Ruby Tuesday (RT) on Q2 2017 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

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Ruby Tuesday, Inc. (NYSE:RT) Q2 2017 Earnings Conference Call January 5, 2016 5:00 PM ET


Sue Briley - Chief Financial Officer

Lane Cardwell - Interim President and Chief Executive Officer


Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo

David Hargreaves - Stifel Financial


Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Ruby Tuesday’s Fiscal Second Quarter 2017 Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants have been placed in a listen-only mode and the lines will be open for your questions following the presentation. Please note that this conference is being recorded today, January 5, 2017.

And now I’d like to turn the conference over to your host, Sue Briley, Chief Financial Officer. Thank you.

Sue Briley

Thank you, Greg, and welcome everyone to Ruby Tuesday’s fiscal second quarter 2017 earnings call, which is also being broadcast live over the internet. Our second quarter financial results were released today after the market closed. A copy of our press release can be found on the Investor Relations section of our website at and is also available on Business Wire, First Call and other financial media outlets.

Before we begin our remarks, I would like to remind everyone that there will be forward-looking statements in our comments this afternoon. I refer you to the note regarding forward-looking information in today’s press release and in our SEC filings. Throughout this conference call, we will be presenting non-GAAP financial measures including restaurant-level margins, adjusted net loss and adjusted net loss per share. This information is not calculated in accordance with U.S. GAAP and may be calculated differently from other companies’ similar non-GAAP information. Reconciliations of our non-GAAP financial measures to their most directly comparable GAAP measures appear in our earnings release and on our website.

On the call with me today is Lane Cardwell, Ruby Tuesday’s Interim President and Chief Executive Officer. Following our prepared remarks, we will open the call for questions.

I’ll now turn the call over to Lane.

Lane Cardwell

Thank you, Sue, and good afternoon everyone. We appreciate your time and interest in Ruby Tuesday. On our call today, I will begin by providing a brief overview of the second quarter. After that Sue will discuss the details of our financial results. And lastly, I will conclude with an update on our Fresh Start initiatives, which collectively form the foundation upon which we intend to drive meaningful improvements in our business.

Let me be upfront in saying that our quarterly performance does not yet reflect the strategic changes made since our change in leadership or the new product rollouts that began in November and will continue later this month. While our financial results during the second quarter are far from where they should be, we believe that the strategies we are implementing will ultimately grow guest traffic and profitable sales at Ruby Tuesday.

We believe our progress should be viewed in two stages. The first with the launch of our Fresh New Menu in mid-November, which only had a limited impact on the quarter itself and the second with the launch of the enhanced Garden Bar system-wide later this month. As a reminder, our redesigned new core menu showcases the affordability and value that Ruby Tuesday offers while our enhanced Garden Bar stands out as our brand differentiator.

It appeals to customers’ desire for fresh healthy options. Importantly, the new Garden Bar allows us to leverage the healthy halo for which we are already so well known. According to a survey conducted by Market Force in October, Ruby Tuesday ranked highest among chains in the healthy choices category among its 9,200 respondents. I will go into more detail later on the call regarding additional actions we will be taking under our Fresh Start initiatives to build topline momentum.

Moving on to the second quarter, the casual dining industry remained challenged and promotionally intensive. Additionally, we were transitioning through new menu inefficiencies as it relates to cost of goods and labor as well as an increase on our own promotional activity.

While our second quarter same restaurant sales decline of 4.1% was below our expectations, we made progress on customer traffic. Guest counts fell 2.8% improving sequentially from last quarter and outperforming the industry by approximately 140 basis points. As these metrics suggest, we can bend the trend with respect to the number of people dining in our restaurants when we effectively communicate our value proposition.

Our various promotional offers during the quarter were aimed at building greater guest frequency ahead of our Fresh New Menu in mid-November and our Fresh New Garden Bar launch in mid-January. These investments in part resulted in a 410 basis point decline in restaurant-level margins during the quarter.

The learnings from these promotions should pay off as we transition to bringing more profitable traffic to our restaurants through our Fresh Start initiatives on a go-forward basis. In fact, I continue to believe that these strategies in concert with our service focus will bring same-restaurant sales back into positive territory in fiscal 2017.

I would like to thank our teams for their hard work and dedication to Ruby Tuesday as we take action and execute on our strategy to change the trajectory of our business and drive shareholder value.

I will now turn the call over to Sue to take you through our results.

Sue Briley

Thank you, Lane. For the quarter, we reported total revenue of 214.7 million, a decrease from last year of 46.2 million. This was the result of a net reduction of 109 company-owned Ruby Tuesday restaurants as compared to the second quarter of last year, and a Ruby Tuesday Concept same restaurant sales decrease of 4.1%.

Same restaurant sales underperformed the industry by approximately 220 basis points. The quarter was also negatively impacted by approximately 60 basis points from temporary restaurant closures, and guest counts declined due to Hurricane Matthew. In the second quarter of last fiscal year, same restaurant sales increased 0.8% at company-owned Ruby Tuesday restaurants.

Breaking down the comp results, guest counts fell 2.8%, outperforming the industry by approximately 140 basis points. Our net check average declined 1.3% and trailed the industry by approximately 360 basis points. A 1.5% increase in pricing was more than offset by promotional activity during the quarter. I'd like now to give some detail on our expenses for the second quarter.

As a percentage of sales, cost of goods sold were 29.1%, an increase of 200 basis points compared to the prior year. This increase in rate was driven by increased promotional activity in this year’s fiscal second quarter and a one-time settlement that benefited cost of goods sold by 50 basis points in last year’s fiscal second quarter. This was partially offset by cost savings from our inventory management system. We achieved approximately $1.7 million of savings from our inventory management system in the first half of this fiscal year and expect roughly $1 million to be realized in the remainder of fiscal 2017.

As a percentage of sales, payroll and related costs increased 200 basis points in the second quarter to 37.6%. Higher labor cost as a percentage of sales were due to wage inflation of approximately 4.6%, more fully staffed restaurants and other labor inefficiencies.

Other restaurant operating costs as a percentage of sales were 10 basis points above last year at 21.8% for the current quarter as the favorable impact from restaurants closed as part of the Asset Rationalization Plan was offset by sales deleverage and management of controllable cost. Restaurant level margins declined 410 basis points to 11.5% driven mainly by increases in cost of goods sold and payroll and related costs.

General and administrative expenses increased to $18.4 million from $14.2 million in the second quarter of the prior fiscal year. The increase in G&A expense was primarily due to an increase in costs associated with executive transition. As a percentage of revenue, G&A expenses increased 320 basis points to 8.6% from 5.4%.

Marketing expense at $14 million was slightly higher as compared to $13.7 million in the second quarter of the prior fiscal year. As a percentage of revenue, marketing increased 130 basis points to 6.5% from 5.2%. The increase in marketing expense as a percent of sales was primarily due to deleveraging on lower sales.

Closures and impairment charges, substantially all of which were non-cash were $15.7 million this quarter, which compares to $12.1 million in the second quarter of the prior fiscal year. We ended the quarter with 613 Ruby Tuesday Restaurants, of which 546 were company-owned.

During the quarter, we completed the sale of our Church Street office property in Maryville, Tennessee for 2.8 million. We are on track to relocate team members into the company’s other restaurant support center in Maryville, Tennessee by the end of this month.

Interest expense net was $4.8 million for the second quarter, compared to 5.1 million in the same quarter of the prior year. On a GAAP basis, we reported a tax rate expense of $36,000 compared to a tax benefit of $180,000 last year. Adjusted net loss, however, is calculated using a statutory tax rate of 39.69%. This provides a more consistent tax rate to facilitate review of the company’s financial performance.

Had our tax provision been calculated using a statutory tax rate, our tax benefit would have been $15.1 million in the second quarter of this year, compared to a tax benefit of 6.3 million in the second quarter of the prior year. We reported a net loss per share of $0.63 for the second quarter versus a net loss per share of $0.26 in the prior year period. On an adjusted basis, we reported a net loss per share of $0.18 compared to a net loss per share of $0.04 last year.

Turning to our balance sheet, we ended the quarter with 38.6 million in cash on hand and debt of 223.2 million. Our priority for the use of cash is to maintain adequate cash levels to support business needs while investing in our Fresh Start initiative. We will also consider paying down debt and repurchasing shares when permitted under our debt agreement. We remain focused on improving the performance of the business through the execution of our Fresh Start initiatives, which Lane will speak to in more detail shortly.

