In 1969, I was a teenage undergrad at Cox School of Business on the Southern Methodist University campus. In Entrepreneurship 101, we had a guest speaker, the legendary restaurateur, Norman Brinker. At the time, he was not legendary, but the young owner of a diner called Brink's, located on the hip-hot apartment row in Dallas.
Mr. Brinker later became the founder of several restaurant chains that were acquired by NYSE companies, and he is the founder of Brinker International (EAT), anchored by Chilis Grill & Bar and Maggiano's Little Italy brands. Among the wisdom that Brinker shared with the class of young entrepreneurs was that restaurant success started with knowing your market and offering delicious food. I latched on to Brinker's shooting star early, and EAT is now making all-time highs as its stock has lost no luster in 35 years.
We recently rebalanced portfolios, and found that we were a little light in Consumer Discretionary stocks. In addition to EAT, we also had Chico's FAS (CHS), a retailer focused on fashions for mature women. Although both of those old favorites maintain the magic in their respective markets, we wanted to add some small cap food stocks and fashion retailers aimed at the younger generation. The problem we encountered was that the restaurant stocks were mostly fully-priced, and the "in" retailers were hard to separate. I finally gave up and took the easy way out...I bought the Powershares Small Cap Consumer Discretionary ETF (PSCD).
PSCD holdings consist of about 100 small-cap retailers in a variety of industries, and food chains are well represented. I remember Mr. Brinker's comment about focusing on delicious food, and I personally like to sample the wares before investing. I was salivating when I read some of the names in the list of holdings:
Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) embodies Brinker's idea that food service should be comfortable and casual. At the Steak and Ale chain he introduced the salad bar concept, with the revolutionary idea that patrons could leave their table to serve themselves. Partaking in finger food and craft beer is the most luxurious way I know to watch a ball game.
BJ's Restaurants, Inc. (BJRI) has the best gluten-free menu in the chains, and the "Pazookie" is the best new dessert concept, in my opinion, including the gluten-free version. Brinker started the Boston Market chain with the idea of giving clients a choice of home-style food with a healthy bent and BJRI takes that to the next level.
Jack in the Box (JACK). Two yummy tacos for 99 cents...does it get any better? Brinker cut his teeth on chain restaurant management as Operations Manager of JACK.
DineEquity (DIN) operates the Applebee's Restaurants Brand, which was developed by Brinker-trained executives. DIN expands the "fern bar" concept of a causal restaurant as well as a singles hangout that was introduced by Brinker's Bennigans chain.
I can also take solace that I am supporting my investments by ordering a Pizza from Papa Johns (PZZA) and munching it in my La-Z-Boy (LZB), since both of those companies are in the Powershares Small Cap Consumer Discretionary stable.
As for tapping the teen market, PSCD holds a variety of popular young peoples retailers. If you have been to a suburban mall lately, you may have noticed that Hot Topic (HOTT) is not just a clothing store, but THE destination for middle class teens. More upscale teens head to The Buckle (BKE) in cosmopolitan shopping districts. Big 5 Sporting Goods (BGFV) is another of my grandsons' favorites, and an investment that I particularly like from a value perspective.
For a financial analyst, using an ETF in the portfolio is the lazy way to get exposure to a certain investment group. However, if funds are limited, it can be a great way to get diversified exposure to a hot segment. In reviewing the holdings, I was pleasantly surprised that the majority of the stocks had compelling value or growth characteristics. I was also pleased that the diversification covered many industry segments in the retail area in addition to restaurants and fashion: casinos, travel, furniture, education, auto parts, jewelry, electronics, cosmetics and even firearms. PSCD also pays a small, variable dividend, and has returned 18% year-to-date. PSCD sells vary close to its Net Asset Value.
Some small, growing companies in the Consumer Discretionary segment are appropriate for a diversified growth portfolio. Besides, it can be fun doing some "hands on" investigation during field trips to visit your investments.