Seasoned by the economy's salty tears, it's safe to say that the shopping mindset is guarded at best. The phrase "disposable income" has become an oxymoron. Shopping has become a spectator sport because spending time is easier on the billfold than spending money.
If you were to reason that these dreary, cash-strapped days have helped out the deep discounters while draping the high-end retailers in the cobwebs of apathy, you would only be partly right. There's optimism in pockets of both camps. The tumbleweed blows both ways. Let's take a closer look at eight retailers that are catering to either feast or famine.
Thrifty is nifty
Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday. Hello, Tuesday Morning
As an outlet concept with an eclectic mix of housewares and a loyal base of customers who like to hit the stores early during each of the company's selling cycles, Tuesday Morning would seem like a logical magnet for the financially strapped. It isn't. Its research finds its average bargain hunter is a college-educated, married professional with an annual household income of $63,400.
With the elasticity of the discretionary dollar being pulled to Stretch Armstrong proportions, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to see Tuesday Morning doing well right now. Last month, it reported a 30% surge in first-quarter profits on a 13% uptick in sales.
Tuesday Morning's wares are inexpensive but they're not cheap. That's a tag probably best saved for 99 Cents Only
Selling rock-bottom closeouts and general merchandise, it has carved a cozy living playing to the cheap seats. Adjusted for five different stock splits since its market debut in 1996, the stock has been nearly a ten-bagger in its short public life.
One is left to wonder which is the bigger marvel: the fact that 99 Cents Only is able to stock its aisles with enough low-cost trinkets to generate gross margins of better than 40%, or the smiling shoppers walking out of the stores after exchanging pocket change for that merchandise. The chain is looking to grow earnings by 20% annually, and as it pushes deeper into Texas from its California stronghold, there's still a lot of real estate left to conquer.
Contrary to its name, Dollar General
Revenue grew by 129% last year as its popularity and its widening product categories continue to win over online deal hunters. The moral of the story? If you build a marked-down mousetrap, the public will beat a path to your cyberspace door.
The lapped of luxury
Arguing the case for the deep discounters is a piece of "let them eat" cake compared to the uphill climb to justify the higher-end specialty stores. But if you think that the ritzy retailers are panhandling it, you're not looking everywhere.
Not every diamond is in the rough. Tiffany
On Thursday, Williams-Sonoma
Between its namesake stores and the terminally hip Pottery Barn sites, Williams-Sonoma may be the beneficiary of the pillow-soft economy after all. May has been Buy, Sell or Home? month at the Fool for good reason. Borrowing costs haven't been this low since Ward was being hard on the Beaver, and that has prompted homeowners to refinance at lower rates. A lot of people are taking advantage of buoyant appraisals to take some equity out of their homes and using it to remodel their homesteads. Refinance check and a trip to Williams-Sonoma? Why not?
And why not Restoration Hardware
It has also made significant strides in direct marketing, with its catalog and Internet sales climbing by 72% this past quarter. While Restoration Hardware needs to take to restoring its operations to financially acceptable levels, like a good antique this might be one that appreciates nicely for the patient investor.
Full-priced department stores haven't caught too many breaks lately. Chains like Saks
But investing is more forward-thinking windshield gazing than rear-view-mirror regret. Sure, Saks suffered a 3.4% slide in comps this past quarter and gross margins got roughed up. However, it still managed to post a profit, ramp up its share repurchase plans, and in a department-store sector where many of its peers are losing touch with the younger market, Saks recently acquired the up-and-coming chic Club Libby Lu concept.
Put it all together
The economy will bounce back. It always has. Maybe it's doing just that right now. The central investing theme here is deciding where shoppers will go once the gray clouds clear. Will the Nordstrom
Yet even now you're seeing that not every discounter is thriving and not every premium concept is struggling. In the fickle world of retail, it's not enough to build a moat. You need swimming lessons if you want to succeed. There are plenty of chains, catering to both the free spenders and the penny pinchers, that have been able to adapt to the fluctuating business climate. So don't judge a retailer's book by its cover charge. Like anything else these days, it pays to shop around.
Rick Munarriz may have to hit all of the retailers singled out here to find the perfect birthday gift for his wife this week. However, he does not own shares in any of the listed companies. Rick's stock holdings can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy.