The Arizona Cardinals of Retailers

Football is about to kick off, and while talking at the water cooler the other day, I declared, "The Arizona Cardinals have a chance to make some noise this year." Silence among my buddies was soon followed by raucous laughter. Their point was clear: The Arizona Cardinals are perennial losers, and that will not change until they can prove that they have what it takes to win ... and do so consistently. Among retailers, Wilsons The Leather Experts (Nasdaq: WLSN  ) is that team.

Two years ago tomorrow, I wrote on the leather goods specialist following its Q2 2005 results, cautioning investors from jumping on the Wilsons bandwagon until it proved capable of putting together a series of successes. Hopefully the advice was heeded, as the stock has been in a continuous downward slide since that time. Nothing in its Q2 2007 results suggests that it's on the verge of a game-winning touchdown drive.

It is difficult to put together a more pathetic showing than Wilsons did this quarter. Comparable same-store sales for the period fumbled to an 11.9% loss. The fact that this figure follows on the heels of a 16.2% comps decrease in last year's quarter makes it even more troubling.

Margins were also gang-tackled, as the company was already at a loss of $2.4 million on the gross margin line. Continued softness in sales is one reason for this, and another is that the retailer has employed heavy markdowns in recent months in an attempt to clear out old inventory. CEO Michael Searles said that one of the company's goals is to increase inventory turnover in its stores so that merchandise remains fresh and relevant. That's a sound objective, but ideally you would want to achieve that like Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) has, through a combination of tight inventory management and a customer base willing to buy goods at full price.

Management is hopeful that a refreshed apparel line set for launch this week will help put Wilsons on the right foot again. The new product launch may help it gain some momentum and make a first down or two, but it will take a great deal more than a few small victories to put it in the ranks of comeback kids Guess? (NYSE: GES  ) and Polo Ralph Lauren (NYSE: RL  ) , two companies that showed it was possible for losing programs to return to glory.

Until proven otherwise, Wilsons stays on my perennial loser list, joined by Hot Topic (Nasdaq: HOTT  ) . It may be tempting to look for deep value to fill the ranks of your fantasy roster, but in this Fool's opinion, it is better to keep fantasy to your football picks, and not your investment ones.

Fool contributor Jeremy MacNealy has no financial interest in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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