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Here's the full text of Overstock's (ticker: OSTK) Q1 2004 Conference call in full:


Overstock.com First Quarter Earnings Results Conference Call
April 23, 2004
8:30 AM ET
Pam Bass: Good morning. My name is Pam Bass, and I will be your conference moderator today. I would like welcome everyone to Overstock.com's 2004 financial results conference call. At this time all lines are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will announce the opportunity for questions, and instructions will be given at that time if you should need any assistance during this call press star zero and someone will help you. This call is being recorded and will be available for replay beginning today at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time, through midnight, Friday, April 30th. The replay can be accessed by dialing 888-203-1112, or internationally, 719-457-0820 and entering the access code of 605984.

At this time I would like to turn the conference call over to the treasurer of Overstock.com, Ms. Katherine Huang Hadley. Ms. Hadley, you may begin.

Kathryn Huang Hadley: Thank you. Good morning and welcome to Overstock.com's first quarter 2004 conference call. Participating on the call today are Dr. Byrne, Chairman and President, and David Chidester, Vice President of Finance.

Before I turn the call over to Dave, please keep in mind that the following discussions and responses to your questions reflect management's view as of today April 23, 2004 only. As you listen to today's call, I encourage you to have our press release in front you, since our financial results, detailed commentary and president's letter to shareholders are included and will correspond to much of the discussion that follows.

As we share information today to help you better understand our business it is important to keep in mind that we will make statements in the course of the conference call that state our intentions, hopes, beliefs, expectations or predictions of the future. These constitute forward-looking statements for the purposes of the safe harbor provisions under the Private Securities Litigation Reform within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

These forward-looking statements involve certain risks and uncertainties that could cause Overstock.com's actual results to differ materially from those projected in these forward-looking statements.

Overstock.com disclaims any intention or obligation to revise any forward-looking statements. Additional information concerning important factors that could cause actual results to differ from those in the forward-looking statements is contained from time to time in documents that the company files with the SEC, including but not limited to its most recent report on Forms 10-K, 10-Q, 8-K and S1.

With that introduction, I will now turn the call over to the Vice President of Finance, David Chidester.

David Chidester: Thank you, Kathryn, and good morning to those of you on the call today. Our Q1 results were excellent. We came out of Q4 with strong momentum and we maintained this momentum through the first quarter, and I think the financial results reflect this.

Our total GAAP revenue for the quarter was up 181% to 82.1 million, up from 29.2 million in the first quarter of 2003. And we think a better indicator of our growth is gross bookings which were previously reported as GMS. Gross bookings for the quarter increased 79% to 93.4 million, up from 52.3 million in the first quarter of last year.

And let me just add that this 79% growth was in the face of a significant decrease in the Safeway program this year, which went from 12% of our gross bookings in the first quarter of last year to less than 2% this year, as we ended that agreement in February.

Our gross margins for the quarter increased from 9.6% last quarter in Q4 to 10.3% this quarter, which is a 7.3% increase, and, as we discussed last quarter, we expect to see additional improvements in gross margins in 2004.

Gross profit dollars increased 83% over the first quarter of 2003 to 8.5 million. And we've also believed that the increase in gross profit dollars is a key metric for this business. And we achieved an 83% increase in gross profit dollars over the previous year while at the same time operating expenses in the quarter grew only 23% from the first quarter of 2003 to 10.8 million.

Net loss for the quarter improved 44% to 2.2 million, or a 14 cent loss per share from a loss of 3.9 million or 26 cent loss per share in the first quarter of last year.

I think even more telling our operating loss, which was 7.8% of gross bookings in the first quarter of last year was down to 2.5% of gross bookings this quarter.

Lastly, in looking at the balance sheet, we ended the quarter with 20.3 million in cash and marketable securities, and we maintained working capital at 45 million, which is right at the same level we ended the year as well. And that covers my financial overview. I'll now turn things over to Patrick.

Patrick Byrne: Thank you, David. Good summary of our financials and we did have a great Q1. Our theme this quarter was blocking and tackling, blocking and tackling, and blocking and tackling. We made some real progress. I'm going to hit my shareholders letter. Now, I got a lot of snickers last time I wrote that long letter, and I wrote another one this time, and I plan on just keep on writing these letters.

Some people seem to appreciate them. Our gross bookings did grow nicely despite the Safeway. Most important to me were achieving that growth without a corresponding increase in expenses. What I care about the most, and I've said probably every conference call, is gross profit dollars, the growth in gross profit dollars. If we can crank that up and keep the sales, the SG&A tight, ultimately something good has to happen.

