Teens are fickle. One minute they love you; the next they hate you. They can go from happy and cheerful to uncooperative know-it-alls in the blink of an eye. As difficult as that can make the lives of their parents, it's even more difficult for the retailers trying to cater to their ever-changing clothing tastes.
Just look back through our archives and you'll find several examples of teen apparel retailers going through some extremely volatile times. It was less than two years ago when we were all fired up about Hot Topic
A more recent example is the journey of one Wet Seal
Last week, Wet Seal reported a jump in comparable store sales (comps) of 56.9% for May, compared with a decrease of 7.8% last year. Remember, comps include only those stores that have been open for a year. Net sales were up 21.1% to $40 million, compared with $33 million in the same period last year. That's even more impressive, considering the company is operating 25% fewer locations. Or, it could just show that Wet Seal did well to close some massively underperforming stores.
Earlier, Wet Seal had reported a net loss of $8.6 million ($5.2 million of which was due to store closings), or $0.23 per share, in its most recent quarter ended April 30. Sure, this is a loss, but it's a marked improvement over the $15.6 million, or $0.52 per share, it lost in the same period last year. And that loss included a tax benefit of $8.9 million. Net sales climbed 3.9% to $103.8 million, even with fewer stores, due to comp sales jumping 29.8% from a decline of 17.2% the previous year. Margins were up, and operating and selling, general, and administrative expenses were down. With the exception of a decrease in the cash balance, it's positive news, but it's hardly surprising. These things tend to happen when a company goes through a massive trimming.
So, the question is, can Wet Seal continue to appeal to teen shoppers and investors with its new slimmed-down look, or will it return to its old ways, when it was nothing more than blubber? It seems to have gotten over the first hurdle, with new management and a major restructuring rescuing it from certain death. However, that may prove to be easier than the longer-term task of remaining a must-shop for teens cruising the mall.
Having already missed out on the 900% jump in price, I may have missed the opportunity to profit from Wet Seal's improvement. Now that the initial rush has passed, I'd rather be patient and see if the company can string together at least a few quarters of success. Until then, I'll be content to watch Wet Seal's tricks as it tries to amuse its capricious consumer base.
For more on the teen jean scene, see:
Looking for stable investments that let you sleep at night? Take a free trial of The Motley Fool's Income Investor newsletter -- its dividend-paying stocks have beaten the market handsomely, with less volatility to boot.
Fool contributor Mike Cianciolo welcomes feedback and doesn't own any of the companies in this article.