Coldwater Creek Inc. (NASDAQ:CWTR)
Q3 2012 Earnings Call
November 29, 2012; 04:30 p.m. ET
Dennis Pence - Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
Jill Dean - President & Chief Merchandising Officer
Jim Bell - Executive Vice President & Chief Operating & Chief Financial Officer
Anne Rakunas - ICR, Investor Relations
Neely Tamminga - Piper Jaffray
Jeff Van Sinderen - B. Riley & Co.
Good evening and welcome to the Coldwater Creek Inc. third quarter 2012 earnings results conference call. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. (Operator Instructions).
It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Anne Rakunas from ICR. Thank you Ms. Rakunas; you may now begin.
Thank you. Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us to discuss the results for fiscal 2012 third quarter ended October 27, 2012. Participating in today’s call are Dennis Pence, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; Jill Dean, President and Chief Merchandising Officer; and Jim Bell, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating and Chief Financial Officer.
Before I begin, I would like to remind everyone that the statements contained in this conference call that are not historical facts constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the securities laws. These statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such statements.
These risks and uncertainties are described in the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. No one should assume later in the quarter that the comments we provide today are so valid. Moreover, we are not undertaking any obligation to provide updates in the future.
We also note that this call contains non-GAAP financial information. We are providing that information as a supplement to information prepared in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principals and you can find a reconciliation of these metrics to our reported GAAP results in the reconciliation table provided in today’s earnings release.
And with that, I would now like to turn the call over to Dennis.
Thank you for joining us today to review our third quarter results and our plans for holiday. After my opening remarks, Jill will review our merchandise performance during the quarter and Jim will then discuss our third quarter financial results in more detail and provide guidance for the fourth quarter. After we discuss the results for the third quarter I will share some additional comments regarding my retirement and Jill’s assumption of the CEO duties. Following our prepared remarks we will turn the call over to the operator to take your questions.
Our third quarter performance reflected the success of our product, marketing and real estate strategies and resulted in sales, margins and earnings that surpassed our guidance and was a significant improvement over the third quarter last year.
In total for the quarter sales were $188.1 million, up from $187.5 last year and represented our first year-over-year increases in sales in two years. We are pleased to deliver growth in the quarter even as we operate 12 fewer stores versus last year.
Comparable store sales were at 7.3%, our highest comp store sales increase since 2009. Gross margin increased 510 basis points due to expansion in merchandise margins and occupancy expense leverage.
SG&A expense declined $8.4 million as we continued to tightly manage expenses. The combination of increased sales, margins and lower expenses resulted in an $18 million reduction in our operating loss relative to a year ago.
Contributing to our results were, a compelling product that received a favorable response from our customers and led to a 16% increases in our conversion rate comp, persuasive marketing, which along with a more relevant fashion assortment led to a stabilization in our store traffic, marking a meaningful improvement from the trends experienced in recent quarters.
Traffic comp for the quarter was roughly flat for last year. We implemented a three-pronged approach to drive traffic, which included opportunistically increasing page count, to expand the breadth of our operating percentage in certain key catalogs, optimizing our royalty program and increasing our investment in online advertising.
We continue to evolve the format of our catalog both in terms of layout and content, and have found that in specific instances increasing page count drives additional sales, both in store and online. In the third quarter we were pleased to see that this effort translated into an improvement in overall profitability for catalog mail.
Our new loyalty program continues to build momentum with over 1.3 million members added since we launched it in February. We continue to see that the program is driving a substantial increase in shopping frequency among royalty members.
Online advertising represents the third part of our strategy to increase online traffic and transactions. During the third quarter we increased our investment in online adverting by 8%, which resulted in over 240 million brand impressions and served to heightened awareness and interest in the brand. As a result, we realized positive growth in both web sessions and total orders in the direct channel.
The third quarter also marked an important phase in the continued evolution of our mobile platforms, with the implementation of our new mobile site for Smartphones, as well as the brand new iPad app, both of which have enhanced and simplified the mobile shopping experience and have been designed to optimize conversion rates on mobile media.
In summery, we are pleased with the progress we made in the third quarter and believe we are on the path to returning our business to profitability and growth over time. For the holiday season we believe we are well positioned to build on the successes we have experienced during the past year.
