It's hard enough to compete in the consumer personal/houseware product categories, especially when you tend to compete on the lower end of the market. By the same token, brands have value, and Helen of Troy (NASDAQ:HELE) has managed to lever sales of its branded lower-end goods into pretty respectable cash flow in the past.

So what's new this quarter? Well, sales were actually up for a change. Total revenue growth clocked in at better than 5%, as the housewares business (largely Oxo-branded merchandise) saw a nearly 29% sales jump and the personal care business improved to a decline of just under 1%.

That latter number might not sound great, but Helen of Troy hasn't shown growth in this category in the entire time I've written on them for The Motley Fool. So making it to almost flat, even if it is against easier comps, is something. Moving on, though, you find continued margin erosion and lower earnings (even on an adjusted basis), so it's not all great news.

I'm cautiously optimistic on this stock. A move to a new distribution center should improve operating efficiency (and if it doesn't, that's not a good sign). What's more, major retailer Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) is apparently looking to stock some higher-priced items in the appliance category. That should not only boost sales (assuming that these higher-priced sales don't overly cannibalize the cheaper goods), but also lead to a more favorable margin mix.

That's not to say that I've gone completely soft on this company. I still object to the ridiculous pay that the CEO gets -- ridiculous both in absolute terms and relative to the compensation for the top kick at Alberto Culver (NYSE:ACV), Chattem (NASDAQ:CHTT), Tupperware (NYSE:TUP), or Newell Rubbermaid (NYSE:NWL), to name just a few. I think it's also prudent to have some concerns about the debt (though the interest payments are well-covered) and the extent to which inventory stocking decisions at places like Wal-Mart and Target (NYSE:TGT) can influence growth and profitability.

A bargain is still a bargain, though. Even though I assign Helen of Troy a higher discount rate than its cash flow and operating performance might deserve, it still comes out as somewhat cheap. Tread carefully, though, and keep an eye out for this year's proxy statement -- I'll be very curious to see what sort of bonus the board awards Gerald Rubin (who is also the chairman) this year.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).