GNC Holdings' CEO Presents at Morgan Stanley Global Consumer & Retail Conference (Transcript)

| About: GNC Holdings, (GNC)

GNC Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:GNC)

Morgan Stanley Global Consumer & Retail Conference Call

November 13, 2012 2.45 pm ET


Joseph M. Fortunato – President and Chief Executive Officer


Mark Wiltamuth – Morgan Stanley

Mark Wiltamuth – Morgan Stanley

Hi good afternoon. It’s Mark Wiltamuth, I am back again, so here we are for our third presentation for the day. We’re introducing GNC, which if you attended the panel discussion, this is my topic going into 2013. Again refer to our research disclosures on the website in our public research. Today, with us, we have Joe Fortunato, CEO; Mike Nuzzo, CFO; and Dennis Magulick from Investor Relations.

GNC is the largest vitamin and supplement retailer in the United States. Company has shown year-to-date EPS growth in the 60% range, in fact, we’ve raised our estimates this year over 60% as well, so good performance. So far, they’ve done six quarters of double-digit same-store sales growth. We think the company could transition into a normalized growth pattern of 18% earnings growth and hopefully we’ll talk some more about that today. At 13.5 times, 2013 PE, we think this is a new growth at a reasonable price story.

So let’s turn it over to Joe and we will take some questions in the room and then we will go to breakout later. Thank you.

Joseph M. Fortunato

Thank you, Mark. Good afternoon. Nice to be here and glad to be back at this conference, it’s always a good one and we enjoy the group and certainly Mark and Morgan Stanley, I appreciate them inviting here. So we’ll get started.

I think we got to talk about what GNC is and obviously we’re the leading brand in this Health & Wellness space. We have a demographic base that is very unique, I am going to talk about that quite a bit. We are differentiated in the marketplace by our consumer packaged goods capabilities among a couple of other things and I’ll talk about that as well. And we are global a business unlike most companies in this space.

And I’ll talk about the growth of our customer base, which is important to us and how does that help drive the business going forward and our financial results, which have been very strong as Mark pointed out.

This slide is new and it’s a kind of different, but I wanted to lay it out for this reason. I think there is always a general perception that all of a sudden GNC in 2011-2012 have had this phenomenal rise and the slope may go like this. And I want to tell everybody that this is not something that happens automatically, it’s not something that happened just at one instance in 2010, we have been spending time building, putting the building blocks together for this business since 2004 and even a little earlier.

And there have been a lot of things that have been done to this business to make the business as strong as it is today and to drive the performance you are seeing today, and that will continue to drive the performance in the future. And I’ll give a couple of the highlights; it’s a pretty busy slide. So you can take a look at it at your leisure.

But the highlights are this; going back to 2004, we have invested in product development and product development, product development, product development, you will hear from me after and after time after time today because we continue to accelerate it now we have accelerated into our international markets and it will continue to drive the business for the long-term for many reasons because of our consumer base react to these equity brands and sub brands that we have the ability to create.

If you look at the stores we have invested in our store base. We had POS register systems in 2005-2006. We remodeled all our stores in the chain in 2006 as well towards the end of the 2006, invested $15 million in one aspect, $20 million in another aspect. We have brought training to the stores, training modules, we have reinvigorated and remodeled all of our graphic designs, all of the imaginary in the stores, the study for the stores completely different (inaudible) more lifestyle and what our consumer base is really about as I’ll talk about later.

If you look at the franchise side of the business, in 2004, 2005 our franchise system was in disarray. We had them buying 60% of their products, wholesale products from GNC. Today, we went through a process took back 300 franchises, and basically at 1.5 backed 300 franchises and default to some of the modest system. Today we have a very strong franchise system performing at 60% comparable store sales growth this year better than the company’s stores, even though we’re at double-digit growth. And that franchise system is now buying 92% of their wholesale purchase from this company. So they are following the operating standards, they are back in the program.

If you look at marketing in 2010, we launched a very comprehensive Live Well marketing campaign, probably saw that New York start in your hometown, it was across every touch point with the consumer and it really drove traffic from that point on and establish GNC more as a brand and just a retailer and has been very significant to our business. And we will launching a new marketing campaign that I will be talking to you about in January 2013 that we feel will do the same thing and even take the marketing efforts to the next level.

If you look at what we’ve done on the wholesale front, we’ve expanded our wholesale presence. We’ve really wanted every in the wholesale business outside of what we did to our contract sales customers and various people like that. We got into the PetSmart, business, we got into the Sam's Club, we expanded our brand deal once again, but did not take any risk with our brands and I’ll explain some of that afterwards as well.

In manufacturing, manufacturing 2002 was loosing $8 million a year. Today, manufacturing is an extremely profitable business. We added a contract business (inaudible) a business that was completely destroyed by [NUMEC Co.] and now we do over $120 million in contract business. We fully leveraged that facility and extremely profitable manufacturing facility. So there were many things and many things put in place over time to build this business to the point where it is delivering significant return, but it certainly didn’t happen overnight.

You can see the results of that, 18% revenue growth, 11.5% comparable store sales growth, double digit of several years in a row and you’re seeing $476 million EBITDA for the year according to our guidance and a 20% EBITDA margin; so strong, strong numbers accelerating across the board and strong CAGRs on both revenue and EBITDA.

What’s driving that? All our segments are performing well. So we’re managing a fairly complex business, vertically integrated and we’re in many different aspects to drive this business. We have licensing agreement, we have wholesale businesses, we have franchise agreements domestically, we have international franchise agreements. We obviously run manufacturing facilities that’s in a business itself, obviously, its part of the retail e-commerce. So there is many ways to drive revenue stream into this company and make money and we do it very effectively across all our channels. And you could see the leverage that this business this company generates, because we have a very fixed cost structure in our retail business and across the whole company.

So when we start exceeding 2% in growth, we start leveraging the business and obviously with results we’ve been seeing here with an average of 18% revenue growth, you can cease the leverage that we have had 200 basis points in EBITDA margin from 2010 to 2011 and 300 basis points in the EBITDA margin expansion from 2011, 2012. That’s been driven by this comparable store sales growth, 22% on a two year basis, pretty consistent across company and franchise owned stores, 28% in three-year basis.

You can look at the franchise international, 24%. Those strong, strong growth across the whole business, mostly driven by brand and how we’re managing our channel distribution and how we’re managing the biggest asset of this company and that’s developing brand, sub-brands and that consumer package capabilities that we have in-house that have been established over 10 years, so not easy to replicate, but it’s there and its help driving the business.

You could see our new store growth still pretty strong. I mean everybody says, you are a mature company domestically, we’re going to open 150 stores this year and they are doing extremely well. We’ll continue to do that for the next several years, I still think there is 400 to 500 store growth in this company going forward.

On the international basis, we will be opening 200 plus stores a year in the existing markets we are in and they are under contract. So it’s not anything that’s there and not going to happen, they are all under contract and I’ll talk more about that later on.

The E-commerce business is very strong; 30% growth year-over-year on, a very high margin business for business and then LuckyVitamin is doing very well since we’ve acquired it.

Why is all this happening on the business? You can look to our customer base. Our customer base is very unique. They are younger on average, higher income levels, higher education level. They buy multiple products, they are very dedicated loyal consumers who are very regimented with a lifestyle that they live believe in and then believe in GNC.

So we have a brand presence, 57% of our sales now are generated from our own brand, five years ago it was 40%. So customers are very loyal to GNC’s innovation, which drives premium products, which drives the best of market products, which drives consumers to buy our brand.

If you look at these consumers as well, these consumers are cross-shoppers, they will buy multiple products that I pointed out and 50% of our sports customers now buy a Vitapak. 25% of our vitamin users buy sports product. So the propensity to increase sales for these consumers is there consistently has been there and will be there for the future, because these are that type of lifestyle consumers.

What’s one of the major assets of this company? Product innovation; we are the best at building products and anticipating the consumers’ needs for this industry. For example, we went into the fitness business, with Pro-AMP back several years ago; that business as you can see is now a $275 million business.

