If you're an IHOP
Earnings per share rose 8% higher to $0.57 for the quarter that ended in December. Back out stock-based compensation, and the bottom line would have surged 15% higher to hit $0.61 a share. Analysts were looking for profitability of only $0.55 per share for the period. Comps rose just 0.4% during the quarter, but that was good enough to bring IHOP's streak of positive comps to an impressive 16 quarters.
The company's prospects for 2007 seem maple-syrupy sweet at first glance. It is looking to add 61 to 66 restaurants to its mostly franchised empire of 1,302 pancake havens. Comps should inch 2% to 4% higher. However, its earnings-per-share outlook of $2.50 to $2.60 falls short of Wall Street's projection of $2.69.
IHOP is supposed to be a sleepy grower, although that doesn't mean there isn't the potential for headier growth. Light lunch and dinner periods are a perpetual challenge, yet they also pose an opportunity. I took the family to an IHOP this past Saturday night and can vouch for having the place practically to ourselves. Other breakfast specialists, such as Denny's
Maybe it's that pancakes are part of the branding. Last year found the company promoting funnel cakes as a way to establish itself as a round-the-clock destination.
A new initiative to drum up sales is the IHOP 'n Go program that's rolling out this month. I don't know how well the concept will transfer as a takeout option. To me, the allure of IHOP is being able to reach over the table and make art on my hotcake-blessed plate with strawberry, butter pecan, and maple syrups in Dali-like fashion.
Besides, it's usually the more entree-driven chains such as Applebee's
Still, if the sales are incremental, it should keep the franchisees happy and growing. It's probably better than rebranding IHOP as International House of Pork, International House of Potatoes, or International House of Pies to win over the P.M. crowd.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz really did go to IHOP this past Saturday. Even though he prefers Original House of Pancakes, the stuffed French toast at IHOP fits the bill on short notice. He does own shares in Cheesecake Factory and is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.