Boy, it's been cold across the nation. It is hard to imagine that many people are opening their wallets when they refuse to even open their front doors. While it's true that many retailers will suffer as consumers refuse to hit the snow-covered roads, some clothing retailers tend to embrace the frigid temperatures with open arms -- and profits.
A fresh coat
With its former name being The Burlington Coat Factory, Burlington Stores (BURL -2.01%) should be one of the more obvious names on the list. Burlington Stores provides investors with a three-front strategy to improve shareholder value this winter.
First, the company is a discount retailer that sells name-brand merchandise at 60% to 70% below the prices of traditional department stores. The weak economy tends to fill its pipeline of products that the other guys didn't sell. This also brings an increasing number of budget-conscious consumers in the door.
Second, Burlington Stores is in expansion mode due to its ongoing success. It currently carries around just 4,000 brands and believes it could potentially double or triple that number. Also, the company is targeting the opening of new stores to about double the current store count. The company estimates each new store will bring in $1 million in earnings before taxes, depreciation, interest, and amortization.
Finally, and most important to this article, during Burlington Stores' most recent conference call, CEO Tom Kingsbury explained that the colder the weather, the more the company sees a spike in its coat sales (as opposed to in advance, as you might expect). Kingsbury added, "The month of October in the cold weather categories we had a nice lift. Obviously there is a direct correlation between cold weather and the cold weather businesses and it reflected that in October."
The chill may actually help thaw this one's struggles
While I'm certainly not a bull on J.C. Penney (JCPN.Q), I do believe the struggling retailer still has a chance of making a comeback. The cold could only increase those odds. In its latest conference call in November, J.C. Penney CEO Mike Ullman mentioned, "Women's apparel, men's apparel, and fine jewelry were some of the top performers in the quarter, especially in seasonal categories as the weather turned colder." J.C. Penney did follow on to report a 10.1% spike in sales for November, so perhaps the freezing temperatures will work in its favor.
J.C. Penney competitor Macy's did point out as well that cold weather does tend to lead to spikes in overall guest traffic and sales as people pour in to grab coats, sweaters, and inevitably other items on the side. Look for possible leaps in sales for J.C. Penney and Macy's based on this, but with J.C. Penney one still needs to careful. The company is struggling with overall declining sales and continued net losses. The key here with J.C. Penney is to watch for signs of a comeback coupled with the cold weather.
Here's a reason to watch J.C. Penney, perhaps while snuggled under a warm blanket: The New York Post recently ran an article accusing J.C. Penney of hiking up prices only to slash them closer to Valentine's Day so as to trick customers into thinking the company is offering big discounts. My take on the potential positive side is threefold. First, it's the oldest retail trick in the book. It seems like everything is always on sale in many clothing stores such as Macy's. Second, the "trick" may actually work. If so, that plus the cold weather could get J.C. Penney growing again. Third, perhaps the price hikes are a sign that business has picked up and it can afford higher prices and making some risky moves. Who knows?
One beautiful thing about the stock market is that it is free to watch from the sidelines and see how it plays out before deciding to jump on board the train.
If the shoe fits you warmly, then wear it
Shoe Carnival (SCVL -1.74%) saw third-quarter results that weren't bad, with same-store sales up 0.7%, but the following November was far better. Same-store sales shot up an astonishing 7.8% that month. Shoe Carnival CEO Cliff Sifford explained that a large part of this was due specifically to a spike in boot sales in response to the cold weather that month. Even further, excessive snow and icy temperatures like we're experiencing now are going to mean numb toes as well. Look for an even bigger jump in overall sales at Shoe Carnival.
Shoe Carnival owes part of its success to its "loyalty base" program. The company is noticing that when it gets new customers to sign up, the return rate increases dramatically. The company is very excited about the program and believes it will lead to further growth throughout 2014. This means the cold weather may be temporary, but the temporary bump in "foot traffic" (pardon the pun) gives the company an opportunity to get more people onto its loyalty program and turn a temporary situation into a longer-term growth opportunity. For its next quarterly report, Shoe Carnival was already guiding for sales to be up 4% to 6.9%, and for EPS growth of 12.5% to 37.5%, before it knew of the unusually cold weather we've had the last two months.
Foolish final thoughts
While there's no doubt bad weather can have a negative overall effect on the economy, there are clearly some companies that will actually benefit -- and it doesn't have to only be ski and sled-equipment makers. Burlington Stores, J.C. Penney, and Shoe Carnival should all see positive tailwinds from the weather, assuming it's not so bad that people literally can't even leave the house.
Fools should take a closer look at these three names. While you should do more research before buying or selling any of them, it would appear at least initially that the fear of frostbite shouldn't translate into a fear of these retailers. They sell the prevention. The cold may prove to be the cure for what could have been otherwise sluggish sales.