So what we said was let the third-party vendors handle more of the hardcore consumer and we will handle the fitness business. We thought that the fitness business was going to accelerate and obviously we were right. The fitness business has accelerated tremendously over the last three, four years and its driving a lot of the strong growth we have. And we are a leader in the sports nutrition business. We own over 25% of the market, so a strong sub-brand with tremendous brand equity with consumers.

If you look at the Vitapak business, we were in the Vitapak business five years ago. This isn’t something that’s new to us, we saw consumer wanting specialization. We saw a consumer who wanted something that made them feel that they had an offering that was customized for their needs. We have 31 Vitapak, and they are high quality premium products that are very customized as to what a consumer wants, both female and male consumers.

If you look at the diet business, two and half years ago, we saw the diet pill business go in the wrong direction. We anticipated that is going to be a replacement business was going to be the way to go. So again understanding where the consumer base is when we are understanding the industry and understanding what we have to do to stay ahead of the curve. And we are always ahead of the curve with these types of trends with our consumers, which just shows you the value and knowledge base that resides within the company, people that have been for 15, 20, 25 years, they know this company and knows these consumers. So 75% return on Vitapak, five times what they were when they launched in the first year.

And this is something that I always like to call out everybody, because I think people believe that you innovate products, and a year later, they are gone, the innovated products a year later they gone. I can’t tell you the number of people that have asked me today, which is your innovation pipeline? It’s strong. We are going to deliver 20% more products earlier this year going into 2013 than we launched in 2012, I mean 2011 before 2012.

So the pipeline is full and it’s full all the way through 2013. Some of it is line extensions of these tremendous sub-brands that we’ve created that have tremendous consumer equity and also new products and new brands that will enter the marketplace.

And you can see this is not a one year transition, five year CAGR on our Vitapaks 38% five year CAGR on our sports nutrition line of product performance, the number one sports nutrition line in the country now at $275 million, 21% two year CAGR 52% on total lean. They don’t just fall of a cliff; they build on each other. So this is an annuity business for us. And we will continue to be on an annuity business for us.

If you look at the other assets that we have organizational debt in product development, we have 120 people that do nothing but develop products for the domestic markets, tests, clinical trials, claims and now are also focused on the same kind of innovation that will drive the international markets. So when you look at where we kind of neglected the international markets, but still did extremely well with our wholesale business in the international markets. They have about 20% of our assortment, obviously in the company stores, 57% GNC branded stores.

So we are now introducing more products into the international markets and we have a team as I said it does nothing but that. That will accelerate growth we’re already seeing it and we’ve only gone through above 20% of the upside in introducing those products. So this is a future opportunity for the company that continue to focus on this kind of development for our international markets; world-class technologies, clinical trials, everything I’ve stated.

If you look at retail excellence, we’re unique. Our in-store experience is tremendous. If I look at Mark certainly before, he was in this [local] store to work today. I can tell you, seven, eight, nine years ago, when people asked me about the store experiences said they were in our stores, sometimes I would cramp because I didn’t know what the answer was, was it good, was it bad?

Today I can tell you the store execution, the store study, the information, the signage we provide to consumers, one-third of store shelf space and the training, how we’ve gone to a better grade of hiring employees for our stores, all that is ten fold better than it was six, seven years ago. And I think the consumers today when they talk to me are better if I give one out of 100 complaints, that’s the max, there is just a way better shopping experience, way better service levels, way better selling culture in the stores.

Real estate, we do well in every type of real estate. So we are insulated to some extent. Depending on where the consumers are going, we’re in every mall in the country. We’re in probably 900, 2800, 3900 strip centers so we are literally in any type of real estate and we do well in every type of real estate, downtown locations here in Manhattan, some of our best location. So it doesn’t matter we can perform extremely well in whatever type of real estate brand.