So while the gross profit increased 83% and the top line increased -- well, on a GAAP basis the 181, but I urge everybody should understand by now why that's kind of meaningless. A much better indicator of growth is the 75% gross bookings increase or the 83% gross profit increase. Sales and marketing went up just 14%, though, from 38 -- 3.8 to 4.4. And the G&A went up from 4.5 to 6.3, it's 38%. And even that has -- we can come back to that. I'm sure some people want to know about that. Of that increase, $500,000 is related to our stock going up. So there's just increased amortization of a stock option and such. About 500,000 has to do with specialty, special projects we're doing we're spending on money now in a way we didn't before, some being outsourced, some not. And then about 500,000 in, I'd say actual secular growth. Overall if we can have our gross profit dollars growing 83% and our combined SG&A growing 23%, and really at a secular level even lower than that, again, good things are going to happen.

We continue to get more analytical with our business. We've implemented, David has implemented a wonderful system of weekly score cards. And we now have -- David has built a team of accountants in every department that are giving us, at the end of each week they go to work over the weekend and on Monday morning we start off with a very detailed set of metrics from every part of the company, and it's just wonderful. It's making it so much easier to jump on expenses when something gets a little bit out of whack to act quickly.

And yet there's still room for improvement. But I'll get back to that. But I think we're off to a great start. Our balance sheet is healthy. Dave gave the numbers. We do expect dollars from Safeway. That's because the way our deal worked with Safeway, we basically had -- it operated on our cash. And as the deal unwinds, and it's all been done very gentlemanly and professionally, as things unwind there should be several million dollars flowing our way. The belt, suspenders and elastic waistband approach I mentioned, the suspenders would be the line of credit. We've negotiated a line of credit. It's on our desk to sign. I mentioned this in the last conference call. Unfortunately, I'd say lawyers got involved in the intervening months and they got a lot more complicated. The terms are still as good, the economic terms, but there's a whole bunch more verbiage involved that I'm not so crazy about the line of credit anymore. But if we wanted it's there for us to sign.

Our shelf registration went effective. So we're at the point, our working capital I think basically stayed exactly even for the quarter. And we're not really running through our capital quickly now. We're kind of holding our own on that score. So as I say, I gave this, the metaphor the physicist and the mass of energy. That's inventory and capital. We're really fine on cash, I think, unless we or until we get to the end of the third quarter. Then if we really want to have a good fourth quarter we've got to build our inventory, and to do that we draw down on the line of credit.

On the other hand, there's an argument that says it would be more prudent to run a company -- we'll do somewhere in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars this year, I think, and arguably it's not -- it would be more prudent to run with more cash in the bank than that. And yet we're all on the same side of the -- I'm eating the same cooking you're eating. I don't like to distribute many more shares. I like to keep the denominator as small as possible, but there's argument that we should put some more cash on our balance sheet.

I mentioned the development. We think the development is key to sustaining our growth, and we've got -- we've always got ideas and projects and skunk works, and we actually have several skunk works at this point. We launched Club O. It's moving along nicely. We've got actually got over 1600 people as of last night. Overstock Daily Deals, that's this thing with the cell phones. We called that Project Rocket. That's very exciting to me. That's a huge opportunity. I've been in other parts of the world of late where people sit there with their cell phones and they use them to do a lot more than they do in the U.S. Now, the U.S. companies have built the infrastructure but they've not yet -- they haven't really gotten a lot of good content.

And we have applied for a patent on push-based M commerce and a certain kind of transaction through M commerce. I think you're going to hear a lot more about M commerce. A year ago there was nobody in this field. I was in -- in November I was in a convention down in Vegas. It's like the Internet of five or six years ago. And I think people ought to look hard at different companies that are emerging in there. It's very interesting prospects.

Let's see. The other point I wanted to mention, the marketing and branding. We've discovered ways to evaluate the value of the branding that we do, and I think they're pretty cool. In fact, I think they're among the top three or four cool things we have figured out here since we started is ways to value the television and radio advertising that we're doing. We've approached it very scientifically. People are concerned about the cost of on-line marketing. I'd say that we were, in the past we were literally 99% on line then we shifted late last year into some off-line. We really do know the on-line marketing space very well. We know what dollars are effective and are not. Tracing data a year ago starts stiffening up in that market or it's been stiff for a year and now I'm seeing large companies are shifting a much bigger fraction of their marketing budget into on line spending. So I do see those prices getting bit up. But there's always dimensions in which there's opportunity and we still see those.

We've got great relationships with all the main players in that field, and I'm not worried that we're going to be priced out of the market there.

I'll give you some customer metrics. We had total unique customers for the quarter were 711,000. Brand new customers, 440,000. That was up 67%. Our business, with 63.4% repeat versus I think in the fourth quarter it was about 50%.

BMV, books music and video continues to be an important customer acquisition tool. 14% of our BMV bookings come from books music and video. So back to blocking and tackling, expense controls are -- the controls are in place. We're using them. I think that's really going well. The score card's been quite helpful. And I'd like to close on a note of talking about the management team. I've never been so comfortable with this management team. Starting with Dave: Dave has been here I think a week longer than I was here. He knows where every penny in the business is. That's really what I want out of a CFO. He's got -- or vice president of finances. We call him. Dave has very accurate information and the fact that it's getting to me now so promptly and we can act on it. You know, in some cases it's information that gets updated hourly but in some cases it's weekly. That's a big advantage.

Kamille Twomey is our VP of marketing. She turned out to be extremely strong. Unfortunately, she's going to be leaving us for Stanford. She felt it was necessary to go and get an MBA Stanford. Isn't that the silliest thing you ever heard?

Shawn Schwegman, I'll tell folks a quick story. What the outside world would call a CTO, Shawn Schwegman we call VP technology. We don't have any sheet titles here, including myself. Some years ago I was running a company that had a massive computer problem. And I knew a guy who knew a guy at Microsoft. And I called the guy. He made a call. And very quickly I had an executive VP at Microsoft on the line saying we're sending you a team that only works with Fortune 100 accounts. It's four guys in suits and a high school dropout with a ponytail. Don't let that throw you, the ponytail is in charge. Well, that was Shawn.

He's just the best technologist I've ever worked with. I've got huge confidence in him. We're doing things somewhere between the leading edge and the bleeding edge I'm afraid to say. For example, the Oracle cluster. We know of other companies that are trying to get live their cluster. We've been live with it for six months. Oracle -- Oracle is showing us a lot of love and they've actually been a very good partner with us in building this out. So there's lots of areas in this company where we operate on a [indiscernible].

I would say IT has been one of them. But Shawn has done a very credible job in the last six months of turning IT into really a professional department. If there was an area where I would say we did not have enough people and enough hands in the past it was IT. And Shawn is building a very credible department.

Jonathan Johnson, general counsel, as you know also manages a whole bunch of our special projects. Stormy Simon, who has a background in the video business and understands video and music distribution and such. She's our VP of the book music video and takes on a lot of special projects. Tad Martin was a buyer who came through Gear and just evolved into, originally my chief of staff within buying, and now the general merchandise manager. On top of that, he finished his Six Sigma black belt and has been involved with the warehouse and customer service. Now that all reports to him and yet within the warehouse and customer service we've gotten two very solid people. One is a master Six Sigma black belt. And she's been with the company for four and a half years, probably the longest tenure of any employee here. And another fellow, who was an Army logistics guy, returns handling expert for U.S. robotics. So we've really built out our team. And I'm very comfortable with them as a team.

Well, that's all I have to say. We've got 20 minutes. Let's turn it over to questions, Pam.

Operator: Thank you. The question and answer session will be conducted electronically. If you would like to ask a question please do so by pressing the star key followed by the digit 1 on your touchtone telephone. If you are using a speaker phone, please be sure to unmute your function to allow your signal to reach our equipment.

Once again, please press star 1 on your telephone to ask a question.

We'll take our first question from Bill Lennon, WR Hambrecht.

: Good morning. I have a list of some detailed metrics then some strategic steps. I'll just plow through them I hope. Number one, can you talk about returns in the quarter. They seemed a bit high. Could you give us an explanation as to whether or not they were high by your internal estimates and also give us an idea of what categories we're generating more returns or disproportionate returns

: Okay. That's really a question of the GMS versus GAAP. That's a natural question to ask, because the spread between GMS and GAAP is a spread that reflects returns and also, to a much smaller degree, coupons. And is there anything else in there? That's it. So that I've said in the past you can really expect that to be 7, 8%. In the first quarter -- over time, in the first quarter, however, it had the effect of smaller sales than the fourth quarter, and all the returns of the fourth quarter. So that works -- the gap widens. On the other hand in the fourth quarter you have the effect of your sales go way up and you don't -- you only have the third quarter returns. So that gap narrows. So over, on a yearly basis, I think that's a 7 or 8% difference. But it doesn't hold 7 to 8% quarter to quarter.

It does not have an economic effect, the fact that it narrows and widens and such. And in fact we had a very nice return experience this quarter. One of the areas, when I say blocking and tackling, we identified four or five areas of real logistics savings, and I look back and I think we could have, a large part of our loss last year we realize now could really have been saved through some tighter logistics control. And returns is one area.

What we look at is not simply the gross level of returns, but what we call the economic cost of returns, which is a function of many things. There's a function of, of course, the total level plus what percentage of the returns get restocked and put on the shelf and resold, what percentage do we collect a 4.95 fee for. What percentage do we get a claim against FedEx or somebody because they broke the lamp when they shipped it. What percent do we return to the vendor because, hey, Sony, your computer didn't work, we didn't buy it broken.

So those all, plus all the costs of handling the returns, that all adds up to the economic cost of returns. I think that there's, on a -- of the areas where, of the four or five areas where we think we can really squeeze some nickels out of this system, returns is the area that did not make as much progress as I hoped in the first quarter. The other four areas did. But still, it made some progress. I think there's another, on a GAAP basis, about 150 basis points, 100 to 150 basis points we can squeeze out on a GAAP basis by tighter and tighter management of the returns.

So did that answer that question?

: Yeah it sounds like it's simply, it's the quirky math it's the seasonality thing it's a math issue. Is the answer -- are you saying there was no material increase in returns, anything beyond your expectations, and that's simply the seasonality thing, is that fair?

: Correct. There's not only no increase, they were actually slightly lower than we had anticipated and our handling of them made some progress. Let me put it this way. Our gross margin increased 70 basis points from the last quarter. And yet there were three things working against that. First of all, because you fall from the fourth quarter to the first, you have less revenue across which to amortize the fixed expenses of the warehouse and such. Secondly, you have the changes that you make often have as I mentioned, some kind of dislocation when you release people there's termination costs and things like that. So that works -- the expense restructuring itself has a short-term negative effect. And you don't really get around to making the changes on day one of the quarter. They roll out over the quarter. And yet in the face of those three dynamics that would make it harder to make an improvement, we still improved 70 basis points.

So I think you can assume that the, say, real secular or the real underlying improvement was a fair bit more than 70 basis points. But that will wash out as these -- that will become clear. That will manifest itself as these other effects wash out.

: Okay. On operating expenses, there's a good intro. Could you just maybe go through that one more time on the G and A line, the components. You had some compensation expense that was due to the stock price running. You're investing a little bit in special projects, and then I wonder if you could shed a little light on what you spent on advertising, off line advertising and what the plan is for that in the next few quarters.

: Okay. Mind if I take that, Dave? On the million, G and A went up, what, a million eight. About five or 600,000 of it was comp charges and related to the stock running. 500,000 was, five or 600,000 was development. And if you really went through and said what are the real costs on the system, allocated, the [indiscernible] time and travel and all that stuff, and Dave's time and Justin's time, I'm sure it's more than 500,000. And then there's say five or 600,000 more of just real increases, new hires. We built out our IT department with some really solid people, for example. And we added some people here and there.

So I'd say you have -- so that represents the $500,000 climb on the 4.5 million is, what, 11%. And I think that's -- and yet our business grew 75. If you really look at it, if you take out the Safeway, last year we did I think 52 million of gross bookings in the first quarter. 52 million in gross bookings, but 7 million were Safeway. There were a few more million of B to B. So it was really 42 million of B to C. This year you can assume that B to C was -- I'm sorry, Dave has corrected me. Our gross bookings increased 79%. I've been saying 75.

So last year in the first quarter our B to C business was 42 and this year the whole gross bookings were 92, 93, then you can assume, you know, that at least 84 of that was B to C. So you're really seeing 100% growth in the B to C business. I've always said that for every 100% we grow B to C, you should see about a 20% growth in true underlying G&A. And I think that's -- I think that's actually high. I think it's actually less than 20%, and the truth is for us it grew -- in terms of head count and salary and so on, that grew somewhere in the low teens or less. And then we go off what we have the stock comp on top of it and we have these development projects like Rocket some of which we outsource. We've had people working in two foreign countries and another group within the U.S., outsourcing different aspects of development. Did I hit all the points you asked, Bill?

: You did. On the ongoing development, what should we expect quarter to quarter, if we've got a good idea, a good explanation of the secular growth with new hires, for example, what should we expect in development costs quarter to quarter?

: I think you ought to really expect similar amounts of development costs. Nothing extraordinary. David, what do you want to add more about?

: Over the next few quarters, I think it will be similar to what we're seeing now.

: Sounds about right. 500,000 or more. That's right. There's a question I missed was on the whole sales, on the marketing, branding, I think you'll see us step that back up. We cut back on that. And between having no brand -- I'll just call it branding, any TV advertising. Between having none of it for three, three and a half years, and then doing for four months, then cutting back in the first quarter as I did, it really completed the experiment and we found -- we really got it down to a science, or at least a pseudo science, where to spend money, how to spend it, what times to spend it, et cetera, that I think allows us to step on the throttle again.

And now that will have -- that has a short-term negative effect. It takes you a while to get the momentum back up, but I really think we have found ways to make that advertising work.

: On advertising, or on marketing, I should say, what's going on in the on-line portion of it? You're seeing --
Yahoo and everybody virtually in the sector is reporting good numbers. Are your prices going up? Is it getting more -- is the comparison between off-line and on-line getting more favorable for off-line as the cost of on-line increases?

: Well, I am seeing something interesting. About a year ago I was at a, up at a conference at one of the portals, and one of the big portals. And I was running into a lot of other people in the advertising industry who said that you know they were excited because in the past their clients, the GMs and the big -- I don't know them specifically, I don't mean to be saying, but those kinds of big companies have been saying, you know, spend 2 to 4% of my budget on line. About a year ago they started saying take it from 4 to 10%. Well, that was a year ago. Now when I run into the same people in the same industry, they say their big clients are saying take it from 10 to 30%. And some, those who really get it, are saying, geez, as long as it meets certain metrics spend all you can spend within these metrics. So I think you'll see the big players, really, from the people I know in the advertising world, their shared consensus is that you are seeing the big clients take money away from television and such and put it into on-line.

On the other hand, the way I view it, you know, we were -- two years ago we did, what, $8.9 million of spending in advertising, marketing. And all but 50,000 of that was on-line. So we've been the original, you know, stomping up and down on one note on-line spending. So other people are saying the key words are good and portals are good. I think portals are getting less effective at this price. But anyway, they -- I still think that there are areas, there are areas within the portals. There are some areas within the portals that are still I think very good.

And I look at it like the metaphor I use is you got an oceanliner with a bathtub on it and the bathtub is half filled with water. And as the oceanliner rocks in the waves, the water sloshes back and forth in the bathtub. When all the capital, when all the water sloshes down to one end, the opportunity is high and dry up at the other end. And then a little while later all the capital sloshes back to it. But it leaves an opportunity back at the front end. That's always happening. And it's happening in many, many dimensions. Within the portals, as I say, there's areas that are still very good deals. Within key words, a lot of key words have gotten overpriced but there's a lot of areas that are underpriced.

And I won't go any farther, but I wish I had more hands in marketing to do the analytics, because there's still so many themes that I think are waiting to be explored. I'm sure we'll get there and a year or two later other people will get there. But there always be some part of the bathtub that's high and dry.

Okay, Bill I hope that was good. I hear there's a lot of people on hold. So I'm going to move along quicker.

: Thank you. We'll take our next question from Tom Underwood, Legg Mason.

: I have a couple of questions, Patrick. First, just looking at the improvement you made in gross profit, was wondering if you could give us kind of an idea of what gross profits, kind of in the core overstock business would be, meaning excluding the other businesses that are kind of there to drive customers, such as media, travel, et cetera.

: Well, travel is not there to drive customers. Travel is there because I think we will make money at that at some point. And we are making money at it. But BMV is to drive customers. I think you'd see, oh, Dave, you know, half a million dollars or so higher. You'd see, if you took out BMV, you'd probably see gross profits half a million dollars or so higher.

: What I'm trying to get at is where do you think kind of in your core profitable part of the business, where do you think gross profit margins can evolve as this business matures?

: Well, the way to understand our gross margins is, that's a good question. Let me take a running start at this. And because everybody is so familiar with Amazon, it's a lot easier for me to sort of explain it versus them.

In the fourth quarter, I studied their numbers last night, they did 21.9%, we did 9.6%. But they move 8.9% of what I would call cost of goods, you know, but they move into SG&A. I'm not criticizing them for that, but they put it into different places than us. So on an apples to apples basis they were 13 and we were 9.6. So understand now that 9.6 has gone to 10.3.

On a GAAP basis, you should understand that 10.3 is really a blend of three different businesses. It's B to C, which is the three businesses are B to C, B to B, and then books, music and video, BMV. So I separate B to C from BMV. And the margins in them are quite different. The margins in the B to C business are mid-teens. So on an apples to apples basis you might even say they're, Amazon was at 13.

So and then B to B is in the mid to high single digits. And B to C is negative. And we have really, by honing down into -- I'm sorry, BMV is negative. By drilling down into BMV and apportioning the right costs and customer service, we realize it's a negative. I thought it was running basically at break even. We're seeing now it's running several percent negative. But we also see ways to pick up several percent.

I would like that -- however, it's a great chief customer acquisition tool, and the customers we get from it turn out to behave just about as well as the customers we get from our normal products, and we learn a lot more about the psychographics of those people. It tells me if you buy a certain lamp I know something about you. But if you come and buy Master and Commander and a book on golf, I now know a lot more about you. And that has value. That psychographic stuff is going to have value over time. Did I hit all your points?

: Yes, you did. And --

: Except one thing. Sorry. Where do I see that going, even just setting aside fixing the BMV loss, I think there's two or 300 basis points we can pick up. We've actually already picked up in my mind more than the 70. Only 70 manifests itself this quarter because of these other three effects, smaller sales, dislocation costs and the fact we didn't get it all done in the first quarter. But I think there's a couple hundred basis points or more that remain to be picked up in the system.

: Okay. If you could also just comment on the growth in terms of both sales and maybe profitability of your major sales channels, the dotcom versus the emails, versus the portals, versus the partners?

: That gets into more, although we're seeing nicer, nicer repeat business, 63%, even though the top line is growing 100%, we don't really want to get into the profitability by segment. We want to keep a few cards turned face down.

: I understand.

: But if you do the math, do a quick modeling, you see you've got one business that's growing 100% or somewhere between 79 and 100 or maybe even over 100%. If you, to have that be a repeat, to go from 100 to 200 and have 63% of the 200 be repeat business is not easy. All the growth works against the repeat rate. So that you can sort of back into how loyal our customers are getting.

: Great. Thanks.

: You see why, the arithmetic works against having a higher repeat rate when you have a high growth rate unless you have really fanatic customers and we seem to be getting more and more of that kind of loyalty. Thank you Tom.

Operator: We'll take our next question from Patrick Duff, Prospect Associates.

: Thanks very much. This is a great call. You're really giving us a lot of great color on the quarter and business going forward.

: Thank you.

: I want to switch gears a little bit beyond the numbers in the quarter. I'm trying to keep this as succinct as possible. But you've certainly morphed into being much more than just a closeout merchandiser. I think the branding has driven home in the customers's mind that this is a site to come for for great value, opportunistic buys and what have you. But I'm just wondering now, what kind of brand image have you really created for the consumer? If I think about shopping experience in a mall, you have customers who go to the mall because they want to get a specific product and they have the favorite stores they go to look for a product. You have other customers that come and they go to the mall and browse, they're not sure what they're going to buy but they walk through the mall and see what catches their eye. You have a lot of products that come and leave the site at any given time. So I don't know the consumer necessarily knows I'm going to go to the Overstock site because I want to get a specific product as much as they say I'm just going to go and browse. I'm wondering, in your branding, what image are you going forward and hoping to convey in that sense to have consumers consistently come to the site regardless of what it is they're looking to buy?

: You know, that's a great point, Patrick. And I tend if there's an area of our branding that has not gotten that across, that we've not really gotten the right point across, it is that. The basic value proposition we offer is we don't have everything. We're not Amazon with 25,000 electronics SKUs. But what we have is cheaper than any other place you're going to find it. So you have to be -- it's more almost of an eBay. You have to come back and keep checking. And back in the early days, one of our repeated customer complaints was, hey, I found something there last week now I came in and it's gone. We can't reorder most of the stuff. We just can't reorder most of it. Almost all of the stuff is not reorderable.

So we have not done as much as we could in our mass marketing to get that point across. And you can make it a fun point. You can make it hey you've got it checked. When it's gone it's gone. We have changed the site in the last two days. You'll now see products that have recently sold out will still appear but with a sold-out banner across them and things that are about to sell out have a sold-out banner. That's just a modest step.

But the point is to show the casual browser who's coming in, geez, here's 50 great products but look at the five of them or eight of them or something that have sold out. And that's because I didn't check yesterday. And so just that minor change in the site was to get at the point you said. Although, the truth is I'd say it's an area where we can do better is to get that across to people. Did you have another question, Pat?

Operator: Thank you. We'll take our next question from Mike Napalotona, JM Securities.

: Good morning. Great quarter. Patrick, could you give a little more clarity on some of your existing customer profile and how many times they frequent the site and is their average ticket higher than maybe a new customer, because I think the point you articulated a couple questions ago, with your unique customers continuing to expand and your new customers building, looks like that conversion to an existing customer on a larger cumulative customer base continues to grow and that will really be the upside in the revenue model at least in the near term, as long as you can continue to acquire new customers and convert them to an existing customer that purchases more frequently in higher average ticket. Could you give a little more detail on what you're seeing there as far as that existing customer's adoption and what are some of their profiles.

: Sure. Good question. I took a trip this quarter. I was away a little bit longer than I thought. But I had not much to do, and I asked Dave to send me a whole bunch of data. And it was great. He sent me just reams and reams of data. And I spent, you know, a couple weeks just playing with this data and finding profitability, and looking at these kinds of questions. And ended up writing some 15-page treatise that my colleagues had to wade through. But we have discovered really profound differences -- first of all, in -- we're just getting -- we're not just saying new customers. We're not breaking down new customers by source, by the type of thing they buy and some other factors about them.

And we're really discovering differences in value and lifetime value. And areas that we thought were marginally economic when you look at the behavior of those customers turn out to really be economic and maybe much better than people who are on a first purchase basis were people on a first purchase basis appeared better.

People do, when they come back, there's different patterns, and I don't want to give away too much, but there's different patterns, for example, between men and women. Women tend to like to buy, and pardon the blatant sexism here but it's implicit in almost any marketing women tend to like buy cheap anyway. They want to buy something, establish a relationship, see if they get it for under 30 or $50, see if they get it. See if they like the customer service. If they do, they come back. They place a bigger order. Bigger, then they become regular.

Guys are sort of, excuse me, guys are more one-shot guys. They'll come in and they'll plunk $250 down on a stereo as their first purchase. They're not interested in building a relationship first. And this doesn't mean they don't come back. But the initial buying patterns are quite different between men and women. We have, as I mentioned before, we really structured our site to appeal to women. We don't make that explicit, but a lot of aspects of our site are to hit on female shopping buttons, things that they care about.

And so that's one difference between the sexes. But there's also, you can break your customer group down into many more dimensions than gender. And you find those kinds of differences, and then as you find them, you can play off them. You can construct your marketing around it, and you realize that they, along different dimensions customers have much different lifetime values.

As a general group, you definitely see them coming in and making smaller purchases first, and then the more they come back and buy, the more they buy bigger and the more they buy products that we make a little bit more margin on.

: It appears, I mean to me it seems like the way this is going to be very successful is once you identify who your core utilizers are, it really flows through the organization as far as you tailoring your inventory and tailoring your inventory risk and product assortment to that core customer base and you don't really need to rely on the casual one-off.

Kind of moving over to marketing, have you improved your e-mail distribution or what are some of the initiatives you have in place to really tailor your recurring e-mail reminders to your customers on certain things, or is it not that specific yet to emphasize certain products based on their purchasing patterns?

: Well, we've made one step, but there's a big, an additional, much longer step to be made. And the smallest step we made is the Olert system. You can go on our site and download a downloadable, it's on the home page, it's called Olert. You can configure that to be alerted of deals in areas that you have interest. It sits on your home page. It's a little red O. But beyond that, the personalization of both emails and of our site is really in its nascent stages. The engine that drives both personalization of this site and emails is a fairly complex engine to build. And we have -- it's the area that Amazon, I have to give them props, has been great at. They figured that area out first. They sort of later got to areas that we focused on first. But they've been very good with personalization, especially of the site, not so much the emails, from my experience.

So that's an area we're moving hard right now. I've spent a lot of time trying to get a feel for the subject, and we've hired one statistician, but I understand that other companies have 70 to 100 statisticians, other companies of our size doing this kind of work. I have an idea for an approach that won't be so labor-intensive. But so it's going to be three to six months to build that out. But to me, you know, on the one hand, we've made a little bit of progress, but it's an area where I think of it as an ace in the hole. If we can get that working right it should be good for a lot of growth.

Operator: We'll go next to Glen Krevlin, Glen Hill.

: Glen Krevlin at Glen Hill.

: Good morning. How are you doing? I'm on a cell phone, so I may break up. First, I want to tell you, on a metrics basis, this quarter blew away the fourth quarter. So congratulations.

: Thank you. [Indiscernible] once in a while.

: It's been a roller coaster, but this one has been a good one. In terms of some of the questions that weren't handled, can you talk about B to B, which going back to the beginning of the, when we first met, you thought might even be bigger than B to C at some point. So I want to know what you're thinking there. And then secondly just your overall standing in the liquidation market, how you're kind of viewed today and what you see as the opportunities to buy great products.

: Okay. As far as B to B goes, I think I compared it once to Brazil, which is always -- if you go back to the 1908 Encyclopedia Britannica, they talk about Brazil as the country of the future in 20 years, blah, blah, blah. I know when I was in college they taught us that way. But it's still Brazil.

B to B is I think the future. We have something of such value to the smaller retailer -- small retailers cannot afford the kind of buying system that we have. They can't afford to do the sourcing that we do. And even the big retailers, we have some of the big retailers want to do business with us. And one of the things about the Safeway contract being over is we're now open to pursue a lot of other areas.

I'm not sure I'm going to focus on -- I'm not going to focus on grocery. But, anyway, so we have this great value. But it's been tough getting the word out. And I'd say it's been my fault. We try to mass outbound calling effort. We went through about 100 people doing 100 phone calls a day, getting people registered and such two years ago, and it's never quite panned out. What do we do now, a million dollars month, two million a month. It pays for itself. More than pays for itself. Probably makes us 100,000 a month. It doesn't take any new capital. It's all running out of the capital we already have in the warehouse. So it's not been what it could have been. And yet I really think the potential is such a compelling proposition for the small retailer who is getting squeezed by WalMart and the big boxes can come to us and just cut their expenses, their buying costs dramatically.

So what we've done is we are working on the -- we're going to have our B to C site, our Club O, which I hope all of you join, and then Club O Gold. It's structured after Costco. Costco, you pay $45 and you get one price or you -- and that's really what families typically do, or the small retailer goes in and pays $99, they get a slightly better price and they get a 2% rebate. That's the basic structure of where Club O Gold is going to be. It also opens up the possibility of companies that already do business, there are some companies out there that you can sort of figure out for yourself that already do business with hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of small businesses who would love to provide the kind of service, who would love to add this to the value that they there are sell to those small businesses.

So there's really an opportunity, I think, to hook up with, to latch ourselves to one or more of them and get this to take off.

We did a study -- we got a whole bunch of customer data across our millions of customers, about 150 fields of information on each customer, where available. And we discovered that some non-significant -- a significant percentage, excuse me, a significant percentage of them are actually businesses. We didn't know it. But they're actually small retailers buying from us on our B to C and they didn't even know our B to B even though we've been trying to get it out there.

So that's another time our B to B. And our standing in the retail world, in the liquidation world. We've gone from buying from vendors, from liquidators to being a liquidator, to being an [indiscernible] liquidator. We're up there getting the first calls. I think we've got incredible contacts now in apparel. And you're going to see that just grow and grow, especially given, I think, that there's a reason to think that apparel is the second big wave out there, the first being books, music and video. We can just get the first call and I think we're really great to do business with. We've emphasized, we pay promptly. We're quick. We do quick deals on the phone. I've got a call today from somebody in a different industry who's got a fantastic opportunity, and we're getting the first call. And it's a pretty tough grounding business in testimony respects. It's pretty hard-nosed business. We hear over and over we're like the most decent guys to do business with in the industry and I hope that doesn't mean we're just the suckers, but we really have taken -- there aren't that many professional players. There aren't that many professional players. There are a few professional players, but there aren't really that many professional players in the industry. And the fact we sort of deal with cash, we pay our bills, we get back to people, all these little things I think have given us an edge, plus the fact that, geez, when we went on the road, I think Jason and I used to say we were taking about 20% of the average deal that comes our way. When we did our secondary last year we're saying we're taking about a third of the average deal coming our way. Now it's two-thirds and a lot of take home. Somebody came in last night telling me about a deal for 350 stereos. He shrugged apologetically like saying that's all that's available. We laughed because three years ago we were buying 20 and 50 and we used to gulp when we bought 350 stereos. Now it's not enough. It's such a good deal but I wish it was 3500 or 35,000.

So, thank you, Glen. I'm sorry, I'm getting the hook. Dave, did you have anything else?

David Chidester: No.

Patrick Byrne: Thank you all for calling. It's been a pleasure working for smart owners, and I hope we have better and better logistics numbers to report. And I mention again that we are going to go back and step on the throttle a bit with the television and radio, especially radio advertising. And we look forward to talking to you in three months. Bye-bye.

Operator: Thank you. This does conclude today's conference. We appreciate your participation. You may now disconnect.

Source: Overstock.com's IR site

Source: Overstock Q1 2004 Earnings Conference Call Transcript (OSTK)

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