While early November sales were softer than we have planned, as extreme weather events impacted many of our customers’ ability to shop, we are very encouraged by the strong response over the important Black Friday weekend. Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday significantly beat our expectations, setting new sales volume records for both days and surpassing previous records set just last year.
While we are encouraged by recent sales trends, we recognize that the majority of the quarter lies ahead of us and given the uncertainty surrounding a macro economic environment, we believe that it’s prudent to be cautious regarding our outlook for the holiday season.
I’d now like to turn the call over to Jill
Thank you Dennis. During the third quarter we focused on increasing our investment in fashion and novelty and we were pleased with the customer response. We experienced strength across a number of key categories driven by the news we offered in color, print and pattern throughout the assortment.
Our tops category continued to perform well, driven primarily by strength in sweaters. We offered sweaters in a number of our franchise lines and in a variety of silhouettes in cardigans and pullovers with good results. Our highly unique and differentiated novelty styles also performed well.
The re-launch of our pant program this fall was very successful and exceeded our expectations. Colored pants across a number of fabrications performed above plan and we were pleased with the performance of both our Dressy and Casual bottoms.
Woven and knit tops both comped positively as customers responded to our new prints and patterns. We are also pleased with the response to our jewelry assortment, driven by our fashion essentials connection.
We planned our jacked investment down as the strength of our cardigan category continued to resonate with our customers. We were pleased to see that growth in cardigans, together with new outerwear styles more than offset the planned decline in jacket.
During the third quarter we added an incremental floor set, which drove sales in late September and early October. Our extended outerwear collection was well received and although it remained a relatively small part of the overall mix.
We are pleased with the progress our merchandising team has made in the third quarter and believe that we identified the right product in marketing strategy to build on the success for holiday. We continue to attract strong talent to our organization and are delighted to announce that Michele Martin has joint us as Senior Vice President and GMM reporting to me.
Michele is a talented merchant with more than 25 years of experience in building vertical specialty retail brands at retailers such as American Eagle, Dillards, Abercrombie and Fitch, and J. Crew among others. We look forward to her contributions and believe she will be a highly valuable asset to our team.
Tuning to Holiday, our collection builds on the strength we experienced during the fall season in several key categories. In late November and December we have an opportunity to drive additional sales with two floor sets that offer significantly more style and newness than a year ago, and as the focus shifts from self purchase to gift giving in December, we will offer an expanded assortment of compelling gifts under $50.
For the month of November, our best performing categories were consistent with our strategies and inventory investments. We saw particular strength in pants and denims throughout the month. The softer business in early November did impact our sweaters and outerwear sales, although we have seen these categories build as the month progressed.
In summary, we are pleased with the favorable response that we have seen through our product initiatives, which combined with the compelling marketing message have begun to successfully reengage our royal customer basis, as well as attract new customers to our brands. We look forward to updating you on our results on our next call.
Now I will turn the call over to Jim to discuss our financial results.
Thank you Jill. I will start by reviewing or third quarter results and then provide our expectations for the fourth quarter. In my discussion I will be referring to adjusted net loss and adjusted net loss per share, which excludes the impact of the change in the fair value of the derivative liability related to our Series A preferred stock, which in the third quarter represents a loss of $6.8 million or $0.22 per share.
We have provided information on this adjustment in the schedule titled GAAP to non-GAAP reconciliation of selected measures, included with the third quarter earnings release issued today and as a reminder the company will continue to record quarterly non-cash losses or gains associated with the mark-to-market activity related to this derivative liability, primarily as a result of fluctuations in our stock price.
In general, an increase in stock price will result in additional losses, whereas a decrease in our stock price will result in gains. Additionally our loss per share results for both the third quarter of 2012 and the third quarter of 2011 now reflect the one to four reverse stock split that became effective on October 4 of this year.
Moving on to our third quarter performance. During the third quarter we continued to positive trends that began to emerge during the second quarter of the year, which we believe are establishing a solid foundation to help us achieve our goals of returning Coldwater Creek to profitability.
Similar to last quarter, we realized meaningful improvements in several key financial metrics, which ultimately led to a $15.4 million reduction in our adjusted net loss relative to same period last year.
Our consolidated net sales in the third quarter of 2012 were $188.1 million, up slightly from the third quarter last year. In the retail segment net sales increased 2.2% to $147.2 million from $144.1 million in the third quarter of 2011.
The growth in retail sales was driven by comparable premium retail sales increase of 7.3% as a result of a strong response to our fall collection. However the positive comp sales were partially offset by the impact of 12 net store closures since the end of the third quarter of 2011.
Supporting the 7.3% premium retail comp improvement, we experienced a significant sequential improvement in our comparable store traffic, which was largely flat to last year, a 16% increase in our conversion comp and a 2% improvement in our units per transition. These improvements were partially offset by an 8% decline in our average unit retail, driven primarily by a mix shift related to the greater penetration of knits and a planned reduction in jackets.
In terms of contribution to total sales, the retail segment net sales represented 78% of consolidated net sales compared to 77% in the third quarter last year. During the quarter we closed two premium retail stores and opened one, ending the period with a total of 354 premium retail stores, 38 factory store outlets and 9 day spa locations in operation.
Now turning to our direct segment. Direct segment net sales decreased 5.7% to $40.9 million in the third quarter from $43.3 million in the third quarter of 2011. While our overall sales in direct were down for the quarter, sales were in line with our exceptions as we planned a reduction in clearance selling on the web, as a result of the improvements in both the overall level and makeup of our inventory. As a result we realized significant expansion in merchandise margins driven by lower markdowns and discounts.
Consolidated gross profit for the quarter increased $9.8 million to $66.1 million or 35.1% of net sales, compared to $56.3 million or 30% of net sales in the prior year period. The 17% improvement in profit dollars and the 510 basis point increase in gross margin rate were priemalry driven by 15% reduction in our buying and occupancy expenses, leading to 340 basis points of leverage as a percent to sales. These results reflect the continued favorable progress we have made to-date with our store optimization program.
We also released further merchandise margin expansion of 170 basis points, primarily reflecting higher mark down margins versus Q3 last year. This is true in both our retail and direct channels.
Selling, general and administrative expenses for the third quarter declined $8.4 million to $76.1 million or 40.5% of net sales compared to $84.5 million or 45.1% of net sales in the third quarter of 2011. The 10% reduction in SG&A dollars as compared to the year ago period was primarily related to lower marketing expenses as we do not anniversary our investment in television advertising this year. These reductions, combined with the slight improvement in sales resulted in 460 basis points improvement in SG&A’s rate for sales.
We reduced our annual SG&A expenses by over $150 million throughout the past five years, which we believe establishes the new operating expense base for our business. After considering the investments we believe are necessary to drive traffic to our business and ultimately top line growth, we believe we can grow our top line at a faster rate than our SG&A expenses, thereby gaining further leverage over the long term.
During the third quarter we reduced our operating loss by $18.2 million to approximately $10 million, reflecting the continued improvement in gross margins and lower SG&A and roughly flat sales. Our adjusted net loss, which excludes the loss from the derivative liability was $13.7 million or $0.45 per share on 30.5 million weighted shares outstanding. This compares to a net loss of $29.2 million or $1.24 per share on 23.6 million weighted average shares outstanding for the fiscal 2011 third quarter.
Now turning to our balance sheet. We ended the third quarter with total cash of $31.3 million compared to $37.9 million at the end of the third quarter last year. At the end of the quarter we did not have any borrowings outstanding under our revolving line of credit, as compared to $50 million outstanding at the end of the same period last year.
Our total inventory declined 6% to $161.7 million from $172 million at the end of the third quarter of fiscal 2011. Premium retail inventory per square foot, which includes inventory in the distribution center decreased approximately 9% over the third quarter of fiscal 2011. Our capital expenditures in the third quarter totaled $4.5 million and depreciation and amortization was $12.5 million.
I would now like to provide a brief update on our three-part store optimization strategy, which I previously mentioned. The first part of our strategy is related to the closure of under-performing stores. To-date we have closed 25 of these under-performing stores and we are on track to close approximately 20 more through fiscal 2013.