Additionally, I would like to provide an update on our Asset Rationalization Plan. In the first half of fiscal 2017, we incurred 29.3 million of pre-tax expense related to executing the Asset Rationalization Plan, for fiscal 2017, we now expect $32 million to $36 million of pre-tax expense compared to our previous estimate of $33 million to $42 million. These expenses are comprised of restaurant closing costs, corporate restructuring, lease terminations, asset impairments, holding and other associated costs.

We now expect to generate cash proceeds of approximately $45 million to $50 million, compared to $35 million to $45 million previously from the sale of the 34 corporate-owned properties closed in connection with our Asset Rationalization Plan. There are currently 25 properties in the contract process with average expected net proceeds of $1.6 million per location. This includes 20 properties closed as a result of our Asset Rationalization Plan.

I will now turn the call back over to Lane to provide an update on our Fresh Start Initiative.

Lane Cardwell

Thank you, Sue. I’d like to now provide an update on our Fresh Start Initiatives and the progress we are making on our Fresh New Menu, Fresh New Garden Bar, and Fresh Experience. In each of these key areas, we are taking definitive action as we believe these improvements will increase guest counts and frequency.

As I said earlier, we continue to believe our progress should be viewed in two stages: the first with the launch of our Fresh New Menu in mid-November and the second with the upcoming launch of our Fresh New Garden Bar in mid-January. These strategies were developed to increase our appeal to our target demographic of women and families. Reengaging with this group without losing the support of our current guest base represents our largest opportunity to drive significant top line growth.

Let me begin with stage one, our Fresh New Menu that was launched in mid-November. Our culinary team has and will continue to develop great tasting food that delights our guests with the goal of driving higher guest satisfaction not just on taste, but value as well. With the new menu, we are leveraging our iconic Garden Bar, offering more relevant choices, displaying greater affordability and driving menu and recipe simplification by removing underutilized and overly complicated options to facilitate better execution.

The Fresh New Menu added innovative new dishes that feature high-quality ingredients including shareable appetizers, garden fresh salads, pastas, and desserts, as well as a new drink and dessert and a redesigned kids menu. Examples include four new freshly prepared salads including Barbeque Chicken Salad, Crispy Chicken Cobb Salad, Mediterranean Chicken Salad and a Kale Caesar Salad. These four salads can be served three ways: tossed, chopped or chopped and stuffed into a warm baguette.

Our new California Primavera Pasta, which is also available with gluten free pasta, indulgences like our new Crispy Mac and Cheese entrée, or our new Philly Cheesesteak Potstickers Appetizers and we added delicious new deserts like our Caramel Crunch Cake or our new Apple Crumble Scalate.

The Fresh New Menu has an overall lighter brighter and fresher look using a white textured background, which better communicates freshness and affordability to guests. To better highlight our already competitive prices, the new menu unbundle certain combos in order to reduce the number of high price points displayed on the menu. And while we had anticipated a modest reduction in our check average, we are pleased that so far it has been less than expected and should continue to moderate going forward.

Since implementing the new menu, we’ve received positive feedback from both our operators and our guests which we believe should help drive higher guest satisfaction scores over time. We’re also focused on highlighting value in our promotions and limited time offers.

In September, we ran a six-week burger promotion on social media that featured six delicious new burgers with endless fries for just $6.99 each. Customers responded very positively to the promotion, but unfortunately we did not generate the necessary traffic lift to offset the deep value offered in the promotion. That said, we have learned valuable insights which we will apply to future promotions and to our core menu.

We relaunched our three course meal promotion, which ran during November on national TV and drove an improvement in traffic in same restaurant sales increases for the month. The three course meal included the Garden Bar, three of our most popular main courses, two sides and a full size dessert all for $12.99. This promotion was popular with our guests that was more challenging for our operators this time around since it coincided with rollout of our Fresh New Menu.

