It's been a while since I went to the mall with the idea of doing research. In fact, I've been trying to avoid trips to the mall (saving, you know), but this weekend I made an exception, because we happen to have one of the recently opened Martin+Osa stores not too far away. For those who hadn't heard, Martin+Osa is the new offering for 25-40 year-olds from American Eagle Outfitters
The traffic in the store was certainly not as busy as more established stores, but I can't say I was expecting much from a location that opened just a few days before. I have to admit, I am initially impressed with the layout of the store and its offerings. Instead of the typical glass-enclosed storefront, Martin+Osa has a wide entrance with natural wood on the sides. Inside was more of the same feeling, with wood and other natural materials throughout. A few of the clerks were quick to point out that the design was meant to bring the outside indoors. While store design is important to many shoppers, I think the product offerings are what really matters.
Fortunately, Martin+Osa appears to have done a good job with its initial line of products. I found plenty of shirts, jeans, khakis (pronounced "car-keys" where I'm from), sweaters, sweatshirts, and shoes that I'd be happy to wear day in and day out. The real winner at Martin+Osa was my wife, who found a bag, shirt, and sweater to purchase (before cooler heads prevailed). I only picked up a sweatshirt -- though I have to admit that I was close to getting a sweater -- and my wife and I both felt the prices were reasonable considering the quality and cut of most of the items. That said, I'm still cheap, and I'll be looking for these items on sale.
The sneaker offering was a slightly different touch. Instead of developing new sneaker designs in-house, the company had an assortment of Puma, Asics, New Balance, Adidas, and other brands. While I consider these shoes to be sneakers, they are less athletic shoes and more the everyday casual footwear that works well with jeans and chinos. And again, the prices were mostly reasonable.
Overall, my wife and I agreed that American Eagle has a winner on its hands. The merchandise is in some ways similar to the more active and casual offerings found at J. Crew
Of course, starting up a new brand costs money, and that will likely affect American Eagle's margins over the next couple of years; if things start off well, increased capital expenditures are also likely. Considering how American Eagle Outfitters' shares are valued now, I no longer believe the shares are the screaming bargain they were when I made my first purchases about a year ago. However, the company is still 10% to 15% undervalued, assuming an 11% discount rate and the company's ability to grow free cash flow at an 8% clip for the next 10 years. That kind of growth isn't unreasonable, provided that most shoppers warm to Martin+Osa as much as my wife and I did. It will be interesting to see how consumers react to the new offerings and shape the Martin+Osa story along the way.
At the time of publication Nathan Parmelee owned shares in American Eagle Outfitters, but had no financial interest in any of the other companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy .