Herman Miller Management Discusses Q3 2013 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: Herman Miller, (MLHR)

Herman Miller (NASDAQ:MLHR)

Q3 2013 Earnings Call

March 21, 2013 9:30 am ET


Brian C. Walker - Chief Executive Officer, President and Director

Gregory J. Bylsma - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Jeffrey M. Stutz - Chief Accounting Officer, Vice President of Investor Relations and Treasurer


Chad Bolen

Joshua Borstein - Longbow Research LLC

Todd A. Schwartzman - Sidoti & Company, LLC


Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Herman Miller, Inc. Third Quarter Fiscal Year 2013 Earnings Results Conference Call. This call is being recorded.

This presentation will include forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements. These risks and uncertainties include those risk factors discussed in the company's reports on Form 10-K and 10-Q and other reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Today's presentation will be hosted by Mr. Brian Walker, President and Chief Executive Officer; Mr. Greg Bylsma, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; and by Mr. Jeff Stutz, Treasurer and Chief Accounting Officer. Mr. Walker will open the call with brief remarks, followed by a more detailed presentation of the financials by Mr. Bylsma and Mr. Stutz. We will then open the call to your questions. [Operator Instructions]

At this time, I would like to begin the presentation by turning the call over to Mr. Walker. Please go ahead, sir.

Brian C. Walker

Good morning, everyone. As usual, I'll begin this morning's call by offering some added commentary to yesterday's reported numbers, including a brief review of our performance by reporting segment and an update on the strategic investments and priorities. Then I'll hand the presentation to Greg and Jeff for more on the consolidated results.

To begin, the standout story for the quarter is gross margin, which had 34.1%, significantly exceeding our forecast. This strong margin performance helped drive a 23% increase in adjusted earnings per share compared to last year. A number of factors contributed to this improvement, including strong growth in our higher margin product categories and businesses. This point is critical as we are seeing real progress driven by the investments we're making in margin-rich products and categories in all segments and consistent with our growth strategy.

While we are pleased with this earnings performance, net sales and orders did fall short of our expectations, coming in at $424 million versus the $430 million to $450 million range we expected.

To be frank, the month of January was particularly soft and ultimately proved to be a bigger hurdle than we expected coming into the quarter.

With that said, our results for the full quarter reflect encouraging progress in a number of areas, including a return to year-on-year growth after 4 straight periods of decline.

It's also important to note that while January was tougher than we expected, we did see an improvement in order pacing through February and into March, as is typical during this period of the year.

Importantly, macroeconomic indicators for the industry suggest a positive trend in demand through 2014. While our growth in North America remains challenged by weaknesses in federal government demand, the balance of our North American segment showed solid momentum, generating sales and order growth of 5% and 10%, respectively.

Fueling that growth are the investments we're making in higher margin products, including the Thrive portfolio and in adjacent market opportunities. We also made progress strengthening our distribution channel in North America. Late in the quarter, we completed the sale of our company-owned dealership. This transaction combined our dealership with a group of existing dealer locations previously lined with a major competitor, creating the largest commercial interior distributor in the state of Florida.

In the Specialty and Consumer segment, we once again posted solid results with Geiger retail and the collection combining for sales growth to more than 13% over the same quarter a year ago.

While segment orders in total were up modestly from last year, we posted double-digit growth within the Herman Miller Collection, another key strategic aim for the segment and particularly for the collection is the enhancement of our overall brand. We're clearly seeing this bear fruit in brand recognition and appreciation among design specifiers, business end users and consumers.

Importantly, we know there's still more opportunity. We're continuing to expand our reissues of iconic Herman Miller designs updated with today's materials and technology and we're introducing wholly new designs to serve across the office, home and public spaces, both domestically and internationally.

Our non-North American segment reported sales growth in the quarter of 17%, while orders increased 3% relative to the same period of last year. In both cases, the growth was concentrated in Asia and largely related to our acquisition of POSH.

Beyond this contribution from POSH, we experienced varying rates of growth and decline by region, which in total combine for flat sales and a decrease in orders on a year-over-year basis.

Regional volatility is not uncommon with our international business, given that it's generally more project dependent than North America. That said, we feel good about our international position, with a growing offer of products appropriate to both mature and developing markets and expanding brand and dealer presence and the regional team to capitalize on our momentum.

For some time, we have talked about the significant investments we're making across geographies, vertical markets and product categories, and there are many more examples worth highlighting. Product innovation, knowledge-rich services and overall brand development continue to be the engines for our growth strategy in the office.

Seating is a major -- is a Herman Miller hallmark, and we continue to win both large and small volume customers with our industry-leading solutions. Today, we're committed as ever to protecting this leadership position. To that end, we'll be introducing a major seating refinement later this spring. Likewise, we're committed to sustaining and building on our legacy of pioneering design for the larger workplace. At NeoCon will be unveiling our most ambitious rethinking of the office since our invention of the first open-plan system action office in 1968. Working with leading design firms and backed by intensive global research, we will demonstrate how the needs of individuals and their work can better intersect with a collaborative and group need can bring new life to the office through furnishings technology and space design. In short, we are creating the office where people will want to work in and organizations can achieve optimal real estate performance. I hope you'll be able to join us in Chicago to see it firsthand.

Prior to June, during the Milan Furniture Fair, we are also launching a complementary global furniture platform, serving open plan to executive offices and specifically designed for international markets. At the same event, we will honor -- also introduce to the European market 2 newly commissioned designs from the Herman Miller Collection that address today's blending of work and lifestyle.

These investments are taking place even as we strengthen our balance sheet and return significantly more cash to shareholders. We are also following through on our commitment to reduce balance sheet risk by terminating our legacy pension plans. We expect this process to be complete by November of this year. Meanwhile, we have increased our shareholder dividend twice this fiscal year from an annualized payout of $5 million to today's run rate of $29 million.

Even with a significantly enhanced dividend, we are confident that our strong balance sheet and growing base of business leaves us room for further strategic investments.

With that brief introduction, let me turn the call over to Greg and Jeff for more details on the quarter.

Gregory J. Bylsma

Thanks, Brian. Net sales in the third quarter were lower than we anticipated coming into the period, though at $424 million, we were still 6% ahead of last year's level.

On a sequential comparison, sales were down 4% from the second quarter of this year. New orders in the quarter of $382 million were also up 6% year-on-year basis and decreased 20% from the second quarter level. These sequential period declines in both sales and orders this quarter were at the upper end of the normal seasonal range for our business.

As Brian described, while demand from the U.S. federal government remains a headwind to year-on-year growth, this was more than offset by broad-based strengths across the remaining major industry sectors in North America.

In total, sales within our North America reportable segment of $285 million were up 2% from the prior year. New orders in the third quarter were $268 million, reflecting an increase of 8% from the same period last fiscal year.

Sequentially, North American segment sales and orders were down 6% and 19%, respectively, from the second quarter level. Our non-North American segment reported net sales of $91 million for the quarter. This represents a 17% increase over Q3 of fiscal 2012 and a decrease of approximately 2% from the second quarter of this fiscal year.

The revenue growth over last year was driven primarily by the acquisition of POSH. We saw continued growth in Asia, emerging markets, however, this is offset by decreases in more developed international regions where demand in the financial service sectors has weakened.

New orders in the third quarter of $81 million were up 3% on a year-over-year basis, driven by the addition of POSH and continued strength in Middle East. This was offset by decreases in Australia, Latin America and the U.K. Sequential segment orders were down 20% from the second quarter level.

Net sales within our Specialty and Consumer segment totaled $47 million in the quarter. This represents a 13% improvement over the year-ago period, led by the continued momentum of our Herman Miller Collection business. Segment orders of $34 million decreased 2% on a year-over-year basis. This is largely attributed to a temporary reduction in order activity following the merger and integration of 2 of our largest online retailers.

We also saw a shift this quarter in the buying patterns of our retail distributors, who ordered more aggressively in Q2 of this year to better prepare for the holiday season. Compared to the second quarter of fiscal 2013, sales for this segment increased 7% and orders reflected a seasonal decrease of 27%.

As expected, our result this quarter reflected expenses associated with our strategy to close and terminate our legacy dimension defined benefit pension plans. In total, our third quarter includes approximately $4 million in pretax expenses related to these plans scheduled for termination. Of this amount, approximately $3 million is recorded in operating expense and the remaining portion is included in cost of sales.

Our consolidated gross margin in the quarter was 34.1%. Excluding legacy pension expenses, gross margin in the quarter was 34.2% -- 34.3%, an amount that was 70 basis points above the third quarter of last year and significantly better than our expectation coming into the period.

Favorable product and channel mix improved labor productivity, and lower commodity cost drove the majority of these improvements.

Additionally, despite seasonally lower production levels, these same factors helped drive a 50 basis point improvement in gross margins in the second quarter of this fiscal year.

I'll now move on to operating expenses and earnings for the period. Operating expenses in the quarter were $117 million compared to $109 million in the same quarter last year. Excluding the impact of legacy pension costs, operating expenses this quarter increased $5 million on a year-over-year basis. The increase relates primarily to higher spending in the areas of marketing and new product development and the addition of POSH, which wasn't included in our results at this time last year. These increases were partially offset in the quarter by a year-over-year decrease in product warranty expenses.

On a sequential quarter basis, operating expenses, excluding legacy pension costs, increased $1.7 million from the second quarter level. This change was in line with our expectations coming into the period.

On a consolidated basis, operating earnings for this quarter were $27 million or 6.5% of sales. Excluding legacy pension expenses recognized in the period, adjusted operating earnings were $31 million or 7.4% of sales. By comparison, we reported operating earnings of $25 million or 6.3% of sales in the third quarter of fiscal '12.

The effective income tax rate in the quarter was 29.4% compared to 30.3% in the same quarter last fiscal year. The lower rate this quarter resulted primarily from benefits recognized in connection with legislation to extend the R&D tax credit, which was signed into law on January of this year.

Finally, net earnings in the third quarter totaled $17 million or $0.28 per share on a diluted basis. Excluding the impact of legacy pension charges recognized in the quarter, adjusted earnings per share totaled $0.32, representing a 23% growth over Q3 of last year.

And with that, I'll turn the call over to Jeff to give us an update on our cash flow and our balance sheet.

Jeffrey M. Stutz

Great. Thanks, Greg. Good morning, everyone. Cash flow from operations in the third quarter were $30 million. Net changes in working capital drove a $12 million source of cash in the period, with the largest contributor being reductions in trade accounts receivable.

Capital expenditures in the quarter were $10 million, which brings the year-to-date total to just over $40 million. Dividends paid in the third quarter were $5 million compared to just over $1 million in the same period a year ago. The amount paid in Q3 reflects the rate we established at the beginning of the fiscal year. In January, we announced the further change to the dividend, increasing it 39% to $0.125 per share. This higher rate will improve our dividend payout to approximately $7 million in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013.

We ended the quarter with total cash and cash equivalents of $198 million, an increase of approximately $12 million from the end of Q2. We remain in compliance with all debt covenants. And as of quarter end, our gross debt-to-EBITDA ratio was approximately 1.4:1.

The available capacity on our bank credit facility remains at $142 million, with the only usage being for outstanding letters of credit. Given our current cash balance, ongoing cash flows from operations and the total borrowing capacity that we maintain, we're confident we can meet the financing needs of the business as we move forward.

That's the balance sheet and liquidity overview, and I'll now give the call back over to Greg, and he'll cover our Q4 sales and earnings guidance.

Gregory J. Bylsma

Okay. Thanks, Jeff. We expect sales to range between $430 million and $450 million in the fourth quarter. This implies anticipated revenue growth between 2% and 7% over Q4 of last fiscal year. Our guidance also reflects an assumed reduction in sales of approximately $5 million from the sale and de-consolidation of our Florida dealership.