We apply rigorous criteria when evaluating our store locations and we are finding transfer sales from the first stores to another Coldwater Creek store in the same or nearby markets are significant and in many cases higher than our expectations. Importantly as part of this process, we are using midterm take-out rates for natural lease expirations and are not spending material capital to exit these leases. Following these quarters we will have addressed the vast majority of our negative cash flow stores.
The second part of our strategy is to opportunistically downsize store locations. As we have found that stores under 5,000 square feet have a significantly higher four-wall contribution than larger stores. Our long-term goal will be to reduce the average store size to approximately 4,500 square feet from the 5,700 square foot average at the end of the third quarter of 2012.
We are pleased with the initial performance of the 11 stores we have relocated and/or downsized through 2012 and we have reduced the square footage of these stores by just over 30% and thus being close to a 60% improvement in four wall operating income and a meaningful increase in sales per square foot productivity.
Finally, we continue to evaluate all opportunities to renegotiate lease terms of our existing retail locations to better reflect the current state of each location and market in which we operate. We began to see the combined impact of these initiatives on our gross profit in the second quarter and as I discussed earlier, the positive impact continued through the third quarter. With further improvements in the top line, we expect our ability to leverage occupancy cost will continue.
Now turning to our outlook for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012. As a reminder, the company’s fourth quarter 2011 results included net sales of $11.8 million as a result of a favorable cumulative one-time adjustment related to gift card breakage. This adjustment resulted in 370 basis points in gross margin rate improvement last year and $0.39 benefit to earnings on a per share basis.
For the fourth quarter we currently expect comp store sales to be flat to down low single-digits. As we begin the quarter, our early November sales were negatively impacted by the effect of the significant weather on the east coast and our record Black Friday and Cyber Monday results made up a large part of these loss sales and the majority of the quarter still lies in front of us and as such, we are being cautious in our outlook for the fourth quarter.
With respect to the 53rd week we expect incremental sales of approximately $8 million. We expect merchandise margins in the fourth quarter to improve between 100 and 150 basis points. Our interest expense will be approximately $3.8 million, primarily reflecting the interest related to our term loan and we expect our adjusted net loss per share for the quarter to be in the range of $0.55 to $0.65. This guidance excludes any quarterly impact and the change in the fair value of the derivative liability associated with our preferred stock. Also this guidance does not include any costs associated with our CEO transition in the fourth quarter.
Finally, we expect our total inventory at the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012 to be flat to slightly down compared to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2011. This estimate does reflect the timing impact of early spring product receipts due to both an earlier planned assortment flow and the 53rd week this year.
For the full year of fiscal 2012 we expect to realize merchandise margin expansion of between 150 and 250 basis points. We continue to expect our SG&A expense to be down between $13 million and $15 million as compared to fiscal 2011 and we are on track to close approximately 14 premium retail stores and open one premium store during fiscal 2012. Finally, capital expenditures for the year are expected to be between $15 million and $17 million and depreciation and amortization will be approximately $52 million.
In summary we believe our third quarter financial results illustrate the meaningful progress we are making toward our goal of returning the business to sustainable profitability and growth. We are cautiously optimistic and believe that the improvements we have made to our merchandise offerings, coupled with stringent inventory and financial controls will lead to further measured improvements in our results as we progress to 2013 and beyond.
With that I’ll turn the call back over to Dennis.
Thank you Jim. Today I am also pleased to announce my retirement from Coldwater Creek as CEO and to announce that the Board of Directors has named Jill to succeed me in this capacity. Jill joined us a little less than two years ago and has demonstrated time and again her passion for the business of specialty retail, her incisive intelligence and her strong desire to again make Coldwater a highly successful company.
Her leadership skills were obvious from day one, but I’ve been especially impressed by her willingness to learn more and more about our customer and our brand. Both I and the rest of the board came to understand that we had a successor in place and there was no need to look elsewhere for our new CEO. I have no doubt that she is exactly the person we need to lead the second chapter in the 28-year history of the brand.
When I returned to the business at the end of 2009 I saw we would need new ideas and new expertise to succeed in retailing in the 21st Century. With the support of the board I devoted my efforts to recruiting truly outstand talent to the company, giving them time to learn about our customer and to begin to initiate the actions requited to put us back on a sound financial footing, and from there to emerge again, a compelling choice in the market place for woman’s apparel.
