Rick also commented about trends rotating faster than ever. A couple of years ago, Rick was expressing the belief that longer trends would return. It looks like he’s changed his thinking as the competitive environment required.
Okay, on to Wayward. There’s no mention of the Wayward stores Zumiez has opened. There are only two, they haven’t been open long, and the numbers are obviously not significant. But I liked the concept and am kind of curious.
At the end of the quarter on August 4, Zumiez had 611 stores in the U.S., 50 in Canada (Room for more growth there? I’d guess not much), 35 in Europe- Blue Tomato, and 7 in Australia- Fast Times. They expect to open 13 stores this fiscal year including five in the U.S., seven in Europe, and one in Australia. I want to put that in context of their comment on expansion in the 10Q.
“We plan to continue to open new stores in the Canadian, European, and Australian markets. We may continue to expand internationally in other markets, either organically, or through additional acquisitions.”
That’s part of a risk factor telling us that theirs plans for international factors could be, well, risky. Zumiez has acknowledged that they were running out of room for new stores in the U.S. However, their concept of “trade areas” and a channel-less world coupled with ongoing industry consolidation makes me wonder if they can’t grow revenues in the U.S. without more stores. I am certain they are wondering too. There’s no reason that concept would only apply to the U.S.
CFO Chris Work reminds us in the conference call that Zumiez is doing almost 100% of their ecommerce fulfillment in their stores. It sounds like they are doing it without much added expense. In a previous call (but only one I think) Rick told us how in store fulfillment was allowing Zumiez to spread the cost of these sales over the existing expense structure. That is very powerful. I’m surprised nobody is pushing for more details.
In recent quarters, Zumiez has noted an issue they are having with shrinkage. Chris says it cost them about $5.4 million in 2017, and they are continuing to work on it. I wanted to raise it in conjunction with in store fulfillment because I have the sense the two happened around the same time. I know correlation doesn’t prove causality, but I’m intrigued. I almost hope it’s somehow related to that. Zumiez decades long process of hiring, supporting, training, and advancing people who are part of Zumiez’s customer base has been key to their success. I would think/hope it would mitigate against shrinkage. If suddenly it’s not, I’d be concerned. Shrinkage in the quarter was 0.3% lower than in last year’s quarter.
Last, but not least, their loyalty program called Stash. What I wanted you to think about is that loyalty programs become more valuable as the quality of your algorithms and customer data rises.
Finally, we get to the numbers. Revenues in the quarter rose 13.9% to $219 million, up from $192 million in the same quarter last year. U.S. revenues rose 14.2% from $165 to $189 million. In Canada, the increase was from $11.3 to $12.5 million. Europe rose 14.8% from $11.3 to $16.1 million. Australia rose from $1.687 million to $1.787 million, or by 5.5%. Overall, U.S. revenue represented 86.15% of the total, up from 85.94 in last year’s quarter. I imagine the U.S. percentage might be lower if not for the strong U.S. dollar.
“The [revenue] increase primarily reflected an increase in comparable sales of $12.8 million, an increase of $9.9 million due to the calendar shift to include an additional week of back-to-school season, and the net addition of 11 stores (made up of 10 new stores in North America, 5 new stores in Europe and 1 new store in Australia partially offset by 5 store closures in North America) subsequent to July 29, 2017.”
Comparable store sales rose 6.3%.
The gross margin rose from 31.1% to 33.1%. “The increase was primarily driven by 160 basis point leveraging of our store occupancy costs, 30 basis point increase in product margin and 30 basis points in lower shrinkage of inventory partially offset by 30 basis points in higher shipping costs.” Note the impact of leveraging occupancy costs and refer to the discussion of in store ecommerce fulfillment.
SG&A expenses as a percent of net sales decreased 150 basis points for the three months ended August 4, 2018 to 30.0%. “The decrease was primarily driven by 140 basis points from the leveraging of our store costs and 40 basis points decrease due to the timing of annual training events partially offset by a 40 basis point increase related to the accrual of annual incentive compensation.”
There’s that improvement due to leveraging store costs again. I’m growing very fond of in store ecommerce fulfillment.
Net income rose from a loss of $608,000 to a profit of $4.38 million. That’s usually what happens when you increase revenue and gross margin while reducing expense as a percent of revenue.
The balance sheet remains strong with more cash and no long-term debt. Cash provided by operating activities was $15.5 million for six months, up from $3.77 million in the same six months last year. I’m wondering why they’ve got $5.6 million in short term debt on the balance sheet given all the cash they’ve got. Maybe it’s a non-U.S. thing.
Good quarter. As usual, there are interesting things to think about in the 10Q and conference call if you read carefully. I look forward to their next quarter.
I enjoy hearing from you, even when you disagree. The exchange means that I learn something, too. Leave a comment on any of my posts to contact me directly.
Market Watch updates
- Hibbett Sports Says Some Interesting Things: Can They Catch Up in Ecommerce?August 2, 2019 - 10:09 am
- And Now for Something Completely Different; Some Recommended Reading with Perspective on U.S. Economic and Financial ConditionsJuly 16, 2019 - 8:16 pm
- Is There Value in Reporting Comparable Store Sales? Zumiez’s Quarterly ResultsJune 27, 2019 - 12:47 pm
- How VF Keeps Doing It: Size, Flexibility, Diversification, Disciplined Management Processes, Balance SheetJune 14, 2019 - 10:52 am