It would be easy to say shares of Clorox (NYSE:CLX) have already enjoyed their proverbial day in the sun. The stock rallied 46% between the end of February and early September when the COVID-19 pandemic made Clorox-branded disinfectant products the world's most marketable goods. But, with the world adjusted and a coronavirus vaccine (or vaccines) on the horizon, there seems little upside left to tap. Shares have fallen 14% from their September peak, in fact, in step with the curbing of the COVID-19 panic.
But Clorox has a solid second act in store for a post-COVID world. A relatively new -- but highly experienced -- CEO has already demonstrated a clear understanding of the modern marketplace and how her company can succeed in it.
Meet Linda Rendle
Linda Rendle was announced as Clorox's next CEO in early August and began her tenure in mid-September.
She could be the most qualified person on the planet to take over. Not only has she been with the organization for 17 years, but she's also worked her way up the ranks and developed experience with a variety of the company's consumer product lines. For instance, she started out selling the company's charcoal (Clorox is the name behind Kingsford charcoal). She's been involved in strategy and operations, and before being chosen as its next chief, Rendle was the executive vice president of Clorox's cleaning, international, strategy, and operations unit.
Perhaps just as relevant is the fact that she used to work for a competitor. She served as a sales manager for rival Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) for a couple of years before joining The Clorox Company. In other words, she's no stranger to what's happening outside of the company's corporate offices.
There was a time when this sort of experience may not have mattered. But that time has arguably passed. Consumers are savvy, equipped with constant access to a sea of information available on the internet. A company's connection with consumers has to be authentic and relevant. Rendle can relate. Indeed, at only 42 years of age, she's well-versed in how the World Wide Web is utilized as a shopping and informational platform -- a trend that will only expand as time marches on.
Planning for success
It should be noted that the new CEO has inherited a company that was already preparing for changes accelerated by the COVID-19 contagion. For instance, e-commerce accounted for only 2% of Clorox's total revenue for the fiscal year ending in the middle of 2018, growing to 8% of sales by the middle of 2019. That figure expanded to 12% during the 12-month stretch ending in June of this year, fueled at least in part by the pandemic. That progress was driven by a very deliberate digital initiative that took shape in early 2018.
It's only a microcosm of the company's willingness and ability to plan, though.
Case in point: Clorox's so-called 2020 Strategy was unveiled in 2013, calling for sales growth of between 3% and 5% per year through the next seven years. Clorox was also targeting steady (if modest) increases in profit margins during this seven-year stretch. Perhaps most noteworthy about this 2020 Strategy is that Clorox developed more than a mere list of goals. It also made clear, actionable plans to achieve them, like investing more in brand marketing, reducing wasted resources, and development of products that can use established brand names.
Obviously, 2020 is nearly past, but Clorox already has its next long-term strategic framework in place. Its IGNITE strategy was announced a little over a year ago, once again calling for respectable single-digit sales growth and continued margin improvement. And, once again, the company cited specific actions that will lead the organization to those goals. While it will continue to create new products, a key component of IGNITE is a plan to "innovate experiences" that will appeal to consumers in ways beyond mere conventional marketing. The company will particularly focus in on sustainability.
That nuance matters more than ever. Data from IBM and the National Retail Federation reported earlier this year that eight-out-of-10 worldwide consumers say sustainability is important to them, while six-out-of-10 indicate they're willing to alter their product choices to help out on this front. More than two-thirds of shoppers are willing to pay a premium price for a sustainable product.
This pivot toward sustainability is impressive if for no other reason than it confirms Clorox has its finger on the pulse of the current consumerism climate.
Readier than the rest
Obviously, the mere existence of a plan is no guarantee of success. But it certainly increases the odds. That's especially the case when a plan includes specific action points -- a detail too many other organizations may overlook.
It's also worth noting that for Clorox to realize its digital and omnichannel goals and deliver "experiences" to would-be customers, it has to know something about those consumers. It's got this data. It's been quietly collecting it for years.
So, yes, Clorox stock is a buy. The reliable company is in good hands with Rendle, who has a compelling framework from which to operate in IGNITE. The pullback since early September is an opportunity, even if the organization won't be able to recreate its red-hot growth pace from earlier this year in the foreseeable future.