The stores, new stores are performing extremely well. We’ll open about 150 net new stores this year, may accelerate a little bit next year. But I’m still convinced as I said two years ago, we can open 800 to 1000 new stores. Right now obviously we’ve opened about 300, so I still think it’s 500, 600, 700 more stores in the domestic market, because the industry continues to grow, and there is still market share gains to be had out there.

And our stores do extremely well. When we launch them they turn cash positive very quickly, they grow very fast, they are growing faster than we anticipated on these recent store launches. And they mature in the 20% to 24% EBITDA, 4-wall EBITDA margin area same as most of our stores in the company. They are all in that range, so we manage occupancy as well to keep them in that range depending on what venue.

E-commerce I think it’s a profitable business. I mean this is really a high branded, heavily branded high margin business. And then we’ve complimented that with LuckyVitamin, which is placed in the third-party brand discount business.

One of the best things that’s happened this year, consumer base. We have [at top] increase in our consumer base across the board, 1 million more Gold Card Members. That’s the first time that’s happened in five years. It was flat for almost three years. We have 1 million more unique visitors through our website. We have 4.5 million more e-mail addresses, because we put a push on in the stores to obtain e-mail address.

So what does this provide for you? Opportunity, and this is just another graph showing the same thing. But opportunity, the opportunity is the market to those consumers and do a better job of direct marketing, we have overhauled our complete direct marketing plan for 2013 and it’s all about retention, retaining these Gold Card customers and these members that we have that are loyal brand members and making sure we do everything we can to retain them, attract new consumers and make sure that we are reaching consumers that come to the store more often, giving them offers and making sure that they understand that they are coveted by us in everyway.

We will also be launching, I think probably most of you, anywhere around the New York City and some other markets saw a great GNC brand image building marketing campaign, back in 2010. That marketing campaign changed the look and feel of GNC in the consumers mind. We became a brand, not just a retail outlet. And that has led to many positive aspects, especially wholesale relationships obviously the type of consumer we attract and what that brand value creates for us here and overseas.

We will be launching a campaign starting in January and it will cover all touch points again across, every touch point for a consumer. So we will be on television, we will be in print, we will be on bill boards again, we will be every direct marketing piece, the stores will be overhauled again to make sure that all of the imaginary and everything in that stores ties to the new messaging about GNC. I can’t tell you the messaging, but I think you will like it and I was really encouraged about it. I spend seven, eight hours with our creator Peter Arnell yesterday and it was mind boggling, to tell you the truth. So I am very optimistic about that the ability is to create and continue to brand this company and attract new consumer base above and beyond what we’ve been attracted so far and market effect that lead to those consumers.

Member pricing program, I know there is a lot above this and I know every one-on-one discussion that we I have today has focused on member pricing program. I will give you a quick overview.

Member pricing program started with a test in Kansas City and has evolved, that was 19 months ago and has evolved a 10 test market and we are seeing the same results in those 10 test market and New York was one of them just started a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, we undergo one month of the data before the storm hit. So it’s on a sidetrack how well that market is doing, but it was doing extremely well and right inline with the other test markets, that we launched back as far as 19 months ago.

The key to this is simplify our pricing strategy. The consumers look at our store and they can’t configure out what the out the door prices. So we don’t get any credit for being extremely competitive on third-party brands and with our premium goods on private label brands getting a small premium for those goods, but the out the door price is excellent and when the consumer comes in and see an MSRP and doesn’t have a calculator within they can figure out MSRP sale price, logo, Gold Card discount, they will look and say, what I don’t understand, this is a high price, so potentially they walkout the door.

This will simplify every product, every skew will have an MSRP and a member price on it on the shop, a very simple clarifications of the customer that we are very competitive in the marketplace, price stride and they can understand the pricing strategy immediately.

Customers have complained about the Gold Card for as long as I have been here and that’s a quite long time. Number one compliant was I can’t use the Gold Card everyday of the month. You guys are locking me into seven days in a month maybe its not convenient for me, maybe I am away, maybe I don’t want to come to the store right now, maybe I am not out of product yet, but I’m going to run out mid month. The biggest compliant we have had on Gold Card, so we are solving that problem, Gold Card will be good everyday of the month in these member pricing market.

