Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (NASDAQ:BBBY) Q4 2017 Earnings Conference Call April 11, 2018 5:00 PM ET
Janet Barth - Vice President, Investor Relations
Steven Temares - Chief Executive Officer
Gene Castagna - Chief Operating Officer
Sue Lattmann - Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer
Kate McShane - Citi
Curtis Nagle - Bank of America
Matt McClintock - Barclays
Michael Lasser - UBS
Dan Binder - Jefferies
Simeon Gutman - Morgan Stanley
Steven Forbes - Guggenheim
Seth Sigman - Credit Suisse
Matt Fassler - Goldman Sachs
Doug Drummond - Wolfe Research
Welcome to Bed Bath & Beyond’s Fourth Quarter Fiscal 2017 Earnings Call. All participants will be in a listen-only mode until the Q&A portion of the call. Today’s conference call is being recorded. A rebroadcast of the conference call will be available beginning on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 8 o'clock PM Eastern Time through 8 o'clock PM Eastern Time on Friday, April 13, 2018. To access the rebroadcast, you may dial 888-843-7419, with the passcode ID of 46495820.
At this time, I would like to turn the conference over to Janet Barth, Vice President, Investor Relations. Please go ahead.
Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Joining me on our call today are Steven Temares, Bed Bath & Beyond’s Chief Executive Officer and Member of the Board of Directors; Gene Castagna, Chief Operating Officer; and Sue Lattmann, our Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer.
Before we begin, I would like to remind you that this conference call may contain forward-looking statements including statements about or references to our internal models and our long-term objectives. All such statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from what we say during the call today. Please refer to our most recent periodic SEC filings for more detail on these risks and uncertainties. The company undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements. Our earnings press release dated April 11, 2018 can be found in the Investor Relations section of our website at www.bedbathandbeyond.com.
Here are some highlights. Fiscal 2017 net earnings per diluted share were $3.04. Excluding the net unfavorable impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 or the Tax Act, we would have earned $3.12. Our fourth quarter net earnings per diluted share were $1.41. Excluding the net unfavorable impact of the Tax Act, we would have earned $1.48.
Net sales increased approximately 5.2% in the fourth quarter and comparable sales declined approximately 0.6% including strong sales growth from our customer-facing digital channels and a mid-single-digit percentage decline in sales from our stores.
Our Board of Directors today declared an increase in the quarterly dividend from $0.15 to $0.16 per share payable on July 17, 2018 to shareholders of record at the close of business on June 15, 2018.
I will now turn the call over to Steven who will talk about the company’s ongoing transformation and then Sue will discuss our financial results in more detail, as well as provide some of our planning assumptions for fiscal 2018.
Thank you, Janet. As we have discussed in prior calls, we have been strategically focused on reinforcing our position in the marketplace as the expert for the home and heartfelt life events. We have made and continue to make significant investments in support of this mission while these investments have weighed heavily on our expense structure and profitability during this time, we are excited by our progress and we are focused on creating the foundation necessary to grow our leadership position in retail for the home and our customers’ life stage experiences.
I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss in more detail our vision for 2020. This is our roadmap for continuing to evolve the foundational structure of our company to support our mission with the following goals; growing our comp sales, which we expect to begin this year, moderating the declines in our operating profit and net earnings per diluted share this year and next, and growing our earnings per share by 2020.
It is important to note that we ended 2017 in a very strong cash position which we anticipate maintaining to provide us the flexibility to fund ongoing initiatives and act upon other opportunities that may arise. During the past few years, we have been transforming our company while continuing to conduct business day in and day out.
We have challenged past practices, policies and organizational structure while taking advantage of internal and external expertise , better processes and ever developing technology all with the intent of better positioning ourselves to execute the strategic initiatives on our roadmap. The next few years of our roadmap are clear as is our destination and can be broadly expressed in four major areas of focus.
We will have a merchandise assortment that is substantively and meaningfully differentiated that could be made available in all channels and from all concepts that could be fulfilled from a common distribution network and we will be known for whole home represented in part by deep presence in decorative furnishings.
We will be in a position to intelligently and dynamically price our assortment across all channels directed by pricing specialists and driven by systems powered by machine learning. Our value proposition will be further supported by a membership program that is robust, uniquely positioned in the marketplace in terms of offerings and treasured by its members.
We will present best-in-class services and solutions reflecting our leadership and our life stage businesses and strengthening our customer relationships through expanded and faster delivery options, as well as a premier offering of in-home services and we will deliver a superior customer experience across all channels.
Our frictionless digital experience that is more personalized, more inspirational, more educational and enjoyable to use, as well as a store experience that is more engaging that shows more with less inventory and presents products that customer wants and needs today in a store environment, including a world-class seasonal offerings, commodity and deep value products, and a treasure hunt experience, all supported by marketing that is both personalized and communicates our branding message.
Now let me give you some more specifics and our progress on a few of the critical projects on our roadmap for our vision to 2020. In merchandising, we, together with the assistance from expert consultants have identified and begun implementing organizational changes to improve and better align our people, processes and technology to the work being done within our buying organization.
We are restructuring our merchant organization to free up our buyers to focus more of their time on driving a meaningfully differentiated offering and creating a best-in-class digital merchandising strategy.
As a model for our organizational structure, we have recently piloted our new decorative furnishings merchant team which will embed our pricing, analytics, supply chain, and web experience experts to work alongside our buyers and planners to drive a more cohesive strategy for decorative furnishings across all of our channels and a number of our concepts.