We have seen the first results of these efforts in our third quarter earnings just announced, with substantive improvements in nearly every major metric; we are on our way back. The product is far more compelling than it was in past seasons, thanks to the work of Jerome Jessup and his team. The creative is pointed appropriately to drive the product messaging with clarity and forcefulness, something that Nancy Binger and her team have done so well since her arrival.
The store field team under the leadership of Kim Sorenson continues to execute to a very high standard of customer service. Jim Bell’s expertise in improving efficiency across all areas of our business has resulted in a much more sustainable business model, something that we believe will yield long-term profitability at levels beyond what we’ve achieved historically and untimely we believe we will deliver significant shareholder value.
In addition the above, Claudia Runkel and her team in sourcing, David Edwards in IT, Jeffrey Parisian and the real-estate team and John Hayes, our General Council, as well as everyone else associated with the company are well prepared to assist in our journey going forwarded. I extend my appreciation to all of them.
Each of these executives, along with the rest of the leadership team is ready, willing and able to deliver the results we all expect and desire and I wish them great success in the years to come. With the recruitment and development and integration of this team, along with the recent strengthening of our financial condition, the work that’s set out to do when our return is now complete and I’m pleased to pass the baton to Jill and her team. Jill.
Thank you Dennis. I am pleased and proud to assume the role of CEO at Coldwater Creek and thank Dennis and the Coldwater Creek Board of Directors for the opportunity.
When I joined the company I saw a tremendous potential to work with a talented team of individuals, to rebuild a brand with high awareness and a royal customer following. I’ve learned a great deal from our associates during my tenure here and has been energized everyday by both the challenges and the opportunities that we have faced together.
I am pleased with the progress we have made thus far in rebuilding the Coldwater Creek brand, but recognize that there is still much to be done. I am confident in the management team currently in place and I’m delighted to have Michele Martin join our organization to build on the product foundation that has been put in place under my leadership.
I look forward to working with the entire leadership team to continue to build upon the Coldwater Creek heritage of delivering neat and differentiated product offering to our target demographic and to continue our legacy of award winning customer service. I want to thank Dennis for his passion and devotion to Coldwater Creek and for entrusting me to lead this organization.
I would now like to open the call for your questions.
Thank you. (Operator Instructions). Our first question comes from Neely Tamminga from Piper Jaffray.
Neely Tamminga - Piper Jaffray
Great. Good afternoon you guys and congratulations on the significant progress that you guys have made. Jill, the product really hasn’t looked in a very long time, so you should be very happy with that and Jill I want to offer my congratulations to you and your new roll and best wishes to Dennis, ahead for hem.
Jim, if I could just dive in here a little bit on gross margin and then I’ve got some related questions on comp. As we look to Q4 and I see the distinction you are making on the merchandise margin rate improvement relative to the gross margin rate improvement, but excluding the gift card brakeage on a year-over-year basis, could we actually still see the gross profit margin rate itself up year-over-year and the reason I’m asking is Q4 obviously can be a little bit tricky in terms of really gauging occupancy expenses, because you guys actually get leverage on flat and I’m just trying to get a sense of what that sensitivity is.
Yes, you bet and I think the best way to look that Neely is to adjust the 370 basis points of gross margin impact that the gift card breakage had last year and then subsequently to that then, we are really in a position right now with the occupancy expenses and the efforts that we are making around the optimization program that we are seeing leverage at even flat to slightly down comps. So the short answer when you put those together is yes, you do have that expectation.
Neely Tamminga - Piper Jaffray
That’s really helpful to understand that and then related, I know you kind of characterized the comp a little bit, unless I missed it in the commentary. Could you actually strip out what the Hurricane Sandy impact or the Super Storm Sandy impact has been to your business.
And I guess maybe the heart of question is, is the comp guidance flat to download single truly your quarter-to-date rates or it doesn’t actually contemplate the trajectory of improvement that you’ve seen over the last 10 days. We are just trying to get a sense of the delta. It seems like it’s been pretty significant, first half versus second half.
Sure, let me first address the storms that hit the east cost and Sandy in particular. What we saw initially, that we had about 30% of our stores were impacted. However many of those we open fairly soon, within a day or two of those storms and we estimate that its roughly worth about three points in comp in the quarter to give you some perspective.
