My colleague Alyce Lomax provided us a snapshot view of its latest results. Now, I must admit, when you see numbers like 18% top-line growth and a 5.7% increase in comps, you wonder what all the negative fuss is about. Plenty of retailers that would love to have numbers like this -- Hot Topic
One of my favorite Michael Jordan quotes: "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that's why I succeed." In this latest version of a Folly Volley breakdown, my friends Hank (the cynical cowboy) and Bodhi (the surfer enthusiast) and I (a rational-minded Fool) will dive into the retailer's most recent conference call for greater detail on its current challenges and how it plans to address them, putting Chico's back at a championship level of performance.
A fashion miss
Jeremy: The lower-than-expected results in the second quarter appear to be snowballing as Chico's enters into the second half of the year. CEO Scott Edmonds stated in the call, "August is a disappointment to all of us." It seems that Chico's will experience its first negative comps in more than nine years.
We know one of the fashion misses was due to a lack of "wear now" merchandise on hand. Ironically, after our most recent analysis of Ann Taylor's
Hank, can you provide us more detail on this fashion miss, and how Chico's plans to address it?
Hank: The line was too narrow and seasonal. "Wear now" sounds like just what it means, clothing that can be worn on the go, anytime -- think jeans, for example -- and Chico's simply was lacking in this category. According to the Q-and-A portion of the call, other misses include novelty jackets and sweaters. Edmonds added that the August catalog, which shipped out the last week of July, "was too dark and uninspiring."
Beyond design, price points for Chico's products may also be an issue. One analyst queried whether management has given any consideration to reviewing its pricing strategy within the Chico's brand, and Edmonds confirmed that indeed, this is one area of research that management is currently exploring.
Bodhi: I know the analyst raised an example of jackets that are priced in excess of $150, but I disagree that pricing is the issue. How many months in a row did Chico's achieve positive comps? Hint: It's a ridiculously high figure.
Hank: You got me.
Bodhi: Try 113. CFO Charlie Kleman indicated that Chico's has "put up a positive comp for every one of those 113 months." The evidence suggests that pricing isn't the reason for the poor figures in August. Rather, the design and layout of the merchandise offering is the issue. With the typical heat in the August month, Chico's dropped the ball by transitioning to fall wear too early with apparel that was too heavy, too dark, and out of season.
Leadership is on top of it, thankfully. They brought on a new chief marketing officer, and customers will be able to see fresh changes in the September catalog.
Getting direct to the customer
Jeremy: From the sound of it, the September book is not the only area where we will see changes in Chico's direct business. As it stands, sales from the Web and catalog only make up 3% of the company's total revenue. That is a number management wants to see on the rise.
Over the next six to 12 months, Edmonds asserted that the customer will see new websites, in addition to an improved integration between the catalog, stores, and marketing campaign.
Bodhi: Edmonds did say that the catalog has long been one of the company's best tools to drive customer traffic to the stores. As far as how comps broke down for the quarter, according to Kleman, the number of transactions dropped roughly 2%. So a refreshed direct business approach should help garner more revenues from customers.
Hank: True, but as Edmonds followed up, "We can do everything we can to drive traffic to the store, but we have to focus on conversion." And much of converting that sale is dependent on how the merchandise is displayed. Edmonds admitted that one mistake was with the "pant program," which was pushed to the back of the store to make room for the ill-fated fall lineup. This in effect limited the potential sales Chico's would have received from pants, a category they "were seeing good reaction to."
You can't hold a Jordan down for long
Jeremy: We fickle stock shoppers want everything to be just right, don't we? The right trends, the right price, and the right display -- all vitally important to every apparel retailer. You can bet Chico's has learned some lessons in the recent months, and hopefully it will come out of this experience a better company altogether.
The market has hammered its stock in recent months, and prices have fallen into the teens from a high of near $50. But given this company's history of solid performance, I'd view this sell-off as a serious opportunity to take a closer look at Chico's. Just when you think you have a Jordan-caliber champion down, it's most likely to pull a triple-double on you.
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