Also we are in the early stages of expanding our capabilities to sustain a higher penetration of our own sourced and developed, proprietary product in our assortment. We recently established a new product sourcing office in Shanghai that should soon be in operation, which together with our sourcing office in Hong Kong provides us with the needed overseas infrastructure to pursue direct importing and sourcing at a greater level.
Over time, our ability to do more direct importing and sourcing should create a significant opportunity for gross margin improvement. We are also undergoing a comprehensive evaluation of our supply chain enabling our ability to leverage all of our company-wide assets for fulfillment to stores and to customers including to support our growing decorative furnishings business and its unique needs as well as to improve our reverse logistics.
In value, we have invested in our pricing teams and new tools that will enable us to execute multiple pricing strategies to address opportunities in base, competitive, and markdown pricing and do it at a much more focused and local level than we were able to do previously. We will be embedding pricing specialists within buying teams to accelerate the use of these new tools to further our value proposition and to drive more optimized pricing strategies.
We have been dynamically pricing our online only assortments and more recently we have begun piloting dynamic pricing strategies in a limited number of stores and product categories. As we gain more experience, we plan to roll it forward expecting an impact on both volume and gross margin dollars.
To further increase our value proposition and customer loyalty, in addition to our Cost Plus World Market explorer program, we have been expanding enrollment in our Beyond Plus membership program. With Beyond Plus, in addition to 20% of your entire purchase and free standard shipping we are also providing additional offers throughout the year which includes features like, early notification of savings events, discounts on designer services and other cost concept offers.
We plan to continue evolving the benefits of the Beyond Plus program as we learn more about what member customers value. We see favorable results across a variety of metrics including frequency, sales and overall profitability and as we continue to test and learn, we should gain better insight into the lifetime value of our member customers.
In services and solutions, we are passionate about leadership and life stage businesses and we remain focused on driving unparalleled customer service and offering innovative solutions.
In registry we are developing more personalized tools to help our customers celebrate life events such as getting married, having a baby, going to college or moving to a new home. Recent introductions include interactive checklist, associate recommendations, favorites badging and a thank you manager tool, as well as new tools within our highly rated mobile apps such as visual search functionality.
We are also planning a major redesign of our digital registry experience to provide a much more personalized registry journey. In addition to our market-leading registry business, we are a building out a series of home-related services including interior design, installation and assembly and more convenient fulfillment options.
These advancements in our merchandizing, value and services and solutions will be manifested in our customers’ digital and store experiences and express through more comprehensive, personalized marketing communications on the one hand and a more effective branding message on the other.
In our pursuit of delivering a world-class digital experience we are undergoing a major transformation of our digital architecture and a project we call Front-End Optimization or FEO. In short, we are replatforming a large portion of our digital commerce solution into a service-based architecture with a responsive design.
FEO should significantly increase the speed in which we can develop and release many types of new features and cut down on the time and cost for developing them. We are targeting completion of FEO by this fall.
As part of this transformation, we are migrating our e-commerce systems and applications to the cloud. We are also establishing a dedicated offshore technology office in India, just outside of New Delhi to enhance the delivery of cost-effective supports to this new architecture, as well as other strategic projects and capabilities.
The digital experience we are creating will be more engaging, more inspiring and give us the capability to deliver more personalized content intended to convey our expertise of the home and heartfelt life events. Fulfillment is also a critical component of the digital experience. Our goal is to be able to consistently execute on the delivery promise of click to home within two days.
We have plans to open an additional fulfillment facility which when fully operational, should improve our direct-to-customer delivery speeds. We also plan to continue to leverage our existing fulfillment facilities and our store network to expand our same day delivery service from ten markets today up to another ten to fourteen markets during 2018.
In driving a better in-store experience, our vision is to deliver the best of the best of what we can offer in our stores and leverage our unique skills and assets to enhance the customer experience. Under the leadership of our store and merchant organizations, we have been transforming our store operating model and delivering operational efficiencies to allow us to more effectively utilize our resources and free up our people to be more available to take care of our customers, especially as we advance into growing new areas such as decorative furnishings.
Over the next six to twelve months, we are implementing a number of new systems including our new POS system and other technology tools to support associate selling and training programs and further optimize store labor hours. In addition, we launched a series of inventory initiatives during fiscal 2017 including what we call show more, carry less, SKUs base reduction and SKU rationalization, as well as assisted store ordering.
As many of you know, in our Bed Bath and Beyond stores, our store managers reorder up to 70% of the merchandize available in store. We continue to believe that empowering our local store managers with ordering decisions uniquely enables us to manage our assortment and satisfy local demand.
Our assisted store ordering initiative optimize our store inventory levels by utilizing advanced analytics and algorithms to more actively project our inventory needs to support the evolving in-store experience.
These and other inventory optimization strategies favorably impacted our retail inventories in fiscal 2017 by approximately $170 million at cost. We continue to focus on inventory optimization strategies and project that these initiatives should yield further inventory reductions with slightly more than a $150 million at cost this year.
By early this summer, we will begin to introduce our expanded decorative furnishings assortments in about 10% of our Bed Bath and Beyond stores in the U.S. and Canada. The goal of this pilot includes raising awareness of our growing furniture business. Our associates will be supported with technology tools and training that should enable them to help customers find more beyond the store, as well as place orders to the Beyond Store for home delivery.
In parallel with incorporating our decorative furnishings pilot, we are also moving forward with and excited by our new store format initiatives for Bed Bath and Beyond. This initiative leverages some of the best merchandize categories across our concepts including Cost Plus World Market and best face values while featuring expanded seasonal assortments, commodity products, a treasure hunt experience and more deep value opportunities throughout the store.
This will produce a noticeably different shopping experience that is expected to drive increased store traffic and sales in these new product offerings and our core categories. We have recently opened our first reformatted store and have plans to open three additional stores over the next two months with another eight stores to be reformatted by the end of our second quarter. This includes a combination of relocated and renovated stores.
We are excited by this initiative and plan to learn from each of these early openings so as to quickly iterate for future openings, as well as potentially rolling back into existing stores. As we recreate the foundational structure of our company over the next several years, our stores remain a critical part of the equation to achieving our growth objectives and we remain focused on optimizing our real estate portfolio including the potential closing of stores and/or the sale of real estate assets.
We have just under 400 stores across our retail fleets that come up for renewal at the natural lease expiration over the next two years, of which we expect to permanently close approximately 40 stores this year, unless, we are able to negotiate more favorable lease terms with our landlords.
These closures are primarily under the Bed Bath and Beyond banner, meanwhile we have plans to open approximately 20 new stores during fiscal 2018, primarily Buybuy BABY and Cost Plus World Markets.
And finally, as I just described, we continue making investments to evolve and improve existing store formats by strengthening our offerings, enhancing our omni-channel services, integrating technology tools and creating a more experienced shelf shopping environment in our stores.
And finally, it’s critical to communicating who we are and how we can serve our customers both in-store and online is our marketing. Our vision is to deliver personalized marketing communications meaning driving highly relevant cross-channel communications and experiences to our customers that are informed in real-time by an ever increasing level of information about them.
In addition, we are making significant investments to further develop our integrated technology tools including a personalization decision engine, identity management infrastructure, and a customer data platform among others to leverage our best-in-class customer data, as well as demographics and other relevant third-party data to develop and scale tailored and personalized marketing communications.
We are also continuing to optimize our traditional marketing program including direct mail, email and text messaging through enhanced contact strategies, at the same time we will be building a brand awareness strategy for the company that can base Bed Bath and Beyond as the experts and your choice for all things home.
We believe that future benefits of a more comprehensive personalized marketing strategy together with branding that communicates our expertise for the whole home should significantly contribute to growing the lifetime value of our customers.
In summary, in every area of the company, we are reimagining the way we do business. 2017 was the year we accelerated the pace of change across our company and our vision is clear for the work to be done throughout 2018 and 2019 with the following goals; growing our comp sales, which we expect to begin this year; moderating the declines in our operating profit and net earnings per diluted share this year and next; and growing our earnings per share by 2020.
I’d like to close by taking this opportunity to welcome our newest Board Member, JB Osborne, the Co-Founder and CEO of the brand marketing firm, Red Antler. We look forward to JB’s contributions to our company. And most importantly, taking the opportunity to thank a more than 65,000 associates for their hard work and commitment to Bed Bath and Beyond as we progress on creating the foundational changes necessary to grow our leadership position in retail for the home and our customers’ life stage experiences.
I’ll now turn the call over to Sue, who will discuss our financial results and review some of our planning assumptions for fiscal 2018.
Thank you, Steve and good afternoon everyone. As a reminder, fiscal 2017 was a 53 week year and as such, the fourth quarter consisted of 14 weeks, versus 13 weeks in fiscal 2016.
Net sales in the fourth quarter were approximately $3.7 billion, an increase of approximately 5.2% over last year primarily due to increases from the 53rd week and non-comp sales including new stores and linen holdings, partially offset by a decrease in comp sales. Our fourth quarter comp sales declined 0.6% and are based on the 14 weeks of the current year period.
Comp sales in the quarter reflected a decrease in the number of transactions in stores, partially offset by an increase in the average transaction amounts. On a directional basis, comp sales from our customer-facing digital channel continues to be strong in the quarter while comp sales from our stores declined in the mid single-digit percentage range.
Gross margin for the quarter was approximately 35.9% of net sales, as compared to approximately 38% in the fourth quarter of last year. In order of magnitude, this decrease as a percentage of net sales was primarily due to an increase in coupon expense resulting from increases in redemptions and the average coupon amounts, a decrease in merchandize margins and an increase in net direct-to-customer shipping expense.
SG&A for the quarter was approximately 26.8% of net sales, as compared to approximately 25.8% in the prior year period. In order of magnitude, this increase in SG&A as a percentage of net sales was primarily due to increases in payroll and payroll-related expenses, occupancy expenses, technology-related expenses including related depreciation and advertising expenses.
Our effective tax rate in the fourth quarter was approximately 39.5%, which included a net increase of approximately 3.3% resulting from the tax act. Additionally, our fourth quarter effective rate included approximately 1.3% of favorable, net after-tax benefits due to distinct events occurring during the quarter. In the prior year period, our effective rate was approximately 35%, which included 2.2% of favorable net after-tax benefit due to distinct events occurring in that quarter.
Net earnings per diluted share were $1.41 for the fourth quarter. Based upon our calculations, which include many assumptions, we estimate the benefit from the extra week was about $0.05 per diluted share. Excluding the net unfavorable impact of the Tax Act, we would have earned $1.48 per share.
For fiscal 2017, our net earnings per diluted share was $3.04. Excluding the net unfavorable impact of the Tax Act, we would have earned $3.12 per share, which is a bit higher than our model indicated going into the quarter.
Now looking to our balance sheet. We ended the year with approximately $744 million in tax and investment securities, an increase of $166 million over the prior year which is primarily the result of reductions in share repurchases and merchandize inventories, partially offset by the prepayment of certain operating expenses related to the Tax Act.
Retail inventories of $2.7 billion at cost continued to be tailored to meet the anticipated demands of our customers and are in good condition. This represents a reduction of about 6% compared to the end of fiscal 2016. As Steven mentioned earlier, we have been and remain focused on inventory optimization strategies.
Capital expenditures for the year were approximately $376 million, in line with our modeling assumptions. For the year, approximately 50% of the CapEx spend related to technology projects including investments in our digital capabilities and the development and deployment of new systems and equipment in our stores.
The remaining CapEx was primarily related to investments in our stores, a new distribution facility and a new customer contact center. We opened a total of 22 stores during fiscal 2017 including two during the fourth quarter and we closed a total of 16 stores during the year including eight this past quarter.
Share repurchases under our current $2.5 billion share repurchase program were approximately $45 million in the quarter representing about 2 million shares and has a remaining balance of approximately 1.5 billion at the end of the fiscal year.
In addition, our Board of Directors today declared a $0.01 increase in the quarterly dividend to $0.16 per share from $0.15 per share to be paid on July 17, 2018 to shareholders of record as of June 15, 2018.
Now I would like to discuss our outlook for 2018 starting with some of our macro assumptions. First, fiscal 2018 is a 52 week year and since fiscal 2017 was a 53 week year, we are not going to benefit from the estimated $0.05 we earned attributable to that week. Also, this fiscal calendar change will have a more pronounced shift of sales and expenses from the fourth quarter to the third quarter.
Second, we are adopting a new revenue recognition accounting standard in the first quarter of 2018, while we do not expect the adoption of this standard to have a material impact on our full year results, we do anticipate an earnings shift within the year from the third quarter to the fourth quarter.
Moving on to our major planning assumptions for 2018, which include, comparable sales growth in the low single-digit percentage range including continued strong growth in our customer-facing digital channel. Consolidated net sales to be relatively flat to slightly positive, compared to 2017, which had 53 weeks.
Gross margin deleverage primarily due to our continued investment in our customer value proposition and the ongoing shift to our digital channels. SG&A deleverage primarily due to the investments we are making to transform the company. Operating margin deleverage to be less than we experienced in 2017.
Depreciation expense in the range of approximately $315 million to $325 million. Net interest expense of approximately $75 million for the year and estimated full year tax rate in the 26% to 27% range. Capital expenditures in the range of approximately $375 million to $425 million subject to the timing and composition of projects.
The opening of approximately 20 new stores with the majority being Buybuy BABY and Cost Plus World Market stores. The closing of approximately 40 stores unless we are able to negotiate more favorable lease terms with our landlords and as Steven mentioned, these closures are primarily Bed Bath and Beyond stores.
Continued growth of our cash and investments, even after funding our operations and capital expenditures as well as our quarterly dividends and share repurchases. As a reminder, our share repurchase programs may be influenced by several factors including business and market conditions. Based on these and other planning assumptions, we are modeling net earnings per diluted share to be in the low to mid $2 range.
As I mentioned earlier, when comparing to the prior year, our estimated 2018 quarterly EPS as a percent to the total year is anticipated to be lighter in the third quarter and stronger in the fourth quarter due to the adoption of the new accounting standard. This is despite a shift of one holiday week from the fourth quarter into the third quarter and the loss of the 53rd week.
As Steven said earlier, the next two years of our roadmap are clear, as well as our goals, growing our comp sales, which we expect to begin this year, moderating the declines in our operating profit and net earnings per diluted share this year and next, and growing our EPS by 2020. We are making heavy investments in people, processes and technology as we continue the transformational work necessary to accomplish our goals. We look forward to giving you updates as the year progresses.
Before opening the call for questions, please note that our next quarterly conference call will take place on Wednesday, June 27. At that time, we will review our first quarter results and provide an update on fiscal 2018. We could now open the call for questions.
[Operator Instructions] And from Citi Research, we have Kate McShane. Please go ahead.
Hi, thank you for taking my question. The first question is just on the comp guidance for the year. I am just curious what’s giving you the confidence that we will see return to positive comp growth? How that cadence will look throughout the year and what are the main drivers in the inflection?
Hi, Kate, it’s Sue. So, we’ve been hovering around a relatively flat comp for the past couple quarters, also in terms of the economy, we feel as though it’s positive and then also the initiatives that we just discussed, give us the confidence in that comp model we provided for the year.
Okay. A lot of the initiatives seem like it might take some time. Are you – what initiatives specifically are going to be more nearer term, are you having a more nearer term effect versus some of the other initiatives?
Hey, Kate, it’s Steve. I think that there is a lot of things that you are right, that a lot of them are smaller to begin with and they’ll be growing, but when you have the composite of things like the personalization in our marketing, that’s getting underway. The furnishing and décor business that we’re growing, the positive signs that we are seeing of the new Bed Bath format, AndThat! store, the things that we are – the benefits we’ll be deriving in the Baby business, some of the changes we are making in our registry college mover, parts of the business are going to be beneficial to our top-line.
So there is a lot of little things that are underway and we’ll see benefits from them, much larger benefits as we go forward. But because they are so many of them that are taking place, even the smaller benefits combined gives us confidence that we will have positive comps.
Thank you. From Bank of America Merrill Lynch, we have Curtis Nagle. Please go ahead.
Great, thanks very much for taking the question. So, just a quick one on SG&A. Could you guys kind of just be a little more specific on how you guys are investing SG&A dollars this year? What proportion do you think will go to digital, wages, store, and merchandise initiatives?
Sure. We do have initiatives that will be impacting our SG&A. We are investing in talented people. We continue to invest in the web. We’ve had some of the discussions already today whether it’s SEO or other areas like that, and we also have continued investments in our people as well as continued wage pressures that we’ve been discussing in the past as well.
And then just as a quick follow-up, would you – I guess, in terms of rate expect -- continue to expect more pressure from SG&A or from gross margin?
Well, we did model out that. We felt as though the operating margin would be – would deleverage less than last year, so that’s one impact of information to provide.
Okay. And maybe just one other quick question if I can. As you mentioned inventory, I think it was down about 6%. How much of that was due to – I guess, early efforts on inventory optimization?
A portion of it certainly was. We – our initiatives including SKU reductions as well as space reductions, SKU space reduction initiatives as well.
Yes, and then I guess Sue said, and as we just said, – there’s a number of things including assisted store ordering that’s impacting inventory levels, as Sue said, SKU rationalization, SKU space optimization initiatives, and we are looking at the e-commerce inventory, and doing a better job of planning there as well, and overall I think that we’ve – I think the number is $170 million this past year, and we are projecting $150 million of cost going forward.
Right, that’s right.
And again, as we continue to do things like show more, but to carry less back stock and fewer accessories to support it, because there could continue to be additional opportunities to optimize our inventory.
Thank you. From Barclays, we have Matt McClintock. Please go ahead.
Hi, yes, good afternoon everyone and thank you for taking my question. Steven, you said something in your prepared remarks that just kind of caught me, not by surprise, but just took my attention and that was talking about having a meaningfully differentiated assortment.
In those three words, as I think about them, it’s something that I think the whole retail industry struggles with today because in an e-commerce world, it seems like a difficult thing to accomplish when there is access to inventory at all times, 24 hours a day around the world. Can you talk a little bit more about how to create that meaningfully differentiated assortment in today’s omni-channel world? Thank you.
Sure, I think Matt, listen, we were very successful when it comes to concepts like AndThat! And Cost Plus World Markets, that a significant portion of those inventories are differentiated and we would say meaningfully differentiated in the customers’ mind. As you get to One Kings Lane, what we are doing with Ralph Lauren having unique product is another avenue for us. But as we look at product development, as we look at being able to direct source, these are opportunities for us. A lot of the vendors we have today or numbers of vendors that we work with to take what they are doing and to either tweak it or to have lead time when they bring things to market. When we talk about what we are doing with personalizationMall, the opportunity to personalize the assortment, it is a a type of differentiation as well.
So there is many different ways to attack it, but there are many different ways, and we see it as a significant opportunity and it’s been growing for us. It’s critically important if we are going to be viewed as the expert and trusted [indiscernible] for the home, so people think of us first for things that they can’t find elsewhere. So, it’s – and we’ve always said it that we take great pride in our merchandizing capabilities and the history of merchants that we are and this is a significant focus for us.
And then if I could ask one more follow-up. Just, on the new store format, you’ve opened one, you have a couple more planned. I know it’s really early, but can you just talk through what you’ve learned, what you’ve seen and what makes you so excited about that initiative?
Sure, well, the big picture would be that we know today through broadband in the store and the technology tools that we could provide our associates that we could sell more and carry less inventory, so we could effectively shrink the core assortment of Bed Bath and Beyond in a box and be able to bring more into the store and not impact the sales of the core categories.
And then what we can bring into the store is things that the customers are looking for today to – are successful within our own concepts AndThat! has things like decorative furnishing, treasure hunt, things that come in for and that might not be there tomorrow. Things that we could do in our seasonal department commodity products like food and beverage, health and beauty care show deep value.
So these things that we could do that we have under our umbrellas that we are able to bring into the new format to drive additional foot traffic and then also show them our core assortment in less space to be able to have our associates be able to help those customers more one-on-one with the tools they have to be able to satisfy them to a greater degree and sell more of the core products as well is an exciting thing for us.
Like you said, it’s very early and seems of executing it at the store level. We have one that open, one that’s opening another dozen that’ll be opening I guess, between now and in the summer time at some point and then each one is going to be iterating significantly. The first ones that are opened really don’t have the assortments that we are looking for because the lead time it takes to bring some of that product into the format.
We don’t have the adjacencies the way we would want them. We don’t have the lighting or the flooring, the way we would like them, but the initial reaction has been a wow. Initial reaction is that everything that we have thought we’d be able to accomplish, we see directionally that those were all reasonable assumptions and so we are very excited about moving and how quickly we move really is dependent upon the level of success that we see as we iterate.
[Operator Instructions] From UBS we have Michael Lasser. Please go ahead.
Good evening. Thanks a lot for taking my question. So, your online strategy, it seems like a lot of the elements of the strategy are similar to what you’ve been doing thus far. So, what do you think is going to be different to drive that elusive combination of positive comps and stabilizing profitability that you expect over the next couple years? And then I have one follow-up question.
Sure. I am not sure if I am going to – I wouldn’t want you to waste to follow-up as I misunderstood your original question, but the way I take your original question was that, as you move more to the digital world, you are assuming that is less profitable, so while you are comfortable with, that you’ll do better.
Yes. I think it’s a very fair piece of it. It’s not only that, but also what are you doing different in store that you haven’t done up until this point to drive a different outcome. But certainly if you comment on how you stabilize your profitability in light of the fact that your e-com business which is less profitable is becoming a bigger piece of the total?
So, okay, so, let’s start there, is that we have spent the last few years driving the digital experience in terms of getting customers to understand us as a digital choice for them and that that – and in the world we compete, that’s necessary to introduce customers to us as a digital choice. We’ve been doing that to some degree at the expense of profitability.
Today, we’ve been growing that business, yes, well in excess of 20% for the last 15 quarters as they are about. Today when we look at the ability to pull on the number of levers that we’ve created to improve profitability, there are many. So when we look at where merchandize is located to delivery to customer, what our supply chain looks like, the product that we carry online or how we show it to a customer, what we recommend to a customer, how coupons are used or whether we allow them to be used on.
What do we do – which shipping, what do we do with personalization to drive certain behavior patterns. All those things are levers that we can now pull and to some degree at the expense of the top-line, but at this point, we are able to do that because we have the customer there, we have the deep knowledge about that customer.
We have the analytic tools in place now to be able to understand and personalize that customer’s experience. So, all that allows us to again to turn those dials. As far as the store question, Michael, can you come again with that?
Yes, Steve, you’ve been doing a lot of things over the last few years to try and generate some stability in the stores. It seems like – focusing on the registry, focusing on services is not that similar from what you’ve been trying. So, if you could answer what’s different now? That will be very helpful.
Sure. So, again, so one thing is obviously the B3 initiative, that’s significantly and substantively was different. From a customer perspective, if you are going to come into the store, you are going to see treasure hunt merchandize, deep value seeded throughout the store, commodity products, you are going to see a seasonal department that’s – thought better than we do today.
So that’s significant but obviously we are not rolling that out within the next quarter to the extent that is having a big impact on the numbers. But the things like we are having, I think the so much 10% the channel will be showing furniture for the first time, real furniture, not utilitarian furniture, but furniture that when we look at the ability to show more and take things out of the bedding department, that show more within our tabletop departments and carry less back stock.
These are opportunities that’s all intended to drive more foot traffic and to enhance the ability to sell more to our customer who comes into the store. So, again, we are fighting against I think the battle of that people are shopping more digitally and we are taking advantage of that, but as it’s the result of bricks and mortar, we want to optimize those shopping tips for our customer.
Yes, in addition, we are working to make our stores more efficient. So that, we can free up our associates to spend more time on customer service. We are rolling out the point-of-sale system to all the Bed Bath and Beyond Stores this year. We are also rolling out a learning management system – capital management system and a workforce management system to make the stores easier to run that’s on place, make it easier to get the training that they need and free them up to spend more time with the customers.
Right, which again goes to both – those are also sales opportunities as we train our associates and free them up to some more time with the customers as well as operational efficiency opportunities.
Thanks. That’s helpful. And then, my follow-up question is, your biggest competitor in the Baby piece of business. What have you assumed the contribution for the share gains will be in your 2018 guidance? Thank you.
It’s built into the numbers, but, again, generally when you say and we think that is going to be beneficial for us and obviously as this continues to be contraction in retail for the survivors that’s good. We’ve been through this before many times at the Bed Bath business and what we’ve learned generally when it comes to these bankruptcies is that initially as people are liquidating inventory across the street down the blocks and they are 70% off that has an impact on your business and over time that becomes more favorable.
What’s unique about the Baby business which is nice is that to some degree people aren’t going to be registering – that they know would be to fund. So that’s an immediate pick up in registry business, but the registry business people shopping looks the registry might not be as immediate, there might be days, weeks or even months down the road.
Thank you. From Jefferies, we have Dan Binder. Please go ahead.
Yes, hi, thanks. Just to add-on to Michael’s question there about the benefit from the Baby business. I mean, it would seem like given the store overlap, you could probably pick up the minimum 10% if not 15% of that business which will give you roughly 1.5% to 2.5% comp lift total company. So, I guess, my question is that, is your entire comp assumption based on the Buybuy BABY business comping and the other piece is not?
No, I think, Dan, like I said is that, there is timing involved with that. There is – first of all, that they are remaining in business in Canada. We’ll see what they do in Canada. The business here in the States is, if you go through their stores now, they are first liquidating these stores and there is different sequence on that.
But if somebody buys just about anything in that Baby category that’s hard goods, AndThat! coming back and buying something else. So it’s a period of time there is an impact when people go file the bankruptcy and they work with a merchandize and again especially that’s not commodity products. So, again, you have to take a look at the timing of it. Over time, like we said, we believe that it will – like you said, it will be a very good benefit for us. But again, there is timing involved in that.
And my follow-up question was around the Beyond Plus program. Just curious if you can give us little bit more color in terms of the rollout of that loyalty program. How many members do you have today? You had out there long enough, you probably can see some trends I would think around the economics, the frequency of shopping et cetera. Is there any additional color you can give on those topics?
So, I think that we just did. I think, as we said, in a variety of metrics, frequency, sales overall profitability, each of them are trending positive. The lifetime value of the customer of course remains to be seen because it’s too early. You have to take into account the shipping costs and then so there is other costs involved, but again, to-date very good.
We are not happy with where the program is – what the offering is to the customer. We want it to be and used to be just more than a 20% of your purchase and free standard shipping. So those other additional offers that we want to give a Beyond Plus member. That’s things that we are learning about what they value and what those things should be.
So, there again, to-date very early, but – and then, tell those things are developed. It’s not like we are rushing to invite people to the party. I mean, we want it to be a very good experience because a lot of it is also dependent upon the renewals, and right now we have to make assumptions about those renewals as well.
So, as we are building the personal learning what the members want we’ll build a more comprehensive program and – but again, the chance is specifically to-date across all those metrics we are seeing very favorable numbers.
From Morgan Stanley, we have Simeon Gutman. Please go ahead.
Thanks. Just a quick housekeeping before my first question. The comps for the fourth quarter, that was 14 weeks against 14 weeks.
Okay. And then, my first question Steve, you’ve always been pretty candid that with all these investments you are not sure where the margin in the business land. You are now pointing to some inflection, right, less erosion in margin and any peers inflecting in a couple of years. So do you have any better sense given that you understand what online and fulfillment looks like and where the stores are going? Do you have a better sense where that margin eventually settles?
I think that, you get better educated as we move forward and so more comfortable giving directional information. So, again, when we talk about the moderation – moderating of the decline in the operating profit, that’s because we are able to see, it’s greater predictability. As we do dynamic pricing, we have a better idea of what other people is doing and what their bottom is.
As we now take that dynamic pricing into our stores, as we start to do particular categories and we start to see what are maybe items that customers identify pricing with what way your gross margin dollars move as you move pricing. All those things become more visible to us as we move forward. So again that gave us the comfort directionally.
But again to predict specifics at this point, we will do what we’ve been doing and as each quarter passes, as we get better information, we’ll give better guidance. As we share our models with you, but we try to – as we do have more comfort now, try to lay out the next few years for you globally.
I know, directionally, you don’t tell us what percentage of your business is registry. But I was wondering if you can share it to how that business is trending, is it performing in line with the company’s comp? Is it performing better or worse?
Yes, I don’t think we disclose what the percentage of the business is. As we step them between Bed Bath and BABY, I don’t have the numbers in front of me. But I believe it’s not performing to dissimilar, some – company at Bed Bath and at Baby we are expecting it to obviously increase with the absence of most similar competitor.
And from Guggenheim, we have Steve Forbes. Please go ahead.
Good afternoon. Maybe, given the ongoing furniture initiatives, can you discuss what furniture sales are as a percent of the total here, maybe at the year-end for 2017? And then how does advertising play into this initiative? Right, are you satisfied with the pace of new customer acquisition and general customer adoption of the product category or should we expect ad spend to rise next year at an accelerated rate? And really any comment on advertising in general?
Sure, Steve. Again, I think we ended last year, the number was about $800 million to $900 million in the parent company of what we call decorative furnishing. So that’s not really furniture per se, but it’s furniture in that number. That- and again that’s at the Bed Bath concept, I would say that we are not recognizing the furniture at all and as far as marketing it, there is still a lot that’s going on.
We have a dedicated team of people that are working it and we are not really marketing, I would say today, but as we get the pieces in place, so that, the customers experienced a digital shoppability that we express that we are in the business to some degree in the stores that we are able to really track orders from third-party providers that we are able to do assembling installation, that we could have the furniture doctors, so the return numbers are right.
So that we’d be doing the inspirational room setting shots that we should be doing. So the content around it is accurate. At that point, we’ll be ramping up the marketing spend, but similar to what I said before about inviting people to the party, when you are not really ready to have it is that, this is something that is very much a work in progress.
We will start to derive the benefits this year that we will be over the course of the year engaging in more marketing, specifically to drive this business and – but at this point in time I don’t think the customers really is seeing it.
And then, maybe a quick follow-up on that same topic. Right, I think you mentioned, as an answer to another question that 10% of the chain will showcase furniture this year. Where is that space coming from and if you can comment on category-wise where is it coming from and then how much space will you be dedicating to it? How big of a change is it?
Yes, it’s – so, it’s not a big change in the sense that, it’s really to express to the customer in the furniture business. So we are doing that not with the intention of selling a lot of furniture out of the store. So from that perspective, it’s people seeing and seeing that I think will be impactful of what the people know that in the business and our associates will be equipped to educate a customer about it and even to complete a sale that we believe most of the business will be done digitally for us.
So that’s not a whole lot of space, but it ranges. Where the space is coming out again is, with the ability to show more and carry less frees up space in the store. So just like the – what we call the B3 initiative, the new format – the store format we are able to bring in commodity products, the food and beverage, health and beauty care, we are able to bring in the – the changeover the seasonal department, bring in the decorative furnishing as being able to bring in more of the value.
Those things are because we could shrink the core assortment, free up the space and we believe and what we’ve seen without negatively impacting the sales of any of the products in the core assortment. So that’s able to free up space to do that and free up space to shelf furniture. In some cases they’ve been yet a small as under 50 square feet, in some cases that will be significantly more.
But again it’s really for the purpose of showing and that’s selling out of the store except with the help of an associate who have the tools to sell out of the store, but it’s not just that we are going to have the inventory there to sell.
And from Credit Suisse we have Seth Sigman. Please go ahead.
Thanks. Hey, Steve, so you outlined a number of initiatives both in the store and online. As you think about the outlook that calls for comps to go back to positive territory, your store comps did take a step down in 2017. So I guess, I am just wondering the return to positive comps, is that a function of improving the decline in store comps, or accelerating online further. How do you think about the balance there?
And I think – so, there is a couple of things that we spoke about today that I think goes to the answer. We are doing a lot of things in the stores to improve the store traffic and to drive what we believe should be beneficial comp in the stores and the overall comp – like we said over the last couple quarters has been fractionally negative.
So to take to positive, there is not a whole lot of movement. At the same time, we spoke about before, the digital business, the opportunities that we have to turn the dial to make that a more profitable business, that could come at the expense of driving the top-line in our digital business. So, that’s your answer.
Okay. I got it. And then, as you think about the earnings growth guidance, I think you talked about earnings growth resuming in 2020, so it implies 2019 could actually be down again. And I realize it’s far out, but I just want to clarify you are actually planning 2019 to be an investment year as well. Is that the right way to think about it?
When you are saying investment, what do you mean by that terminology?
Well, that earnings could be down again in 2019, is that what the guidance seems to imply?
Yes, no – and again, I think that that’s what we are saying is that basically that when we talk about the moderating the decline in the operating profit and the earnings per share, we are talking about 2018 and 2019 and again, not as we are saying that we are going to be satisfied.
But it’s when we look out at the projects we are working on and the investments we are making and when we see the rolling in of the returns on them and the degree we are willing to walk away from growing top-line business in the digital world to drive more profitability. Those – the combination of those factors would result in what you just said, which is that the decline in 2018 moderating further in 2019, but declining, growing in 2020.
From Goldman Sachs we have Matt Fassler. Please go ahead.
Thanks so much and good afternoon. So, as you think about your move to more dynamic pricing, it seems like you are more focused on price competitiveness in general. The coupon and the impact of the coupon remains this quarter the most significant drag on gross margin. Obviously, you have the 20% discount embedded in the membership plan.
So how are you thinking about the relationship between first price or advertise price and then the actual price, be it from coupons or the member program and is there any cut to perhaps change in the role of the coupon within the business, particularly as the membership rolls out?
No, I think that the outcome will be the outcome. The intention of the coupon was to provide great value to our customer. The intention of the coupon wasn’t to get it back to other people’s prices. So to the – that is critically important to us to be at the right price and that way the coupon takes on additional value to the customer and theoretically that’s the case and the customer perceives that way.
The usage of the coupon gets driven. The conversion rate goes up. The amount of coupons you have to send or how you view the coupon and the necessity for the coupon to drive sales changes. So, again, but that’s the whole cycle which you correctly identified. And as far as the membership program, again, we are at the right price, that membership program, it comes at a great value to the customer, because that’s truly is a great value to be a part of the membership program.
Understood. And then my follow-up really is the comments you made earlier about the impact of the – towards the rest liquidation or you said element of the liquidation that were certain is likely to transpire and the sales forecast that you gave. So it sounds like there is an element of impact – favorable impact to you from the bankruptcy , but that early on, your past experience will suggest that the liquidation likely could be a drag or at least prevent you from benefiting on a net basis with all the nuances for the registry business that you talked about. Does that mean that the Q1 comp expectation would be at all different from the comp expectation for the full year?
We didn’t break the comp expectation by quarter, right.
Yes, it’s by year.
Yes, it’s by year. But if you are asking if the contribution from the – from Baby that’s going out a business would foreseeably grow over the course of the year, I think that that’s a reasonable assumption one wants to make that.
And finally from Wolfe Research, we have Doug Drummond. Please go ahead.
Hey guys. Thanks for all the color on your new initiatives. Embedded in your investments for 2018, are you also expecting a need for accelerated wage investments as well as other retailers are growing average hourly wages?
We continue to have wage pressures. We are not immune to that. That’s all considered into our models.
Okay. And then, Steve, when you are able to achieve all of these plans for 2020, what do you foresee the store base looking like for the Bed Bath Beyond concepts? Thank you.
So, you know what, it’s a great question, Doug and again, we don’t have any religion around it. So we are fortunate that we have 400 – just under 400 stores that leases expire within the next two years. And we’ve been for years now looking at and modeling declining foot traffic in the stores, wage rate increases and modeling at and one of the leases we have so many stores coming due in such a sharper time we’ve been taking shorter terms extensions, by taking one year, two year, three years on a lease extension.
So that we would have a greater visibility. So all these things will be determined by things like, are we able to generate additional foot traffic, what are the margins going to be. How the dynamic pricing affect the stores. How does furniture affect the business. How much – what’s the benefit of the stores to our ad sales spend ratio for our digital business. So all these things will be the factors that we look at as we go forward.
But we are not locked into an answer. So we can turn left or right and it’s funny, because when you look at the scenarios, there is many ways to driving profitability and – but the real world will dictate the answers if this was – how many stores, how much in your digital business, what you show in your digital business, where you are spending your marketing dollars.
So again, as we’ve divisioned ourselves like we’ve always said that we like to do that we intend to do is to give ourselves these choices on the decision tree so that we could come out on the other end of this growing a company tremendously successful and that’s the intention. So, it’s a great question. The answer is it remains to be seen. But the facts will dictate it when we given up – putting ourselves in a position to turn left and to turn right.
Thank you. We will now turn it back to Janet Barth for closing remarks.
Thank you, Brandon, and thank you all for joining us today. We look forward to speaking with you again on June 27 when we report our fiscal 2018 first quarter results. Have a good night.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today’s conference. Thank you for joining. You may now disconnect.
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