And really though, most of that came in terms of softness in the first two weeks of November and as we said, we really had some strong build in our business, in particular the Black Friday weekend. So that comp rate is really reflective of really the total quarter and some improvement in our trends as we progress through the quarter.
Neely Tamminga - Piper Jaffray
Okay, that’s helpful and than just one final question from me related to that. For Jill, the calendar in an interesting calendar his year, because there are more days and there is a full weekend, but sometimes it can kind of create like the traditional lull from a shopping traffic perspective. Any thoughts about kind of resetting or additional flows into December, this year versus last year.
Yes sure. I alluded in my remarks that we had two flows, one like just prior to Thanksgiving and one that will set in our stores on the 10 December and so that well is almost twice as big as it was last year and also has associated with it for the first time a very nice hot going strategy, so we will deliver incremental product in our warmer weather stores. So we are actually very bullish about that opportunity and I think it was one of the reasons last year where our momentum declined in December, because of the lack of freshness.
Neely Tamminga - Piper Jaffray
That’s really helpful. Good luck to you guys and congratulations.
Thank you Neely.
Thank you. Our next question comes from Jeff Van Sinderen from B. Riley & Co..
Jeff Van Sinderen - B. Riley & Co.
Good afternoon and let me add my congratulations. Just a follow-up on the hurricane discussion, I’m just wondering how long your stores were closed and then have the stores in the hurricane market come back or bounced back to normalized level since then. I think you said 12 were still closed; is that still the case.
I’m just trying to get a sense of that and then also as part of that, it sounds like and correct me if my wrong, but it sounds like your comps are running positive around Black Friday weekend. So maybe you can just reflect on that or just give us a little more on that.
Sure Jeff, let me be clear. The 12 store closures are really a function of over last year and that’s really related to our ultimately our store closure program or optimization program, so that’s separate from Sandy.
In terms of the stores that were impacted by sandy, most of the stores were opened within few days. We still had a few handful that were closed through about two weeks of the first part of November, but everything is going to open by the mid part of the month.
Jeff Van Sinderen - B. Riley & Co.
Okay, and they are running back at normalized levels?
They are, and I think we participated along with the rest of the fleet in terms of the strong performance over the last weekend.
Jeff Van Sinderen - B. Riley & Co.
Okay and when you say strong performance is it there for me to think along the lines of positive comps.
Yes, I think the best way to think about that Jeff is we set records last year in terms of the biggest days in both Black Friday and Cyber Monday and we meet those significantly this year.
Jeff Van Sinderen - B. Riley & Co.
Okay great to hear. And then maybe you can just give us a little bit more on the trend of discussions with landlords. I know you still have some stores to close. Has anything changed there, anything evolving in terms of the plans to evolve your store fleet?
No, not really. I think we are advancing just as we set out to do about 18 months ago when we started that part of the process and we are still on tract and we will continue to again close about another 20 stores, I believe and making great progress more importantly on the other parts of the optimization, which is really finding opportunities in working with our landlords when we have good opportunities to downsize stores within a center, within a market; so good progress in all fronts.
Jeff Van Sinderen - B. Riley & Co.
Okay and then I know you mentioned with the relocated stores, the stores that have been downside, you are getting considerably better operating metrics out of those stores. Is there anything you can give us in terms of quantification of that, maybe in terms of sales preferred or kind of what you are seeing there?
Sure, I think the best way tot think about that, just may answer it generally and that is what we see in these store that we plane a store size below or around the 4,500 square foot range from in average which has been as much as about 6,000 square foot in our history. Its also there in our full wall operating margin it can be anywhere from 8% to 10% better, percentage points better.
Jeff Van Sinderen - B. Riley & Co.
Okay good, great to hear. I think that’s it. I’ll let somebody else slip in. Thanks very much and good luck for the rest of the quarter.
Thank you. At this time I’m going to turn the call back over to management for closing comments.
All right. I would like to thank everybody for their attention and we look forward to providing you with updates in the future. Happy holidays to one and all and goodbye.
Thank you. This does conclude today’s teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time. Thank you for your participation.
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