I would imagine it's stressful running a major corporation. If for no other reason, the task is tough because it's probably pretty easy to run a big company into the ground. The great CEOs of our time -- Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos top the list -- deserve tons of credit. They have set the bar higher than their predecessors -- people like Jack Welch and Bill Gates -- could have imagined. The results these leaders achieved stand on their own as amazing, but look even more spectacular when you consider the following debacles in the making.
Coinstar (CSTR). I really want to like Coinstar, but let's face it, if it were not for the prospects of a buy-out, or, more aptly a bailout, and recent dings in Netflix's (NFLX) armor, CSTR would be testing its 52-week low. It's recent earnings disaster aside, Coinstar management has done a horrific job of outlining and executing its vision. In fact, I am still waiting for a real vision and for Coinstar brass to start executing it. As the company prepares to launch online streaming, it keeps speaking of a mysterious partner. It's anybody's guess who might step up, but it appears as if the best choice, Amazon.com (AMZN), is prepared to go it alone.
To make matters worse, Coinstar attempting to compete with Netflix in online streaming is akin to Research in Motion (RIMM), Motorola (MMI), and others trying to gain market share against Apple's (AAPL) iPad. Netflix was there first, plus they're better. And by the time Coinstar gets there, it will be way too late. In the moment, why would large enough numbers of consumers get a DVD out of a kiosk when they could have it delivered to their mailbox or computer by Netflix? When it comes to the kiosk business, Coinstar fails to impress. I would not be surprised to see them lose market share to the NCR Corporation (NCR). NCR appears ready to beat Coinstar at its own game.
Coinstar needs to investigate its options. NCR represents the logical choice as a buyer. The company's balance sheet could easily support the acquisition. Of course, Amazon.com could use pocket change to take out Coinstar. It would only make sense, however, if Amazon attended to build on NCR's ideas and offer much more than DVDs at kiosk locations. With its expenses about to explode even further, it appears that Netflix would be best off sitting on the sidelines.
Rite Aid (RAD). Don't get too excited about RAD's recent resurgence above $1.00. Walgreen's (WAG) effectively hammered another nail into Rite Aid's pre-purchased mahogany coffin when it acquired Drugstore.com (DSCM). Given Rite Aid's nearly comical financial stats -- more than $25 billion in revenue, $6.25 billion in debt, and $122 million in cash, according to Yahoo! Finance -- bankruptcy is likely the next step. On some levels, it would make sense for Walgreens, CVS (CVS), or Walmart (WMT) to buy Rite Aid for its pharmacy customers and prime locations. Instead, one or more of these companies will probably peck at Rite Aid's assets before the bankruptcy judge deals with the rest.
Build-A-Bear Workshop (BBW). To be fair, Build-A-Bear's executive team has done a pretty good job. For example, the company sits on nearly $59 million in cash and carries no debt. But, bottom line, you can only take a business based on blowing an unknown white fluffy material into a Teddy Bear's carcass so far. Plus, it's tough to take a company too seriously when they kick off their earnings call by introducing "Maxine Clark, Chairman and Chief Executive Bear; John Haugh, our President Bear; and Tina Klocke, Chief Operations and Financial Bear."
In all seriousness, though, it's tough to envision how Build-A-Bear can prevent their business from hitting a wall. In fact, given last week's revenue miss. I saw nothing on the company's conference call that inspired confidence. Build-A-Bear either needs to innovate itself to long-term growth and sustainability or significantly scale back what it does, preferably as part of another company. I am not sure Jobs or Bezos are even capable of providing the necessary innovation. I could see another company integrating Build-A-Bear's concept into its business. For instance, it's not too difficult to imagine muted Build-A-Bear factories flanking children's clothing at retail stores such as Gap (GPS) or The Children's Place (PLCE). Both companies sport debt-free balance sheets. Gap is flush with cash at $1.66 billion, while The Children's Place reports just under $186 million on its books.
Disclosure: I am long AAPL.