Incremental sales and traffic I can tell you, you saw a double-digit growth in our comp-stores sales for the company so far this year and forecast for the year of 11.5%. These markets are performing single, high-single digits above that rate. So you can figure 7%, 8%, 9% above the 11.5% we’re doing in the base market, most of that driven by transactions.

So we are really optimistic about this Member Pricing program and we’ve seen a very consistent performance across every market that we brought up into the Member Pricing market. If we continue to see the success in New York and Chicago, this program will probably incur some kind of full rollout going 2013.

How we do that, the details of all that, the timing of that obviously will be decided by us, you will get guidance that will tell you what we plan the year to be and then separate guidance as we move towards whether we’re going to transition the rest of the chain to Member Pricing. But if these rough results continue, we will be transitioning the program to Member Pricing and maximizes the direct marketing efforts. This gives us the ability to collect data on every sale of consumer mix.

So again back to that consumer data, the opportunity is, now we understand not just with people buy doing Gold Card, but we understand what they buy all month long, so a shopping pattern, segmentation comes into the play. How do we market to them directly through better segmentation, understand their buying habits and more effectively reach and nourish this consumer. So big upsides for all those opportunities that this program presents for us.

To talk about stores a little bit, I can tell you that the organic growth as I said earlier, we can do 150 to 200 stores a year domestically, they are performing extremely well. The new marketing campaign should help drive that even more. You see the e-commerce business continuing to grow at 30% growth rates in the last couple of years and should be able to maintain a growth rate in the mid 20s going forward and once again a higher margin business. This business does 25%, 26%, 27% margin, so extremely strong for an e-commerce business.

Then we brought LuckyVitamin. LuckyVitamin is growing at a fairly good rate, it’s in the discount channel, but we are very satisfied, we are leveraging that business. So that business have leveraged 550 basis points since we bought it and we will continue to leverage based on the synergies we have with the company.

Long-term growth internationally, the international business is still the same opportunity for me and that is 53 markets we are in, with franchise operations now we just resigned 25 development agreements and we have a team of people as I said earlier introducing new product innovation into the international markets on a country-by-country basis. So a lot of resources needed, but very profitable business and it is upselling consumers already and we have probably done about, varied about 20% of GNC branded level and they could probably get to 45% over time.

So what we are seeing on launching just 20% more product into that market is, significant upside to the wholesale business, outpacing the actual revenue growth of the wholesale business for the time being, because of pipeline.

And we will see additional markets coming on board basically in the BRIC countries that you would go Brazil we are there where we have a partner where we’re getting through the regulatory process. Russia, we are looking deeply at a partnership and a joint venture opportunity up there. China we are deciding whether to accelerate growth and we think we will, but we are probably going to take on a partner in China as well. So a lot of opportunity to expand new country development as well.

But we will always walk before we run a new country development. We don’t take a lot of risks. We’re not a company that jumps in head first and decide to take a lot of risks and then sees what will happen. We’d like the nourish it. We’d like to understand the acceptance of our brand, our partnership there and how well we pursue that we can do in that market before we take a stronger leap into the market.

We are in the mass market channel and you can see with Sam's Club. It’s a brand building venture again. People go there, there is a constant cycling of products, they buy the products. They can’t get into Sam's they came to our stores. So we protect our brand while being in the mass market. Sports and diet you can see Marked is a new line that’s going to launch. Mark Wahlberg is behind this line. It’s going go into the mass market everywhere. It is not GNC label, but we are the one spearheading the process. We get a big piece of the profitability of this line as it launches into the mass market. We have a lot of players ready to take this line in January, February, March timeframe.

And pets, the PetSmart business has been phenomenal for us. Now they have asked us to get into fortification of snacks and foods and various things like that. And this business has grown week after week, not just month after month, week after, week after week and PetSmart has been a tremendous part. And we basically almost have an exclusivity, there are some a couple of other small players, but when they brought us in they took out everybody else that was our premier player in that business for that segment in their stores.