We are expecting our fourth quarter will, again, include approximately $4 million in legacy pension expenses, of which approximately 80% will be recorded in operating expenses.

Excluding the impact of these pension costs, adjusted earnings per share in the quarter are expected to be between $0.34 and $0.38.

On a GAAP basis, diluted earnings per share in the fourth quarter are expected to be between $0.30 and $0.34. This assumes an effective tax rate of approximately 27%, however, we believe this rate could range between 24% and 30% depending on the outcome of variety of factors as we close out the fiscal year. We anticipate the fourth quarter gross margin to range between 34% and 34.5%, excluding the impact of legacy pension charges.

In total, operating expense in the quarter are expected to range between $117 million and $119 million, excluding the legacy pension impact.

This guidance reflects the anticipated increase in spending on strategic initiatives, including new products, scheduled for launch in the coming months.

And with that, I'll now turn the call back over to the operator so we can take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session


[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from Budd Bugatch from Raymond James.

Chad Bolen

This is actually Chad filling in for Budd. First question, Brian, in your comments, you talked about a pretty weak January. Could you guys quantify for us sort of what the weekly order pacing was throughout the quarter? And then what you've seen so far in March

Brian C. Walker

Yes. Chad, I think that's a level of detail I don't think we should get into because we'll be talking about that every quarter then up and down throughout the month, and it bounces too much, to be honest with you. And by the way, we should probably spare you guys the feelings that we always have when you look at weekly and daily numbers. So I would just say, it was less than we expected. December started off really good. And in fact, we knew that going into the call for the second quarter. January was weak. If you looked at the overall, as you can see from even the press release, the seasonality that wasn't more than normal, I think we actually had some signs from talking with the sales force coming out of the second quarter that in fact, the seasonality would be less than what would be typical. So I think somewhat our surprise was maybe because what we had seen exiting the second and early December felt like their forecasts were pretty reasonable. In retrospect, actually we saw a pretty typical seasonality. So I don't know whether it's unusual in a typical year. We probably got a little over excited based on what we saw at the end of the second and early December. Now again, we've seen kind of a normal, I would say, a normal bounce back. But we've only got 2 weeks in March. So it's a little early to call it yet. This is typically the time of year you're probably going to start to feel better once you get into April. March is still a little up and down. April starts to get solid, and that's where we really get a better feel about it.

Chad Bolen

Okay, and can you share with us how your customer visits trended during the quarter?

Brian C. Walker

Customer visits compared to prior year's, I would say they're relatively flat. I mean, not a big difference. I would say one of the things that's difficult to look at that data, though, remember, we virtually shut down West Michigan from customer visits. Well, we didn't say don't come, but we had the major place the people often come to is a front door space, it's a design yard, and it had been under construction, really, starting in August. And it's only been opened. In fact, we've only been back in our office for about 3 or 4 weeks. So it's just -- I would tell you, activity lately has been quite strong. We know that some customers had, in fact, deferred visits, kind of waiting until we got to the other side. So folks that were for sure in the midst of something and thought that the only way they can make their decision was coming to see us in West Michigan, those happened. But activities has been a little bit stronger. I would say, permitting weaken here from folks that are with the architectural community, as well as our own sales force activity. And the industry looks like it's still quite good. I know there is some concerns out there that the first half of calendar '13 doesn't look it's going to be robust. But as you get in the second half of calendar '13, there's a lot of good signs with where the ABI is. And even looking at the economic forecast yesterday from the fed would have you believe that calendar '13 is going to be okay, '14 looks better and even '15 looks pretty darn good. So I think what we see is your -- we're not going crazy in terms of what we think. We're trying to stay reasonable but relatively optimistic that if the general economic trend and the things you see underneath the data continue to happen, it should firm up as we get to the end of calendar '13, which start to see the industry get to maybe some better growth rates.

