Yesterday was not a good day for Big Lots
Fellow discount/closeout retailer Retail Ventures
These businesses can blame high gas prices or bad weather, but I think there is a systemic problem. And to explain my thoughts, I would like to use the Tour de France, the epitome of competition, as an analogy.
The Tour de France is the most grueling cycling race. One feature of the race is the peloton, the group of competitors that rides together in a huge pack. During the race, smaller groups try to break away from the pack in order to gain an advantage. Sometimes the peloton can track the attackers down, sometimes it can't.
In cycling, just as in business, you do not want to be stuck in the middle of the peloton. You can't try different tactics to attack because you're surrounded. If you sit in the pack the whole time, you will stagnate and never have a chance to win. However, if you try to break out from the middle, you risk causing a huge accident that can knock you and possibly others out of the race.
In my opinion, the problem with Big Lots and Retail Ventures is they are poorly positioned competitively (i.e., in the middle of the peloton). They don't have a niche and can't make up for it by being stronger -- in retailing terms, by turning their inventory. In their most recent quarters, it took them 133 and 109 days, respectively, to sell their inventories. Ninety days would turn it once, so that's a lot of stuff sitting around and stagnating.
Compare them to Wal-Mart
On the other hand, I would compare riders like Tyler Hamilton and Iban Mayo (who lost his chance to win the race after getting caught up in a crash in the peleton) to companies like Tuesday Morning
I can't go without mentioning Lance Armstrong. Like eBay
That said, I implore investors to stay away from companies like Big Lots and Retail Ventures that are poorly positioned within their industries. But I encourage you to look outside the peloton for companies that can generate excess by taking a free trial of Motley Fool Hidden Gems.
Fool contributor David Meier is glued to the Tour right now. His wife is a fan of Big Lots and eBay, and he is afraid for her wallet to tell her about Overstock.com. He doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned.