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Finish Line (NASDAQ:FINL)

Q4 2013 Earnings Call

March 28, 2013 8:30 am ET

Executives

Edward W. Wilhelm - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Glenn S. Lyon - Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Member of Strategy Committee

Samuel M. Sato - President of Finish Line Brand and Member of Strategy Committee

Analysts

Bernard Sosnick - Gilford Securities Inc., Research Division

Kate McShane - Citigroup Inc, Research Division

John Zolidis - The Buckingham Research Group Incorporated

Paul Trussell - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

Taposh Bari - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Eric B. Tracy - Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, Research Division

Jeffrey Wallin Van Sinderen - B. Riley Caris, Research Division

Camilo R. Lyon - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Sam Poser - Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., Research Division

Operator

Good morning. My name is Sarah, and I'll be your conference operator today. At this time, I'd like to welcome everyone to the Finish Line Fourth Quarter Fiscal 2013 Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] At this time, I'd like to introduce the host of today's call, Finish Line's Chief Financial Officer, Ed Wilhelm. Sir, you may begin your conference.

Edward W. Wilhelm

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. On the call with me today is our Chairman and CEO, Glenn Lyon. In addition, Steve Schneider, President and Chief Operating Officer; and Sam Sato, President of The Finish Line brand, are with us for the question-and-answer portion of our call.

Before I get started, I need to remind you that this call may include forward-looking statements involving risks, management assumptions and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from the statements expressed or implied.

Such risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, product demand and market acceptance risks, the effects of economic conditions, the effects of competitive products and pricing, the availability of products, management of growth and other risks detailed in our news release and SEC filings.

The forward-looking statements included in this call are made only as of the date of this report, and the company undertakes no obligation to update these forward-looking statements to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.

Now, I will turn the discussion over to Glenn.

Glenn S. Lyon

Thanks, Ed, and welcome, everyone. I'm going to begin today's call with a review of our fourth quarter operating performance and full year highlights, followed by a discussion of how we're approaching fiscal 2014. Ed will then review the financials in detail and outline our guidance. After the closing comments, we'll be happy to take your questions.

Our fiscal year came to a close much like we anticipated. Following a solid December buoyed by the holidays, sales trends slowed significantly in January before recovering somewhat in February. Strong comp gains in basketball, up 26% for the fourth quarter, were offset by softness in some portions of our running business, which in total was down 6%.

In addition to the drag on sales from the recent shift in category trends, we believe our business was also impact by the much talked about macro headwinds. The end result was comp sales increase of 1%, with brick-and-mortar sales down 2% and digital up 21%. Adjusted fourth quarter diluted EPS of $0.76 was in line with our guidance.

Diving deeper into the category and brand performances from the quarter, we did a good job leveraging our merchandise capabilities to capitalize on the strong trends in basketball. As I mentioned, our basketball business was up 26% in Q4 on a comp basis, driven by the continued strength of Brand Jordan, Nike, adidas and Reebok. Both retro and non-retro styles performed very well.

While running was down as a category, there were pockets of strength led by Nike free and Max 2013 along with Brooks, ASICS and Mizuno. For the quarter, soft goods also increased mid-single digits on a comp basis, driven by some strong gains in accessories.

During the fourth quarter, we successfully launched our new Macy's business with the opening of 3 shops, and we're really pleased with the initial results. More on Macy's in a moment.

While the pace of our business slowed towards the end of the year, it shouldn't detract from the number of accomplishments over the past 12 months, nor should it serve as a harbinger for the future. I am encouraged by how quickly our team reacted to the challenges that arose in the back half of the year and the progress we've made against the objectives we laid out on our third quarter call.

First and foremost, we've reduced our expense structure to better align with current and projected top line trends. Ed will provide you with more specific details on the nature of the reductions in his section.

Importantly, our website has continued to contribute meaningful to our top and bottom line, as digital continues to be a critical component of our Omni channel strategy.

Looking back to this time last year, we set a series of goals for the company. In FY '13, the focus was on improving productivity in our retail stores, increasing penetration and profitability of our digital business, developing new growth initiatives and returning capital to shareholders. A year ago, we also outlined what it would take in terms of capital investments in people, technology and stores to achieve our vision of becoming a leading Omni channel retailer. Today, our vision and course remain unchanged, though we are modifying the pace of some of our initiatives based on the learnings of the past year.

As I said last quarter, we remain steadfast in our belief that technology and digital will continue to drive broad changes in the retail landscape. Therefore, we remain committed to the core systems investments that will allow us to translate our vision into reality and deliver sustainable sales and earnings growth over the long term.

The athletic market is constantly shifting as consumer demands dictate what categories and styles are in fashion. That is the nature of this business. Within the industry, Finish Line is the retail leader in running, a position that has served us well throughout our history, and will continue to. Our commitment to this category is unwavering, and we will continue to make investments to strengthen our leadership position.

During FY '13, we reinforced our leadership role in running through a tremendous assortment of innovative products from the likes of Nike, Brooks, ASICS, Mizuno and adidas. For the year, running comps increased just over 2%. This does come on top of a 3-year stacked comp of 54%.

The performance of our basketball business, which increased 21% on a comp basis, was a major highlight for 2013. The fourth quarter marks the 9th quarter in a row where our basketball business has grown double digits. Much of this year's gain came from Brand Jordan and Nike, both of which had multiple compelling product introductions that infused excitement into the category and helped us drive traffic into our stores and website. Additionally, with the launch of its Derrick Rose signature series, adidas also posted a strong increase year-over-year.

The performances of running and basketball footwear, combined with solid gains in kids footwear and soft goods within an enhanced in-store experience, drove sales per square foot in our stores to a record $353, up 4% from $339 last year and up 19% from $298 just 3 years ago.

FY '13 also marked a number of critical infrastructure investments to support future growth and further development of our multi-divisional and Omni channel platforms. This included the first phase of a multi-year effort to replace our core systems. When completed, these new core systems will improve our merchandising capabilities and inventory management, create distribution and direct-to-consumer fulfillment efficiencies and provide a more scalable platform to better support additions like The Running Company and our new Macy's business. Our CapEx spend also included investments in handhelds and the new POS system for our entire store fleet.

In 2013, we delivered on our goal of expanding digital operating margins through a combination of strong top line gains, improvement in gross margins and SG&A leverage. For the year, digital operating margins expanded 500 basis points to 13%.

During the year, we entered into an innovative partnership with Gart Capital for The Running Company. This combination brought together the right pieces of -- to successfully execute a roll-up strategy of the highly fragmented specialty running market. Since joining forces, we've expanded Running Company's store base through acquisitions and new store openings. We've also hired key personnel to oversee critical areas such as merchandising, marketing and store operations. This business is now well positioned for accelerated growth.

Then, of course, we announced Macy's. I know many of you have seen the Newport Center store in New Jersey. That is one of a few prototypes we are currently developing as we determine what works best for the customer. While we're still in the early days, we're optimistic about the long-term potential of this unique opportunity as it considerably expands our Finish Line brand and broadens our reach, particularly with the female customer who represents a large percentage of Macy's customer base.

Lastly, consistent with our capital allocation strategy, we returned over $89 million to shareholders through $12 million in dividends and the repurchase of 3.9 million shares totaling $77 million in fiscal 2013. The Board of Directors reaffirmed its belief in our future prospects at the January board meeting by increasing our annual dividend rate 17% to $0.28 per share, and authorizing an additional 5 million shares under the current buyback.

Now looking ahead to the priorities for fiscal 2014. We will continue to drive productivity of our retail stores, continue to increase penetration and profitability of our digital business and continue to expand as a multi-divisional retailer. We will do this with an expense structure that is aligned with our expected revenues, while at the same time moving forward on the strategic course to build the capabilities required to execute on our Omni channel vision. We also remain strongly committed to returning capital to shareholders in the form of dividends and buybacks.

Our stores will benefit from the investments we've already made, and continue to make, to improve efficiencies and customer experience. In fiscal 2014, we will be adding improved functionality to the handhelds and leveraging the new POS system. I think it's worth noting that since being introduced, the handhelds have helped improve conversion in our stores, particularly on high-traffic days, as they increased the effectiveness of our sales people and significantly shorten wait times at checkout.

Our strategic course continues to guide our capital allocation decisions. We will make tactical modifications along the way when we see the opportunity to enhance returns. This year, we will be shifting a larger portion of our capital investments away from remodels towards more attractive new store opportunities.

In terms of the digital business, we have an RFP out for a new operating system, and we are currently searching for a new Chief Digital Officer. In the meantime, we'll be making investments that will continue to advance sales and margins as part of our Omni channel strategy. These include marketing and consumer outreach programs to drive traffic to finishline.com; upgrades to our current platform, both front and back of the house, that will improve the site's feel and functionality and provide a seamless shopping experience for consumers. Additionally, new mobile solutions that will allow us to better capitalize on the increase in smartphone transactions.

Lastly, with respect to our exciting new growth initiative, the Macy's partnership. Beginning in mid-April, we will be taking ownership of the athletic footwear inventory at all Macy's doors, followed closely by our digital launch. We will also begin rolling out Finish Line-branded shops to Macy's stores nationwide. We expect to open 20 to 30 shops each month and have a presence in approximately 450 Macy's stores upon completion. Ed will go through what we expect the contribution for Macy's to be in fiscal 2014, but I want to reiterate that we view this as a business that can generate $250 million to $350 million in annual sales when ramped -- when fully ramped with associated earnings of $0.30 to $0.35 per share.

As we process developments over the past year, we're working on updating our previously communicated 5-year plan and we'll share our revised long-term goals with you on our fiscal Q1 call.

With that, I'll turn the call over to Ed to go over our financial results and our outlook in more detail. Ed?

Edward W. Wilhelm

Thanks, Glenn. Before I begin discussing our results, there are a few items to note. First, my comments will focus on results that exclude the nonoperating asset impairment adjustments. Please see the financial tables in our news release, which reconcile non-GAAP results to GAAP. Second, as a reminder, our financial results are reported on a consolidated basis, including The Running Company. And third, results for the prior fourth quarter and full year fiscal 2012 included an extra week, which positively impacted revenue by $30 million and EPS by $0.07, respectively, that year.

Okay. I will begin by discussing the performance of our Finish Line business and will then review the results for The Running Company. Finish Line fourth quarter comp sales were up 0.7% on top of the 10.8% increase 1 year ago. For the stores, comp sales declined 2.4%, driven by negative store traffic. Digital comp sales increased 21% for the quarter and represented 15.1% of total sales compared to 13.7% for the same period 1 year ago. With respect to cadence, comps were strongest in December, up 7.1%; softest in January, down 11.5%; and flat in February. Comps in March are up 4% month-to-date.

On the category side, footwear comps were up slightly at 0.2% and the soft goods comp increased to 3.7%. Footwear ASPs increased 8%. Gross margin rate decreased 210 basis points from 1 year ago to 35.2%. Product margin, net of shrink, was down 100 basis points due to higher markdowns as we continue to adjust our product assortments to customer demand. Occupancy deleveraged by 110 basis points. On a dollar basis, occupancy expense increased high-single digits from the year-ago period.

SG&A expense was 20.9% of sales, which leveraged 130 basis points from last year, due primarily to a concerted effort to tightly manage costs given recent sales trends, in addition to lower incentive compensation costs. Included in SG&A were operating expenses associated with Macy's of $750,000 or 20 basis points.

As a result, operating margin was down 80 basis points to 14.3%. Excluding the pretax impact of the 53rd week in fiscal 2012, operating margin was down 50 basis points.

Moving on to results for The Running Company. Sales in the fourth quarter were $7.8 million, driven by a low-single digit comp increase. Net loss was in line with our expectations at $550,000 and affected consolidated EPS by $0.01. On a consolidated basis, fourth quarter net income decreased 11.3% to $37.7 million, and EPS was $0.76 as compared to the $0.81 in fiscal 2012. Excluding the $0.07 impact from the extra week in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012, EPS was up 2.7%.

It should be noted that we incurred impairment charges in the quarter totaling $5.6 million pretax or $0.07 per share. These impairment charges were related primarily to write-offs in our digital business and store asset impairments.

Turning to the full year, Finish Line only. Sales increased 4.2%, with comparable store sales up 5.8% on top of a 9.2% increase in fiscal 2012. Operating margins for fiscal 2013 were 8.6% compared to 10% last year, driven by 150-basis-point decline in gross margin, partially offset by a 10-basis-point improvement in SG&A as a percent of sales. The pretax impact of the 53rd week was worth 20 basis points of operating margin in fiscal 2012.

For The Running Company, full year sales were $27.6 million, with comps increasing in the low teens. Net loss for the year was $1.4 million or $0.03 per share. On a consolidated basis for the full year, sales increased 5.4% to $1.44 billion and diluted earnings per share were $1.47 compared to $1.53 excluding the $0.07 benefit of the 53rd week last year.

Moving now to our balance sheet. Inventory was up 9.1% at Finish Line and was up 10.6% on a consolidated basis. The increase in Finish Line inventory was driven in part by some early spring receipts, and in addition, we also continue to work with our vendor partners to adjust our product assortments and inventory levels.

Capital expenditures were $29.2 million in the fourth quarter and $91.3 million for the year. Of the $91.3 million, $81 million was a cash outlay during the year, while the balance was accrued in accounts payable at year end. Depreciation and amortization expense was $10 million in the quarter and $31.2 million for the year. We ended the year with $227 million in cash, down from $307.5 million 1 year ago.

During the quarter, we bought back 1.3 million shares, totaling $23.6 million. Year-to-date, we bought back 3.9 million shares, totaling $77.2 million, which leaves us with 4.9 million shares remaining for repurchase under the current board authorization.

For the year, we generated approximately $80 million in cash from operations, which funded our CapEx requirements. In addition, we utilized excess cash on the balance sheet to return almost $90 million to shareholders through stock buybacks, as well as dividends.

Our store activities for the year was as follows: For Finish Line, we ended the year with 645 stores, including 29 openings and 21 closings. In addition, we also repositioned 19 stores and remodeled 14 stores during fiscal 2013. For The Running Company, we ended with 27 stores, including 6 acquired and 2 new store openings.

Now moving onto our outlook for fiscal 2014. All references below will be to consolidated results, including Finish Line stores and digital, The Running Company and the Macy's business, unless otherwise specified. We expect full year diluted earnings per share to increase mid-single digits compared to the adjusted EPS of $1.47 in fiscal 2013.

Following are the assumptions used in developing the full year guidance. First, with respect to sales. For Finish Line, we assumed a slightly positive

comp for the year with continued pressure in the first half, particularly Q1. This is expected to be driven by a low-single digit decline in our brick-and-mortar stores, with a mid-teen increase in digital. We expect to open 20 to 25 new Finish Line stores and close 10 to 15 stores. We expect the Macy's partnership to generate approximately $130 million to $150 million in sales this fiscal year from both the brick-and-mortar shops and the Macy's digital business. These sales will commence in mid to late April. We expect Macy's to be modestly accretive for the year. And we expect sales from The Running Company to be between $45 million to $55 million, driven by a combination of comp store sales growth, plus the acquiring and opening of approximately 30 new stores. We expect The Running Company to be modestly dilutive for the year.

Consolidated product margin is expected to be flat to down slightly with continued pressure in the first half, particularly Q1. Consolidated occupancy costs are expected to increase double digits for the year due to new store growth for Finish Line and The Running Company, as well as renewals for existing Finish Line stores, as we lock in long-term leases for our best performing locations. In addition, occupancy dollars will increase as a result of the license fee associated with the Macy's partnership.

Consolidated SG&A is expected to deleverage due to the following: SG&A expenses associated with the Macy's business; SG&A increases at Finish Line, primarily to support growth in our digital business; SG&A increases associated with sales and store growth at The Running Company; and finally, incentive compensation costs, which are planned at target levels in FY '14 as compared to the lower levels paid out in FY 13. The result of all of these is that we expect our operating margin to contract in fiscal 2014 from current levels, with much of the contraction driven by the margin profile of the Macy's start up.

We anticipate that the effective tax rate will be approximately 38.5% and our fully diluted share count for the year will be approximately 48 million. We are planning our capital expenditures to be in the range of $80 million to $90 million, which includes an estimated $18 million in capital outlay associated with building out shops in Macy's.

Breaking down our more significant area of CapEx further: $23 million to $27 million will be dedicated to Finish Line stores, primarily new store openings and store repositions, as well as some maintenance remodel capital; $20 million to $25 million in technology investments to support the multi-year core systems upgrade we embarked on beginning last year; $4 million to $5 million in technology to support growth in our digital business; and finally, $6 million to $8 million to support The Running Company new store growth, which excludes acquisition capital.

Depreciation and amortization for the year is expected to be between $36 million and $38 million. Given that in fiscal 2014, we will incur expenses as well as realize revenues from the Macy's partnership for the first time, I want to provide some color that will help you in building your quarterly models. First, as we work through the positioning of our inventory at Finish Line, to get the balance where we need it to be, we will continue to be faced with comp sales and gross margin headwinds, particularly in the first half.

Second, in the first quarter, we will incur significant expenses associated with Macy's and we'll only realize approximately 4 to 6 weeks of sales in the mid to late April launch. As a result, consolidated SG&A is expected to delever over 100 basis points in fiscal Q1, driving a double-digit decline in EPS. As a result, the mid-single digit earnings growth we are anticipating for fiscal 2014 will be weighted towards the back half of the year. Also in Q1, we expect to take a onetime charge, which is excluded from the guidance I just provided. This charge relates to the Macy's agreement and consists of start up costs and inventory disposal costs associated with getting the initial product assortment in place.

I will now turn the call back over to Glenn for his closing remarks.

Glenn S. Lyon

Thanks, Ed. I'd like to once again summarize the main themes for fiscal 2014. We will continue to focus on creating a sustainable Omni channel business model at The Finish Line, which we believe will help smooth out some of the peaks and troughs that are inherent in this business. We will continue to execute our strategy while prudently managing expenses and making the nearer-term tactical changes necessitated by the evolving marketplace. We will stay close to our customer and ensure that our product, service levels and marketing message remain compelling. And we will leverage our strong vendor relationships to strengthen our leadership position in the running category.

Thank you for your support, and I'm now ready for calls. Operator?

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Your first question comes from Bernard Sosnick of Gilford Securities.

Bernard Sosnick - Gilford Securities Inc., Research Division

With regard to Macy's, CFO, Karen Hoguet, said she was very excited about the first unit. You're implying that you are pleased as well with the initial ones. What have you seen as a result that would make Macy's excited and you very pleased?

Glenn S. Lyon

Are we dealing semantics here, Bernie?

Bernard Sosnick - Gilford Securities Inc., Research Division

I don't know. Just want to get you to let us know.

Glenn S. Lyon

Well, I'm standing on the table now. All right, this is probably the most exciting thing Finish Line has done in 30 years. This is a big add to our business, and it adds a consumer to our business, it's in our core competencies, it has so many positives to it. So we know we've got to execute 650 stores and we've done 3. So I apologize if I don't sound as enthusiastic as you would like, but there has been nothing but positive feedback, the relationship with Macy's has been great, the vendors have stepped up big time, we are going to have an unbelievable run with this business. Does that sound better?

Bernard Sosnick - Gilford Securities Inc., Research Division

It does, indeed. What have you seen in terms of the kind of products sold versus what you're selling in the stores?

Samuel M. Sato

Bernie, this is Sam. First, let me echo Glenn's enthusiasm around this. Our goal was to expand the footprint of The Finish Line brand. We see this segment of the business as being underserved. And clearly, we think there's a significant opportunity, especially around the female consumer that the Macy's company brings into their stores. This is -- we've got a couple of pilot stores opened. This is a learning period for us, and that was the purpose behind opening these shops well before the 4/14 takeover of inventory, is we're trying to learn what that consumer wants. And so at this point, we're putting in a lot of goods, both driven by some of the results Macy's has experienced over their time running the business and we've added obviously a significant assortment from all of our resources. And we're in a real open-minded test-and-learn phase right now.

Bernard Sosnick - Gilford Securities Inc., Research Division

Okay. With regard to e-commerce, you have -- you're seeking a new chief for that business. You had a couple of glitches in the fall. Could you explain a little bit about e-commerce. What were some of the disappointments and what do you expect to have corrected?

Glenn S. Lyon

Bernie, this is Glenn. Well, let me just say this. We haven't changed our ultimate goals for the digital business. As I've said many times, Omni channel is the center of where we think the consumer today is. This is not multi channel, it's not e-commerce over here and stores over here, it's about social, it's about mobile, it's about tablets, it's about brick-and-mortar and how all of those things interact. So with -- and certainly, the digital piece is at the center of the attention of the customer. So I think it's important to remember that our digital platform wasn't broken, and when we made the move to go to the new platform, we did not see any downside to it, okay. So we were wrong. And we just simply wanted to do better, we wanted to be strong and continue our leadership in this whole Omni channel deal. So look, we had a 21% increase, we had previously put in our guidance 25% to 30% increases in digital. I think we will get to the ultimate goal. It will take us a little longer, unless we get surprised and some things come together faster than we now have it planned. So I think we're being a little conservative on that side, but I think it's appropriate at this point. By the way, we are up -- in the early goings, we are up 30% in the digital business. So this is still the course that we're taking. Our goal -- our numbers are a little more conservative than they were 1 year ago.

Bernard Sosnick - Gilford Securities Inc., Research Division

Okay. Could you give us a little bit more color on the impairment charge?

Edward W. Wilhelm

Yes. So it included the write-off of our digital platform related to the digital business and then there were a handful of stores, Bernie, that we typically review at the end of each year and we had some impairments there as well.

Operator

Your next question comes from Kate McShane of Citi Research.

Kate McShane - Citigroup Inc, Research Division

Glenn, I was wondering if you could help us reconcile some of the strength that we've seen in Nike's running business and their sell-through to what you're seeing in your running business. I know you highlighted few Nike styles that were outperforming but it still seems like there's a disconnect with the strength in the brand and your comp.

Glenn S. Lyon

So, Kate, let me just start with this. We came to the prom with running and I'm going to take her home from the prom with running. It's been a 30-year history with us. Charlie Denson came and challenged us 5 years ago to be the leaders, and we believe ultimately, that's what we need to continue to do. Our business with Nike alone was slightly positive. We were also up against a unique moment in time, in our segment and as the leaders of this segment, of being positioned off of 3 major platforms that were working full bore 1 year ago. And those were Air, Lunar and Free. That was as far as we were concerned and everybody who is a historian here would say to you, and by the way, we have some pretty good Shox numbers on the side as well. So that was a unique point in time. Kate, I don't usually do this, but we have 54% increase over 3 years. That's 18% a year on average. We moved a couple of hundred million dollars up on 1 million dollar total footwear base in the running business. Have we hit a little bit of a snag here? I can't speak for what Nike's growth has been in different channels, with different retailers. I can only assure you this, I believe we are engaged, as they are engaged, to not only maintain a leadership position visually, but on the bottom line. We are working relentlessly on this running business not only with Nike but adidas, Brooks, ASICS, Mizuno, there's still plenty of great stuff out in the market. This is our issue, and we're going to work our way through it. But I can tell you that there's -- I think some people misunderstood me when I was calling for the death of running. It wasn't. We had a little bit of a bump. We were up against some big numbers, we thought we had enough ammunition and we didn't. I venture to guess you won't find that either coming out of the brand's initiatives or Finish Line's initiatives, not how we operate.

Kate McShane - Citigroup Inc, Research Division

Okay, that's really helpful. And then my second question is regards to -- with regards to, can you give a little bit more detail and rationale around your comment that a larger portion of your CapEx is going to be taken away from remodels to more attractive new store opportunities? Is that for Finish Line and The Running Company? Is that covered?

Edward W. Wilhelm

That's just for Finish Line, Kate. Remember, as we moved into last year, we were going to test a couple of what I'll call strategic remodels with the new prototypes to see if we can get financial returns. We talked about in the last couple of calls that they weren't generating the kind of returns we were looking for, so we moved away from that and will be -- we won't be doing what I'll call strategic remodels. So our remodel program will now revolve around what I'll call maintenance remodels to keep our fleet competitive and fresh. But we are putting more capital into new stores at Finish Line with a 20 to 25 new store program. We're very pleased with the results of our new stores that we opened up in fiscal '13. They're performing above pro forma and above our hurdle rate expectations, so we're funneling our capital investments to those.

Operator

Your next question comes from John Zolidis of Buckingham Research.

John Zolidis - The Buckingham Research Group Incorporated

Why don't I start by asking about March trends, you said up 4%. I believe last year, March was up in the low doubles or mid teens, maybe you can give us that figure so we have a comparison. What's changed to help the March business get over that difficult hurdle?

Edward W. Wilhelm

John, last year for us, March was up 13.5%. And what's gotten better for us is stores. Stores are slightly positive so far in the month of March based on positive traffic. Digital has gotten a little stronger, but most of the strength has come in the strength of the stores.

John Zolidis - The Buckingham Research Group Incorporated

Is it still the same mix of basketball versus running, with running down mid single and basketball very strong, or has running picked up as well?

Glenn S. Lyon

Everything has picked up a bit, but basketball has been in a big deal. You're in the height of season right now, and a lot of excitement. The Jordan launches all being positive. You've got March Madness going on. I mean I think America is a little basketball crazy now, just in terms of the sport. So, yes, no doubt that the basketball business is -- has accelerated.

John Zolidis - The Buckingham Research Group Incorporated

Okay, great. And then you bought back about 7.5% of the shares outstanding last year. I think you said the guidance was based on 48 million shares this year. Is there share repurchase built into the guidance?

Edward W. Wilhelm

Yes, there is, John. And just to reiterate, you heard Glenn's comments about how we're being strongly committed to returning capital to shareholders, and it remains an important component of our capital allocation strategy.

John Zolidis - The Buckingham Research Group Incorporated

Okay, great. And then one last question and I'll get off. The 20 to 25 new stores, are any of those in outlet centers? That was an idea I think had been kicked around a few times?

Edward W. Wilhelm

Yes, most of those will be in outlet centers, John.

John Zolidis - The Buckingham Research Group Incorporated

Okay. And then that's on the outlets? How do those compare to the core stores?

Edward W. Wilhelm

Now that's where when we talk about being pleased with our performance, the majority of the stores that we opened up in the year we just ended, fiscal '13, were in outlet malls, 23 of them. And again, they continue to perform extremely well for us, so the majority of our 20 to 25 new store program for Finish Line in this upcoming year will be focused on outlet malls as well.

Operator

The next question comes from Paul Trussell of Deutsche Bank.

Paul Trussell - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

You gave a forecast for Macy's partnership this year of adding about $130 million to $150 million in sales, I believe. Could you just give us some comments around what the growth that's embedded into that figure versus what Macy's kind of legacy business was in sportswear 1 year ago? And then just some more commentary around what the impact is to occupancy and SG&A, specifically from Macy's. Any margin color would be helpful.

Glenn S. Lyon

So I'll give you the first part and then Ed will give you the second part. This is a significant increase in their -- from their core business, from the business they were generating. I think you must realize that they wouldn't have done this deal if they didn't think we could do a lot better job than they were doing. So it's a significant increase, but it's one that we did a lot of analytics on, competitive studies on in department stores, square foot productivities, assortment planning, gender planning, a lot went into these numbers. So we're pretty confident that, that $130 million to $150 million -- and by the way, as we said, that includes the digital number in there. And that too has a huge opportunity for us as we connect finishline.com to macys.com.

Edward W. Wilhelm

And Paul, with respect to the occupancy impact, 100% of the licensee fee will be booked to occupancy for us. And again, without disclosing the license fee, which we won't do, 100% will be booked in occupancy.

Paul Trussell - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

Okay. Fair enough. And then could you just -- you certainly have spoken about continuing to be the leader in running, but you've also commented about looking to augment the assortment into basketball, perhaps into soft lines as well. Can you just give us an update on that progress? I did notice a Kobe Bryant shoe released this past quarter that you haven't had before. Just any comments on what you think you can get to over the next few quarters in terms of changing the assortment.

Samuel M. Sato

Yes, this is Sam. So I'll reiterate, Paul, that what Glenn said earlier. Our strategic plan is going to be squarely focused around, first, ensuring that we can offer the consumers a relevant and fresh assortment. One click lower than that, we're going to be absolutely relentless about working with these brands to ensure that our running leadership is growing and continues to be more and more authentic and authoritative within the industry. Having said that, we've also got to ensure that as demand increases for other categories, basketball being one of them, that we're also dedicating resources, time, effort, our inventory, our marketing to ensuring that we're also telling the story around our basketball presence. Over the last 3 years, as Glenn said, we've not only had a 54% stack in our running business, we've also, over the last 2 years, run double-digit increases in basketball. And so that category continues to be a big part of our business. We'll continue to invest in that, but certainly not at the expense of our leadership in running. Those are things that we work on continuously and will continue to do so.

Paul Trussell - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

Okay. And quickly, my last question is just on -- you spoke about first half headwinds from a top line standpoint, but obviously, the 4 comp in March was an acceleration from the previous pace. What should we expect in April and May just given what you know about the release schedule and the earlier Easter? Should we expect a falloff sequentially?

Edward W. Wilhelm

Well again, we haven't given specifically -- specific quarterly guidance nor will we. But we're pleased with the start that we've got to March. It was affected, as Glenn mentioned, by some basketball releases. We do believe that in the first half of this year, we're going to continue to face some headwinds, both in the top line but also on the margin side, and feel better about a stronger back half of the year.

Operator

Your next question comes from Taposh Bari of Goldman Sachs.

Taposh Bari - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

So Glenn, I have a question for you. In terms of the feedback we get from investors there are -- I think a lot of opportunities here, particularly with Macy's, I'd say the one common thread continues to be I guess a lack of confidence in the execution profile. So you guys obviously have a lot of balls in the air with Omni channel, new systems, Macy's, The Running Company and of course your organic brick-and-mortar business. So as you look back to 2013 and look forward, I was hoping to pick your brain on what you've learned and how you plan to mitigate that execution risk going forward.

Glenn S. Lyon

It's a great question. Thank you. We, for many, many years through -- from the beginning of this company with Allan and the team, the founders, this company always prided itself on execution and conservatism. And I'd be -- I wouldn't be honest with you if I didn't say we were somewhat overly ambitious in the challenges we put on this team. So as we've said, the current course and vision has not changed. All of those things have to happen. The retail landscape is changing. Being a great Omni channel retailer is critical. Having more businesses under our umbrella is critical. The speed at which we do it, we have had to temper. That has created some of these short-term challenges. So I recognize that we have put some burden on this organization, and we are slowing down the pace and we are focused on execution. I think some of that shows up in terms of the credibility of this organization and how quickly we responded in the fourth quarter to our overheads, and we dropped them, and that's painful. Our team is committed to the success of this business, and we recognize that we -- we're going to -- it's going to be harder for us to hit the numbers that we talked about last year. So we've got to adjust our overheads and bring the money back to the shareholders. So I think there's some credibility here and boy, there are certainly -- Taposh, there have certainly been some learnings in Indianapolis.

Taposh Bari - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

That's helpful. I guess I'll give you an easier question now, my second question, which is March, or just in general so far in 2013, a lot of volatility around retail, your 4% growth sounds really good in the context of what we're hearing so far in March. So some are talking about weather, you guys obviously have a national retail presence. Can you talk about what you've seen so far this year in terms of volatility? Maybe any diversion you're seeing in terms of region, warm versus cold?

Glenn S. Lyon

A lot of questions in that. I don't necessarily have a more optimistic viewpoint than what I've read about my competitors in the retail business. I think we have a couple of things that have come together here early that -- I mean, we're giving you 3 weeks of information. Just as if I was sitting here down 4, I'd say to you, don't let it be too much of a harbinger of the future. I think it's a very smart -- look, there are some headwinds out there. There are some angst with the customer from a macro standpoint. We're working hard to gain the traction and the pace to our running business that we had over the previous 3 years. That's hard work, you can't just reach out and grab it. There's a lot of work that goes into creating product lines and assortments and so on. So that -- look, no matter what we talk about relative to Omni channel and everything else, product is still king in this world and we're tremendously focused on that and then that's what will take us there. So I wouldn't overreact to the 4% and I wouldn't under -- it's a very small sampling. So I think I need to be as cautious as other retailers are right now.

Taposh Bari - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

And I got one more before I pass it on. And that's, The Running Company obviously is a small business, but the low-single digit comp there caught our attention. It's obviously a deceleration from what you've seen the prior 6-month period. And I guess the question is, when you see weakness in running in Finish Line's banner, that to me sounds -- that makes sense because there's obviously a shift towards the basketball silhouette. But that Running Company customer is not a fashion customer, right? They're buying to run. So what's going on there?

Glenn S. Lyon

I wouldn't read anything into the trends of running in the market or running at the Finish Line or any of that. I would say the -- we're in transition with a brand new team, we're reconciling inventories, we've got a lot of -- the team in there has a lot of work to be done to grow that business. The comps have been somewhat less than we hoped around the holidays. Look, I don't allow weather to be a discussion around the Finish Line. That's not a word that we use. I will say to you that the harsh winter has probably hurt the running specialty guys, and that's what we're hearing around. So I don't think it's about the category, about the segment, I think it's been a rough winter and people are retooling. So I'm not putting too much on that, on those comps. We'll get that back. We still have some very -- we have a chain of stores -- existing stores, that can produce much higher business than what it was when he got it. We knew that. So this team is working to figure it out, the community, we really haven't gotten into really being confident in the community. We did buy a chain of stores down in Texas. And the guy who has run that business for almost 20 years is one of the kings of community engagement and we're getting some learnings from him. So I think you can -- I can see down the road, 40%, 50% improvement in square foot productivity in this business and it will be a road to get there. We're very positive about the future of that thing. And there again, we're starting out at low levels, making a lot of investments. We made a lot of moves that aren't immediately accretive and we recognize that. But we still believe it's the proper course for us in terms of our core competencies and in terms of the 2 categories, the running business and the department store business where we think ultimately, we're going to be in a great position.

Operator

Your next question comes from Eric Tracy of Janney Capital Markets.

Eric B. Tracy - Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, Research Division

I guess for Glenn or Sam, I mean just back to the running category dynamic. I guess my question, it's maybe difficult to discern, but your leadership position, you mentioned up 54% 3 year stack, you mentioned that the 3 massive platforms out of that, the leader in Nike. Just the potential that you guys are just sort of a leading indicator for what running is doing versus anything, mis-execution on your part, meaning it's just the pipeline refresh just not as great and so, what is your visibility to that and how can we expect the category to potentially reaccelerate as you move through the year?

Samuel M. Sato

Eric, this is Sam. Here's what I'll tell you. As we look at some early spring receipts in this category, like Fly Knit on the Lunar outsole, the recent launch in holiday with Max 13, Under Armour has come out with a new technology called Spine. Additionally, as we look forward and look at adidas with new technology like SpringBlade and Boost. Lunar upgrades Flyknit on Free Outsoles, free platform today as it stands. In fact, today, we launched 3 new free platforms into the marketplace. There's a lot of really exciting innovative products that are coming currently as well is in the pipeline that we see through holiday of this coming year in the running category. And so as I said earlier, we're going to make sure that we're always focused on working with our brand partners against innovation and bringing new products to market in all categories, but certainly, a lot of effort around the running category. And what we're seeing today is a little bit reminiscent to what we saw 3 years ago in terms of product introductions and innovation and technology. So we remain cautious but optimistic about what we're seeing.

Eric B. Tracy - Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, Research Division

Okay. And then I guess second, in terms of may be slowing down or actually it sounds like moving away from the new prototypes and rolling those out. It sounds like you're technologies within the store are increasing conversion. Glenn, as you think about trying to pull that consumer over the lease line, so beyond just the product and what's in the store, within the brick-and-mortar concept, what are the initiatives to try to do that?

Glenn S. Lyon

So Eric, here is a bit of a reality check, okay? I think that to get them across the entrance to the store, it's about product and technology, not as much ambience. And we need to, as a premium retailer, we need to have stores that are fresh and updated and don't have our friends at Nike love to refer to the amount of gum that's on the carpets in our stores and they're right. So we've got to refresh that. We've got to change our flooring, we've got to repaint, we've got to redo our fixtures at times. There's all kinds of upgrades that we can do to the stores without complete overhauls that you can imagine cost us $100-plus a foot to do and have great-looking stores that the fixtures are good and new and strong and all of that without spending $100 a foot-plus. And there's a reality check in that. I think this customer -- it's interesting. The other thing that we're learning is on the in-store. One of the things that's coming about now is that we know that tablets and interaction and engagement in the store is an important element of what many retailers have done successfully. What's going on today is the customer, in many cases, wants you to talk to them over their devices and maybe not your devices. So there's some more investment into our whole -- to the back of the room and in terms of how we service customers, and they're able to pull up styles and information right in front of the clerk. So that's some of the -- this is a very fast-moving business. The amount of money that we're investing in tablets is not a big deal in terms of the whole buy and what backroom we have to do to create that customer engagement. So don't misunderstand me. I don't want to be misquoted now in saying tablets are done and so on. It's part of the experience. But we're learning new things everyday about this and I think that anybody who doesn't recognize that the Omni channel experience isn't at the center of the universe will be proven wrong 5 and 10 years down the road, if they don't make the investments to stay current, especially with the core customer that we talk to.

Eric B. Tracy - Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, Research Division

Okay. And then just last, I guess in terms of inventories, you had talked about continuing to be a pressure and work-through in 1Q. When can we kind of expect those to be back in line with sales growth and sort of the margin pressure, I know, is 1Q, does it bleed into 2Q as well?

Edward W. Wilhelm

I'll take the margin part of that and Sam will answer the inventory part of that, Eric. Yes, headwinds in gross margins in the first half more probably more prominent in the first quarter and then, to a lessening degree in Q2, is what I would say.

Samuel M. Sato

And then on the inventory, I'll say, a big part of our result at year end was moving products forward from our spring receipts to drive sales based on consumer demand. As Ed said, sell-throughs at regular price are lower year-over-year, so a little bit more of a margin headwind first quarter. I will share with you that through the period, Ed quoted 4% comps, inventories already are back in line with sales.

Operator

Your next question comes from Jeff Van Sinderen from B. Riley.

Jeffrey Wallin Van Sinderen - B. Riley Caris, Research Division

Just as a follow-up, in terms of running, since we seem to be beating a dead horse there. So I guess my question is this. You sort of assessed that business and you look out a couple of quarters, obviously, you spoke to some great new product innovation releases that are coming out. You referenced 3 years ago and kind of how it looked like at that point. Overall, how are you planning that business? Are you planning it up or down as far out as you go right now?

Glenn S. Lyon

We will not -- in the foreseeable future, as long as I'm still around and Sam is around, we won't plan running down. We challenge our people. It's like a great jean retailer doesn't become a good dress pant retailer overnight. And so this is the horse, and we recognize that, and we're going to be aggressive in the marketplace, we are going to look to the brands to work with the brands on all of their new initiatives, be the leader, be first, and we'll work our way through all of those things with an end result that needs to be plus. It's 43% of our business, it needs to be plus and we need to hold ourselves accountable and our brands accountable for bringing us initiatives that move us plus. This was a painful 6 months to watch this happen.

Jeffrey Wallin Van Sinderen - B. Riley Caris, Research Division

Got it. Okay. And then, so let me ask you this, as far as obviously you discussed the margin hit and inventory work down and so forth but just to clarify, most of the pressure that you're seeing in merchandise margins and some of the excess inventory that you've had to work through with promotions and discounting, is that largely concentrated on running? In other words, is that really the only area where there seems to be an issue?

Glenn S. Lyon

Well first, let me say this. Our markdown strategy is not changing. We've got 3 major clearance events a year. We take in-season markdowns on slow performing goods. Because the running category tends to be a larger percentage or is a larger percentage of our total and inventories are commensurate with that, there's more running products that are marked down. But there hasn't been a significant shift in terms of how much of our total inventory is being marked down that's running specific. It's commensurate with our ownership and the sell-throughs of that product.

Jeffrey Wallin Van Sinderen - B. Riley Caris, Research Division

Okay. Fair enough. So I guess as you spoke to for Q2, as when you report Q1, we should look for inventory per foot to be flat-ish? Or how should we think about that?

Edward

Edward W. Wilhelm

It won't be flattish, Jeff. It will be -- our objective here is to manage inventories in line with sales. So I think it will get better in time, as we work your way through the year. As Sam said, inventories are up about 6%, in line with total sales growth now.

Operator

Your next question comes from Camilo Lyon of Canaccord Genuity.

Camilo R. Lyon - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Ed, I wanted to ask if you're incorporating in your sales assumption for Macy's, if you could split out how you look at sales per foot versus the e-commerce contribution, that would be helpful.

Edward W. Wilhelm

Yes. What we're doing is we're guiding to total, Camilo. We obviously have 3 shops that are open currently, and the digital launch will occur after we begin the rollout of the shops in April. So at this point, we're just going to guide to total sales. And as we progress and get more experience with this business, we'll see what other information we provide.

Camilo R. Lyon - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Is it fair to say looking at it at similar sales per foot as your Finish Line stores or is that more comparable to what Macy's does on a per foot basis?

Glenn S. Lyon

It is highly variable, Camilo, because they have a very, very wide range of volumes from their lowest stores to the highest ones. I mean, there are some stores at Macy's, you start with Harold Square, where the square foot productivity is going to be higher and the business is going to be big. So there's a -- it's hard to compare one to the other. The opportunity -- we have dug in to all 650 stores that we will have inventory in, and it's a very wide variance. I will say this to you. We will put a good assortment in every store and make the investment in every store so that we have the opportunity to grow. And even today, we put some inventory into a few stores that has jumped the business big time just right off of the get-go. So it's going to be -- there's a lot of learnings here, Camilo. And as time goes on, we'll share more and more as we can speak definitively about it.

Camilo R. Lyon - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Got it. And then just quickly, I'm just curious to see if you could dissect some of the trends on running with respect to price points. Is there more success at the $100 price point in the category? A lot of the products coming out now, it's a little bit more higher priced, Flyknit is $160. I'm just curious to see the consumer -- how your consumer is responding to what seems to be higher-priced product that's flowing into the market.

Glenn S. Lyon

Yes, so as we've always said, our position around bringing premium products to market is squarely in the middle of our market leadership position and strategy. And the results we're seeing, over the last 3 years, as we've talked about our 54% stacked comp into this year, early reads again, but the products we've received Max 13, Flyknit, one on the Lunar outsole, all well over $100 and selling through well. So we would expect that as we look to the product pipeline in the future, much of that product is north of $100 and we would expect that, that product will sell-through equally as well.

Camilo R. Lyon - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

So little resistance on that premium price point?

Glenn S. Lyon

Can you say that again?

Camilo R. Lyon - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Little resistance on that premium price point?

Glenn S. Lyon

There's been no resistance since day 1. In fact, we're always encouraged as the brands put more technology and more innovation into the shoes and raise the price, it makes it easier for us to service. So there's been no resistance. We love what they're doing.

Camilo R. Lyon - Canaccord Genuity, Research Division

Got it. And then just finally, any additional plans for other branded shop-in-shops? You guys got some Jordan shop-in-shops. I think you were also doing some adidas ones as well. Any plans to roll more of those out?

Glenn S. Lyon

Yes. That's part of -- embedded in some of the results or some of the CapEx numbers related to some remodels that Ed quoted. But first and foremost, we're going to continue to invest against our Nike Track Club initiative. Obviously, that's in support of our running piece. And then where appropriate, were going to continue to invest against Jordan Flight shops as well as adidas and Under Armour shops.

Eric B. Tracy - Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, Research Division

You're doing some Under Armour shops as well, what would those look like or what would those entail?

Glenn S. Lyon

We are. They're similar to what you're seeing with our adidas and Jordan Flight shops. We've got 3, or 4, maybe 5 of those built out today, and we've got plans in the future with that brand as well.

Operator

And your last question comes from Sam Poser of Stern Agee.

Sam Poser - Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., Research Division

You talked about the overhead that had been, if you would, adjusted the overhead cost. Can you give us more specifics on how that's been done, is my first question. And then, can you give -- Ed, can you give us some idea with Macy's on how the -- how you're thinking of the sales by quarter or at least at the beginning, about how you're thinking about that in dollars?

Edward W. Wilhelm

So the reference to overheads that Glenn made, Sam, really is in relation to the total expenses. So which -- of which, pure corporate costs are a component of that. But just to start with, the expense management discipline that we have in place, our store payroll costs leveraged in the quarter, our marketing cost leveraged in the quarter, our supply chain costs also leveraged in the quarter and then, in addition, there were some costs here at corporate that were taken out as well. So I would say I was very pleased with, as Glenn said, the response that we had coming out of the third quarter in getting our arms around and controlling our expenses much better. Macy's, we're -- it's just going to accelerate through the year. So the first quarter we'll have 4 to 6 weeks of sales in it. We'll begin the shop rollout. As the shops are put in place, we would expect those to accelerate sales in those stores. So I think as you think about the year, that's just going to continue to accelerate throughout the year where our fourth quarter will have the biggest component of that total year sales contribution.

Sam Poser - Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., Research Division

Is there a way you could give us the percent by quarter or something? Just because it would be greatly helpful.

Edward W. Wilhelm

No, not at this point, Sam.

Sam Poser - Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., Research Division

All right. And then just lastly, are you getting with -- are you, with the Macy's concepts, are you able -- I noticed a lot of Reebok running in those Macy's stores, at least -- excuse me, in the Macy's store in Jersey City. And I was wondering, was this just part of the test, or was that an intentional thing? Because -- I mean their business in running has not been good and you had some of the freeze and some other things there. But the question is, is that -- are you getting what you need? Are you going to be able to get what you need for the Macy's stores in total or is that still a work in progress as well?

Glenn S. Lyon

Sam, let me be perfectly clear about this. We have 100% support of all of the brands for the products that we want to put into those stores with the exception of Jordan brand -- Brand Jordan, which we all agreed was -- is not appropriate to have that as part of the mix. There is a tremendous amount of learning that's going on right now in the prototype stores. Some of which has to do with things that Macy's was running, some of which has to do with things that we're trying that we want to see whether the Macy's customer reacts to. So the assortment on the floor maybe broader than what one might think to generate the business that we're looking to. But that's a test-and-learn mode. And we've got years ahead of us that if we don't get these learnings now, it's why we set out to do a dozen prototypes as soon as we possibly could, because you know that we're going to be starting to buy 6- and 9-month futures off of these. So some of the inventory you're seeing is coming right out of the Finish Line inventories, some of it that you're seeing is from products that we think we will continue to run from the Macy's inventories, and then some new things as we can get them in there into these test stores. But I think even a better example will be from 4/14 forward, when you see a bigger percentage of the receipts that we have bought for and planned since 6 months ago when we did this deal. So it's a work in progress, Sam, that you know it will take 1 year before we'll have a full view of everything that we're trying. And then from that, what worked and what didn't. So that's why we're being somewhat conservative about what we're saying. We think we know who this customer is but we're going to find out a lot more about what their appetite is, the different things and different brands and different businesses -- different categories. But be clear, Sam, I really want to be clear about this. We have had 100% support from the brand community. This is going to be one great assortment of products tailored for that customer.

Sam Poser - Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., Research Division

And just real quick, lastly, when does the Macy's -- is Macy's Herald Square in the first go?

Glenn S. Lyon

June, July.

Edward W. Wilhelm

Thank you for joining us today and we look forward to speaking with you again on the Q1 call in June.

Operator

This concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.

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