Squeezing Home Depot's Orange

The latest stunt from public improvisational troupe Improv Everywhere involved 225 pranksters hitting a New York City Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) . On synchronized cue, they shopped in slow motion for five minutes before ultimately spending another five minutes standing still. As fate would have it, Jewel's "Standing Still" kicked in over the store's Muzak system during the group's freeze-frame exhibitionism.

Before you question why reasonable people would engage in such a stunt, let's turn to the haven of orange aprons itself. Hasn't the company's financial performance been in slow-mo lately? Wouldn't standing still be a relative victory to investors who have seen their shares shrink in the six years since Bob Nardelli took over as CEO?

That last nugget has been a sticking point with critics who have blasted Nardelli over the $124 million in compensation that he has received in that time and for failing to answer the questions of disgruntled investors at this year's shareholder meeting.

I can't justify the company's disrespectful treatment of its owners back in May. However, even though the compensation package may seem overdone, we are talking about a company that generated $5.8 billion in profits on $81.5 billion in sales last year alone. It's wrong to pin the tail of blame on Nardelli just because the company hired him from General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) at a time when Home Depot's shares were overpriced. That's almost as wacky as begging for his resignation just because the stock happens to be undervalued.

Home Depot version 2.0
That doesn't mean the knocks on Home Depot hit too far below the tool belt. This is a company that mustered a mere 5% uptick in bottom-line growth this past quarter, saw a slight dip in comps for the period, and warned of a challenging second half of the fiscal year. This is also the same company that stuck to its tired format as rival Lowe's (NYSE: LOW  ) grew more quickly by resonating with a wider audience thanks to its seemingly cleaner, brighter stores.

The point is that through all of this seemingly bad news, Home Depot has continued to produce. Today, you can buy Home Depot for just 12 times this year's watered-down profit targets and less than 11 times next year's projected earnings. The market was just being unrealistic when it was snapping up shares of Home Depot at 40 to 50 times net income levels before Nardelli took the helm.

Cheapness, however, should never be the only reason to buy a company. Investors thought they were being patient with Home Depot -- they were judging the company against historical valuations, only to be whacked by the proverbial two-by-four in recent years. There have to be catalysts. There has to be a reason to believe that the marketplace will once again warm up to Big Orange as an investment vehicle.

I may have caught a small reason for optimism over the weekend in reading a MarketWatch interview with Harvey Seegers, president of the retailer's catalog and Internet business. No one seems to credit Home Depot's success as a dot-com magnet, yet its website manages to draw between 4 million and 5 million visitors during any given week. There's an opportunity in its online business, and the hardware retailer knows it.

Come next month, Home Depot will be streaming live television through its site. The popularity of home-makeover shows dates back to the introduction of This Old House in 1979 and has only grown, as budding Bob Vila wannabes spring up all over the cable television dial. Home Depot's move to stream original programming -- and to subsidize it with relevant advertisers that already have existing relationships with the company -- is a great move. It is already drawing the ideal target audience to its site anyway.

This move is exciting for several reasons. Naturally, you have a logical new revenue stream for Home Depot. If the programming is halfway decent, it will also help cement the Home Depot brand. Then you have the "clip culture" mentality that has spurred the popularity of sites such as YouTube -- where the Improv Everywhere video from Home Depot has been seen more than 325,000 times.

Home Depot's site already features detailed step-by-step guides on how to do everything from fixing a leaky faucet to building an outdoor deck. Imagine how much more effective, and popular, the site's "know-how" guides will become, once they are enhanced by video affirmation. Even if a consumer soaks in the video and ultimately buys the related wares at a nearby Ace affiliate, the shopper knows that HomeDepot.com is "the helpful place" to go for higher learning. A lot is possible in the persuasion process once someone bookmarks your site and begins to lean on you and your brand.

Video as a power tool
Naturally, there is a pitfall if the videos become so popular that they replace the in-store "how-to" seminars. Rather than have an attentive audience at your store, ready to shop, you do risk making trips to the store less necessary and competitive alternatives more viable. However, that would be a nice problem to have.

If Home Depot becomes a major player in video content, it catapults the company into the realm of esteemed broadband hogs such as YouTube, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) . Google even booted Froogle off its landing page last month to make room for its Video tab. Home Depot would serve a niche audience, but as the most recognizable brand in home improvement, it's a lucrative slice that it can own outright if it gets things right form the start. It would be a shame if it let Lowe's -- its largest rival, which also apes Home Depot with step-by-step project guides on its website -- beat it to the multimedia punch.

It can't. It won't. Home Depot has come too far, even if its share price in recent years hasn't followed suit. Home Depot is an attractive superstore that can't be toppled over by mainstream discounters the way that Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) virtually killed specialty toy retailers, or the way consumer-electronics titans such as Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) put music stores on the endangered list.

Home Depot is a survivor. It's a cheap survivor. Its recent recommendation to Inside Value newsletter subscribers bears proof of that. And later this year, if you're tried of hearing about it, there's a fair chance that you will be able to literally see it for yourself. I've scoured the Home Depot site for a particular project: how to build a catalyst. Home Depot seems to be working on it now.

Home Depot and Wal-Mart areInside Valuestock picks. Best Buy is aStock Advisorselection. If you want to learn more, kick the tires of either newsletter with a 30-day free trial subscription.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz can be pretty cheap at times, but he doesn't own any of the stocks in this article. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 507799, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 9/23/2014 6:28:02 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement