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Pier 1 Looks Set to Deliver Gains

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Home-goods retailer Pier 1 Imports (NYSE: PIR  ) is another example of a brick-and-mortar business working fast to adapt to industry change. The company's focus throughout the last year was developing and executing its omnichannel strategy. While management remains upbeat, the market has held less favorable opinions of the stock. Not helping the situation was a weak fourth quarter, severely affected by the rough weather around the U.S. At 12 times forward earnings, this is a reasonably priced business that could benefit from wider industry trends. Should investors take a closer look?

Decent earnings
Throughout the first three quarters of fiscal 2014, Pier 1 showed investors improving sales on both the top line and store levels, and even finished the year with a net gain of 2.4% in comparable sales. The last quarter was hit by what management cites as damaging weather conditions for two-thirds of the period's trading days. Even then, adjusted sales (accounting for one fewer week in the reporting period this year as compared to last) dropped minimally and same-store sales managed to eke out a small gain of 0.6%.

What is likely the biggest opportunity for Pier 1, unsurprisingly, is e-commerce. Last year, Pier 1 sourced 4% of its total sales from its online platform. Traffic is up nearly twice as much as one year ago, though management noted it needed to work on conversion rates, which remain low. Three years from now, the company hopes to have 10% of sales coming from the Web.

One of the big ideas that most retailers are pursuing in regard to e-commerce strategy is integrating store experience with Web presence. New point-of-sale systems in the stores encourage shoppers to get on the website, and new tablets in-store allow shoppers to find even more products and place orders directly from there. Pier 1 is finding that whether shoppers buy products directly from the brick-and-mortar location is less important than allowing them to see the full product offering and generating greater interest. The shopper can then place an order in-store or online, or buy in store the old-fashioned way if they see what they like.

To understand the effectiveness of the strategy: Shoppers who use both the stores and the website spend, on average, four times as much as store-only customers.

Set to grow?
With the omnichannel strategy in full deployment, Pier 1 should be able to bump up sales, margins, and ultimately profits. Reward programs should generate more loyalty and higher per-customer sales figures -- a great trend for a retailer these days.

Management has guided for a minimum of 15% earnings growth for the current year, though some of those gains will source from the decreasing year-over-year share count -- a result of ongoing buybacks and a newly approved $200 million buyback for coming periods. Same-store sales are projected to be in the high single digits.

For a company that trades at a relatively calm 12 times forward earnings and with an EV/EBITDA of just 7.62 times, the prospects are quite good. Home-goods stores in general should benefit from the long-term housing trends, and Pier 1's position in the market is substantial. Investors interested in decent growth priced to sell should take a look.

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Michael Lewis

Michael is a value-oriented investment analyst with a specific interest in retail and media businesses. Before coming to the Fool, Michael worked with private investment funds focusing on deep value and special situations. Currently living in the media capital of the world--Los Angeles, California.

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8/31/2015 4:00 PM
PIR $10.18 Up +0.12 +1.19%
Pier 1 Imports, In… CAPS Rating: **