Shareholder return, we focused on shareholder return and it’s only going to come to you three ways; earnings, dividend or store buyback. And we will monitor as we go forward with the targeted shareholder return that says of those three components, we’re going to be able to give the shareholder certain return year after year after year and we are opened to how that is compiled, but I can tell you that we generate a significant amount of cash and a significant amount of free cash flow.

So we have the opportunity to increase dividend and best in the business and repurchase shares. And as of last week, we are a fully public company, our sponsors sold after last block share into the marketplace back last Wednesday.

And this is the forecast going forward; we look like we’ll be 6% to 7%, it has nothing do with Member Pricing, has nothing do with NALs takes place with the business. This is basic forecast, 6% to 7% comp, 9% to 10% revenue growth and 18% to 20% EPS growth.

So as I said earlier, I think the company has a lot of opportunities. We are definitely in a leadership position. We have a unique, unique customer base and I can stress it enough. That customer is not about price, they are about health lifestyle, regimentation, how do I keep myself competitive, how am I better than someone else, how do I feel better, look better, live a better lifestyle as I move forward. And they are willing to spend for the best first-in-class market, best-in-class first to market product and that’s GNC. And that’s why we paid so much attention that huge differentiator for us, which is continuing to drive brands, develop brands, develop sub-brands and drive equity with our consumer. So I think there is a bright future ahead and I thank everybody for coming and appreciate it. Thanks.

Question-and-Answer Session

Mark Wiltamuth – Morgan Stanley

Now we take a couple of questions from the room and then we will break to breakout. Joe, first on the Gold Card program, you mentioned that you might give guidance with and without the Gold Card as you look at 2013. Are you trying to balance how much margins that comprised in the early days of rolling it out?

You had about a third of the store base right now and what you think the pacing will be as you get into growing into the rest of markets?

Joseph M. Fortunato

If the New York market works well and the Chicago markets work well, which were very consistent so far, except for the New York as we only had a month of it with what we’ve seen in the other eight test markets. We will decide whether to roll it all out, May 1, or roll it out in segment. And because there is some investment in rolling it out, which includes some give away Gold Cards the first two months to accelerate the program, some product margins and pricing because we’re taking into everyday and then some investment in marketing, which gets you in the 255 range in regards to those numbers. It recovers very quick though in less than three months return, margin dollar neutral and keep accelerating it up from there.

We’re start seeing leverage at that point in time and then you start tweaking the program because the free Gold Card give way, goes away after 60 days, that’s a big piece of the first product margin impact. It start tweak in the pricing and you can probably get it done, we’ve got it down into the 100 plus range. We probably get it down to 50 days, because we haven’t really focused on all the tweak-in we can do to the pricing format, as we continue to move this thing forward.

The point for us will be not only the breakpoint of three months, start to accelerating up as I said high single digit growth above and beyond, the 10%, 11% growth we’re seeing on a comparable store sales basis now.

Transaction drivers, we will decide how to accelerate that program at that point in time. The key to us is, you do it all one time, and for three months, your investment in the business and then leveraging going forward, getting gross margin dollars which are moving your percentage backup and leveraging to the bottom line, because you are also leveraging occupancy just by having gross margin dollars over the breakpoint or do you do it piecemeal over time, so that every three months you are rolling another 20% of the chain.

So you have null effect, because once offset, the effect the whole launch of three to six months ago was offsetting the launch, three months ago, then one three months ago is offsetting the impact of the launch now.

To me once you hit 50% of the system, we are not going to have a choice, but to go. And if we keep seeing results like we are seeing now, we will absolutely be going either May 1 with the whole chain or at some point in time. Thereafter when 50% is converted and we continue to see the same results, we will pull the trigger on the rest of the chain. Because we also have to address our e-commerce business, franchise systems, and things like that.

Mark Wiltamuth – Morgan Stanley

Okay. Just take one question from the room and then we will go to next door. Anyone, out there? All right, we will break and go next door to the breakout session. Okay.

Joseph M. Fortunato

Okay, fine.

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