Recently, the stock market hasn't been friendly to athletic-gear retailer lululemon athletica
Lululemon's fall from grace was due to its last quarterly earnings report. In it, the company forecasted less growth than investors were hoping for, leading to a 12% drop in the stock price over the following week. Lululemon cited lower margin expectations and an increase in markdowns as the main obstacles to stronger growth. Many investors interested in short-term gains took this as a sign to get out of Lululemon, assuming things were going to get worse.
But the announcements that spurred the price drop were great for long-term investors. They indicated an outlook that stretches beyond any fiscal quarter, and that recognizes the growth limitations that Lululemon is under if it focuses only on yoga. Increases in research and product development should help the company develop a broader customer base. Let's look at what's on the horizon for Lululemon.
It's raining men
Remember when Nike
That's where men enter the scene. Lululemon has started selling more men's clothing in its stores, with 12% of first-quarter sales coming from the company's menswear line. This gives the women who shop at the stores more reason to go in, and it should increase the number of men purchasing for themselves as well. It's not a new concept, and Coach
Dressing the next Anna Pavlova
Lululemon has a theme for its next steps -- things that upper-middle-class women might be interested in. First we looked at men's clothes, and the next in the progression is children's clothing. Since kids aren't historically huge yoga practitioners, Lululemon is instead focusing on ballet, gymnastics, and ice skating with its ivviva line. So far, the brand is open only in Canada, but there are plans for showrooms in the U.S. by the end of the year.
This is another page torn directly from the standard apparel playbook. Gap
The dangers of expansion
The unspoken problem with expanding like Nike and Gap is that now Lululemon is going to be competing with Nike and Gap. Gap has already thrown its hat into the ring with its Athleta brand, which competes directly with Lululemon's yoga lines. A recent report highlighted that of Athleta's 22 locations, 13 are within a mile of a Lululemon. I'm sure that's just a coincidence.
Nike also has a small offering that competes directly with Lululemon, but more importantly it controls the segment Lululemon is trying to break into -- men's athletic gear. In its last quarter, Nike earned 46% more through apparel sales alone than Lululemon earned in total last year. That's a big hurdle to clear.
The bottom line
Lululemon is making all the right moves, as far as I can see. The expansion of the brand into new segments is going to be the best way to create long-term value for shareholders, and the focus on men and children is a natural fit. But Lululemon's forward P/E is still huge, compared with its competitors. Both Gap and Nike are "cheaper" right now, and both are doing interesting things. I like Lululemon, and I like what it's doing, but it’s a little too rich for my taste right now.
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