Chad Bolen

Okay. That's very helpful. And it sounds like the upcoming NeoCon is going to be a pretty big deal for Herman Miller. Greg talked about sort of the operating expense guidance for the quarter, including some of that spending and some of the -- or some of the new product related stuff. I guess, can you just help us how should we think about the cost related to the show, kind of the new product introductions in terms of the magnitude and the timing of where we'll see those expenses layer in?

Brian C. Walker

Well, we've already seen some of them. We've been talking about those for a good chunk of this year. I would say we're actually a little bit lighter in the first half of the year. In fact, even in the third quarter, lighter than we may have thought coming into the year. It will -- Chad, as Greg described, we'll have a fair amount on the third -- in the fourth quarter. It will be somewhat show related. It will be also related to -- you're just starting to get towards the tail end of what I would call market introduction versus market launch. Because NeoCon will really be an introduction of these ideas much more than it will be the final launch. The product themselves will actually launch the seating product line, will probably be near NeoCon. And then you'll see them launch throughout next year. So I think what we've been telling folks is look at -- we're going to have a fairly hefty expense load between now and sort of this time next year, because we've got a lot of stuff coming through the pipeline now. Some of that, whether they look heavy [ph] or not will depend on what growth rates are on the top line. I would suspect we won't see a lot in volume from those products until we get into probably tail end of next fiscal year just because in their launch rates are and they won't probably have a big impact until we get into fiscal '15 in terms of actual revenue.

Chad Bolen

Okay. And then last question for me. You've recently acknowledged a pretty significant meaningful project win. Any thoughts on sort of when that starts to show up in terms of the orders and shipments? And obviously, gross margin this quarter -- your guidance for next quarter is awfully good. Should we anticipate a bit of a margin drag, given the size of that project? And just how should we think about modeling all that?

Brian C. Walker

Well, first of all, I don't think we'll see any orders from what we can tell right now. A lot of that is based on the construction schedules. From what we know right now, I don't think we'll see any orders this fiscal year. I would think probably sometime in the first quarter, we'll start to see orders. We probably won't see any shipments until Q2. And that kind of depends on how the building schedule goes. Best guess right now is we'll start to get some orders end of Q1, probably really ramp in Q2. Shipments will start, I would guess, middle of Q2. Net-net, it's going to kind of depend on what the margins do because if that becomes additive and helps boost growth, of course -- as you guys know, when you saw this quarter, if we can get large or reasonable gains in volumes, we can actually leverage that quite well both at gross margin and at the operating income line. So Chad, I think it will really depend -- how that comes in will depend on what other businesses around it and what the total nature of growth is at that time.


Our next question comes from Josh Borstein from Longbow Research.

Joshua Borstein - Longbow Research LLC

Just on the orders in the specialty, consumer, you said were up 2%. And you mentioned there was a temporary reduction due to -- something to do with the online retailers. I was just wondering if you can go in a little more depth on what was going on there.

Brian C. Walker

Yes. I mean, if you look at the retail -- if you look at Specialty and Consumer, I think you saw revenue increased faster than orders, which is one of those questions you always ask yourself, well, what's going on, what does that mean? What we saw happen, particularly in the retail business, is first of all, we saw a little bit of a change year-over-year where a fair amount of retailers put restocking or stock heavier pre-Christmas than they did the year before. So we saw a little bit of movement of orders from Q3 to Q2, if you follow me. So the year-over-year comparison was a little funny in terms of timing. And the second thing we had is we had a -- one of our larger online retailers, 2 of them combined together. During that combination, they weren't as active as they typically are with advertising and those kind of things. And we saw a little bit of a drop-off in orders from them, as they went through their integration. We think that will come back. But those are the things that we saw bouncing around that made the orders look a little lighter than we think the ongoing trend will be as we get into the balance of the year.

Joshua Borstein - Longbow Research LLC

Okay. And then that Specialty and Consumer, just to follow up, it's been 10% of consolidated revenue now for the past 2 quarters. Where do you see this business as a percentage of revenue in, say, 2 years -- 2 or 3 years time from now?

Brian C. Walker

That's a great question. It sort of depends on how much of that -- how much of it is organic growth versus if we can find acquisitions that may make a difference to it. So if it's through organic growth, we never thought that the retail business would become a huge business. We think there's some opportunity to grow that. The margins have been good on it. We've seen increases on both on our online as well as our online partners growth. Our gut is we could probably see that thing grow to be around -- somewhere around 15% of the total revenue if it's all organic. And I'd say the 2 factors that are inhibitors to growth -- maybe 3: One is how many doors can we get open. We're doing some experiments with some of our retailers that give us more of a physical presence. Two, how fast can we get new products out the door, so that we can build the pipeline of that out for both the contract side as retail. And then three, can we find some complementary, either acquisitions or new segments of that world that we can get into that give us new room to grow from a product perspective. So I think it's going to really depend on those 3 items, whether or not we can have them become bigger than 15%.

Joshua Borstein - Longbow Research LLC

Okay. And then just going back to North American furniture solutions, you called out commercial in the press release as an area of strength. And I was just wondering if you can dig a little deeper into the -- specifically where in commercial you saw that strength so well?

Brian C. Walker

It was actually, I would say, fairly across the board. There wasn't a particular segment that was super strong, financial services. I would say internationally, maybe I'll give you the converse, the only thing that -- internationally, we saw banking sector, particularly in some of the big money centers, Hong Kong, Singapore, some of those being weak. Financial services was better overall globally. Banking, particularly in the international side, was weak. That's probably not a surprise when you hear what's going on in Europe, what's going on in Asia around banking and some of the changes and people trying to figure out capitalization and all those things. In the U.S., I think it was pretty broad. Jeff would you add anything to that?

Jeffrey M. Stutz

Yes. Josh, this is Jeff. Yes, I would just going to tag onto that. I think there's definitely -- there was a contrast certainly this quarter year-on-year. As Brian mentioned, internationally where banking and financial services has definitely stepped back in the major developed markets. Whereas in the U.S., we had a really good quarter. And of course, this is very project oriented, as you know. So it was quite strong. That was actually -- if you look across sectors, that was -- we saw the greatest strength on a year-on-year growth basis. But it was broad based, as Brian mentioned, outside of the government.

Joshua Borstein - Longbow Research LLC

Okay, great. And then, within that, is it you're sense that right now businesses, a lot of this -- a lot of the business that you're seeing is due more to, say, consolidation efforts rather than any kind of expansion efforts on the part of these businesses?

Brian C. Walker

Well, I mean, I don't know. I mean, you are seeing a fair amount if you just watch what's going on. You're seeing a fair amount of both either a, building new corporate headquarters. I mean, there's a fair amount of new corporate campuses going up across -- especially in the United States -- If you look at -- you got certainly the one big one that we've been -- that people talk about related to us. You've got Apple in the process of building new headquarters. Juniper Networks just put up a new headquarters. Red Hat is building a new headquarter. So you got a fair amount of folks talking about new headquarters construction. So I think you got -- you do have that going on. And a bit of that, I think, is people realize we're at a point where there needs to be a little bit of a reinvention. I mean, if you read all the news from Marissa Mayer saying, "Hey, look, I want folks to come home." I think you can overstate that by the way. That I think they have very specific issues that aren't necessarily a general trend. On the other hand, I think people are realizing more and more that you have to have the kind of places that attract your people to come to your business to operate, if you're going create the innovation and the strategic things you need for the future. So I think there's a little bit of a reinvention going on right now. As people say, can I house people without maybe -- with -- if not less space or certainly without adding space? And at the same time, make my places more attractive to where people want to come to me? So I think that's the mix that we're seeing. As people are saying, “How do I reinvent?” And certainly as companies have a little bit of cash to go do those kind of things, then if they're not finding places that they can put money with, that they can get monster returns on acquisitions and things, I think they'll look in how do I keep my people and make sure that the folks I do have are as productive as possible.


[Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from Todd Schwartzman from Sidoti & Company.

Todd A. Schwartzman - Sidoti & Company, LLC

I wanted to just look at the gross margin for a second. Looking back, at least 10 years, the past decade plus, the sequential change from third to fourth quarter gross margin has been at least 60 basis points up. I just want to maybe ask you for some color on the guidance. I realized it's early in the quarter and there's uncertainty out there in the world. But why the potential baked into your guidance for a sequential decline in margin?

Gregory J. Bylsma

Todd, this is Greg. I think the big thing that you typically see there is that the Q3 gross margin goes down because our ability to -- or our challenges to manage labor through what is typically a very busy December and then a very slow January. So you typically see -- from Q2 to Q3, you see that margin drop, and then you see it pick back up again. Our guidance for Q4 reflects the fact that we -- the ops team did a really good job of managing that through the first higher production levels in December, then lower in January. And so what we're typically forecast in Q4 is that level of variation in production schedules not to occur. But because we manage it so well in Q3, we don't predict a rebound in Q4.

Todd A. Schwartzman - Sidoti & Company, LLC

And what about those other positive puts and takes that contributed to that third quarter margin such as the commodities?

Gregory J. Bylsma

Yes. I think what you see there, Todd, is we had that -- over time, we've been saying this, we're shifting some of our product mix towards higher margin areas. We saw that in Q3. We saw it both through product and channel mix. And we don't see that changing too much as we move into Q4.

Todd A. Schwartzman - Sidoti & Company, LLC

And on product development. When you look at -- big picture, you look at your R&D budget, how do you think about allocation of dollars amongst the, I'll call it, new paradigm, old paradigm products, collaborative versus kind of bread-and-butter legacy Herman Miller products. Do you target any percentage? Or is it just based on whatever designs you're -- the designers are able to come up with that meet people's needs?

Brian C. Walker

Yes. We certainly try to get a mix between things that are -- sort of updates the current platforms, things that are, we would call, real breakthroughs and things that are new platforms. And we have a set mix. If you had to watch it over time, you want -- you don't want to have too heavy of a load towards breakthroughs. You want a big chunk of it to be right in the middle of new platforms that are kind of driven by your research but that are going to be kind of cornerstones, if you will. The thing that we -- even on -- in the collection, we're trying to do a mix of things that are both updates. What I've always said to our team, though, is we don't want to -- we're not in the business of doing antiques. We don't sell antiques. We have to sell products that are relevant to today. What we are doing to collection, though, looking at things that are still relevant and asking how do we improve them with new materials, new design adaptations that make them even more relevant for today's user. So there's a section of that business that's not going to be the major part of what they do. They also have to be working on new platforms that are at the core of that business. And then we got to be doing some things that catch people's imagination that are more breakthroughs or specialty things that kind of reignite people's love of Herman Miller. So looking at that mix is a -- it's an art form as much as it's a science. The only thing you're doing, and Greg talked about this, mix between -- trying to look at high margin areas. Well, that has been true. The other thing you have to be careful of is our business also has to be -- because our customers see us as sort of a complete provider that we can go in and provide not just an individual object but in fact, we can help you with an entire environment. So we're also trying to balance that off and to say we have to -- to get the high-margin products into our customers, we have to be able to give them an entire environment. So thinking through how we reshape the environment and then at the same time bringing those products that have great margins. Those 2 things have to be seen in balance.

Todd A. Schwartzman - Sidoti & Company, LLC

That helps. Great. Turning to POSH for a minute. Under your ownership, are they losing, gaining market share? How would you characterize their performance under your early involvement?

Brian C. Walker

That's a really tricky one to predict for China, to be perfectly frank, because there's no great data on what's the market for China. What I will say is happening is during the initial stages of the acquisition, like you often find with acquisitions, we have a model where they're producing products for us today. The family who own the business are still in manufacturing. We had some hiccups trying to get that all work through the system. So their orders were a little light in the summer and I would call it sort of self-inflicted wounds a little bit. We've seen that pick back up. The good news with POSH, I think where we're really seeing the place where it's growing is a, us selling our products into their channel in Mainland China, which was always one of our big drivers; and b, using POSH products in the remainder of our distribution in the emerging markets across Asia and the Middle East. Those are the places. So do you see that market share? Yes, it is, but it's not market share in China necessarily. It's looking at the business more broadly, more holistically. Certainly, it's enabling us to get the opportunities in some of those markets we wouldn't have done otherwise.

Todd A. Schwartzman - Sidoti & Company, LLC

What were their third quarter revenues, and maybe if you could, orders and dollars?

Brian C. Walker

We're not going to break down the segment that far. That starts to get, in my opinion, sort of on the point of a level of granularity that's not helpful. And by the way, it's going to bounce around depending on whether it's a POSH product or a Herman Miller product on the projects. I don't think it's actually that meaningful.

Todd A. Schwartzman - Sidoti & Company, LLC

And the seasonality there not terribly different from North America?

Brian C. Walker

It's a little different. I mean, you get -- sometimes you'll see it in different periods within a quarter because Chinese New Year is, obviously, going to have a bigger impact for those guys than what we're going to see in the U.S. around Christmas. So Chinese New Year is always one of those things, I think, this year hit in the third quarter. Right, Greg? Basically, China's shut down for that week or 2 weeks, where nothing moves. So you get a lot of spikiness on either side. Most likely, we see it around the Christmas holiday in the Western world.

Todd A. Schwartzman - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Got it. And on share buybacks, just if you could refresh me, what do you have, if anything, under authorization remaining?

Brian C. Walker

We have a fair amount of authorization. As you know, our -- we've been on this mode to say the first thing we wanted to do was pay down debt, get that taken care of. The second thing we want to do is get the pension plan in order. Our third priority was looking for things where we could grow the business. And then last, we said we were going to be -- we would look at the dividend. We have, as you know, the debt pieces pretty much there. We're in the late innings on the pension thing. We think that will get wrapped up as we get to the fall because we had enough cash and we figured we had plenty of room to do strategic things we wanted to do. We've been fairly aggressive about getting the dividend, not only back up to where it used to be but above, at the highest level we've ever done. Certainly one of the conversations at the board now is what should we do next. And I think one of the things we've been considering is, at some point, if we did share repurchases at all, the one thing we would look at first is how do we ensure that our long-term incentive plans are not dilutive, and that would be the next spot, I think, we'd go to.


I'm showing no else in the queue at this time. I would like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Brian Walker for any closing remarks.

Brian C. Walker

Well, thank you, all. In closing, I want to summarize some of the keep points of our strategy reflected in today's call that we believe will drive growth and help us continue to expand margins. First, we are investing in our core base business domestically and internationally with a clear aim to grow revenue. That added volume will also elevate our margins for better utilization of our existing overheads. Secondly, we are working to refine and fix those areas of the business that need attention, and we are seeing progress in strengthening their margin contributions. Finally, we are investing in our Specialty and Consumer segment, specifically the retail and collection elements, with a focus on margin-rich products and channel models. As we've said, these investments in product and service innovation, new channels, international reach and brand building will have some impact on our profit leverage over the next 9 to 12 months. But we are already seeing validation of our strategy and expect greater returns in the coming fiscal year. Today, we are confident in our direction, our people and our partners, and we look forward to sharing more with you in June. Until then, have a great spring, and we'll talk soon.


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for participating in today's conference. This concludes our program. You may all disconnect, and have a wonderful day.

Copyright policy: All transcripts on this site are the copyright of Seeking Alpha. However, we view them as an important resource for bloggers and journalists, and are excited to contribute to the democratization of financial information on the Internet. (Until now investors have had to pay thousands of dollars in subscription fees for transcripts.) So our reproduction policy is as follows: You may quote up to 400 words of any transcript on the condition that you attribute the transcript to Seeking Alpha and either link to the original transcript or to www.SeekingAlpha.com. All other use is prohibited.


If you have any additional questions about our online transcripts, please contact us at: transcripts@seekingalpha.com. Thank you!