The second stage is our Fresh New Garden Bar that will be rolled out mid month across all Ruby Tuesday restaurants. Our Fresh New Garden Bar is our core strategy to enhance our food offering and reconnect with our target of women and families. The Garden Bar is a key differentiator that sets us apart from our competition and has been the main focus of our efforts over the past year. As a reminder, approximately half of our guest utilized the Garden Bar when they dine with us either as an add-on or as a main course.

Following a series of test in St. Louis, Charlotte and Atlanta, we have dramatically expanded the product offering from our current 36 items to 58 items, streamlined its implementation and execution and determine the appropriate price point either as an entrée or add-on to a meal to provide value to our guests in a cost effective and profitable way.

The Fresh New Garden Bar includes fresh greens, raw vegetables, roasted vegetables, cheeses, crispy toppings, as well as hummus, dips and fruits. We’ve also introduced a line of eight new house-made dressings, salad dressings that are naturally gluten-free and utilize only the freshest ingredients to ensure great taste and high quality.

The launch will be supported by marketing through national television, online video, social media and multiple other vehicles inside and outside the restaurant to showcase and tell the story of our New Garden Bar. We have hired MARC USA to serve as our new lead creative agency in support of our Fresh Start Initiatives starting with our New Garden Bar launch. The content will focus on the improvements and enhancements we’ve made to our Garden Bar offering while connecting the experience of dining at Ruby Tuesday to our target demographic of women and families.

Additionally, our enhanced new garden bar will evolve. We will continue to test, read and improve our offerings based on guest feedback as well as look for ongoing cost efficiencies. We are confident that our customers will see a noticeable difference in our New Garden Bar presentation with an increased wow factor when compared with our current Garden Bar.

Furthermore based on survey data from our market tests, the New Garden Bar resonates well and scores high with our target customer. We have also overwhelming positive operational surveys from our teams in the test markets. We are extremely excited about what our Fresh New Garden Bar will mean for our guests and the Ruby Tuesday Brand.

Moving on to our Fresh Experience, we remain focused on revitalizing our brand through enhancing our service and overall guest experience. Our focus remains on improving the taste of our meal delivery where we currently lag our casual dining peers.

Our Garden Bar adds a level of complexity that our competitors do not have. Because the Garden Bar is not something that can be easily replicated, it remains a unique feature to us and our category and a key competitive differentiator for our brand. With this in mind, we continue to focus on service initiatives that have demonstrated improvements and pace over the past several months.

In fact we achieved our highest ever overall guest satisfaction score including pace of experience, taste of food and service attentiveness during this quarter. Through our team’s continued hard work, we expect these ratings to continue to improve.

Through our Fresh New Menu that rolled out in mid-November, we’ve reduced the overall number of items being offered by roughly 30% to about 95. By having fewer items and simplified recipes and processes, our menu is easier to execute. This should result in increasing the accuracy, consistency and throughput of our kitchens allowing us to better serve our guests. Simplification will be an ongoing initiative for us.

Finally, we continue to believe a fresh look will help keep brand competitive in today’s market. We expect to complete 13 remodels by the end of January 2017 in certain markets. By transforming most of the Ruby Tuesday restaurants in two markets coupled with our other Fresh Start Initiatives, we will have a greater impact on our brand image.

We plan to support these grand relaunchings with social media coverage and local marketing. Pending the results of these market tests, we’re placing the remodeling program on a temporary hold. It is important we take a pause to fully digest the results of these market tests, which will be a culmination of all elements of our Fresh Start Initiatives, including the Fresh New Menu, Fresh New Garden Bar and Fresh New Experience. We look forward to sharing the results of these two market tests in the upcoming quarters.

In summary, our team and operators have never been more focused on the path ahead as we execute on the plan we have laid out. We are moving with greater urgency to change the trajectory of our business through renewed focus on our guests. We are confident that the key strategies of our Fresh Start Initiative will drive greater engagement with women and families as we better position Ruby Tuesday to achieve top line growth and higher operating profitability.

I would like to sincerely thank all of our restaurant leaders and team members who are passionate and dedicated to Ruby Tuesday. We greatly appreciate your ongoing support and commitment.

Thank you for your time and your interest in Ruby Tuesday. We will now open the call up for questions. And in addition to Sue and myself, in the room we have Dave Skena, our Chief Marketing Officer, and Mike Ellis, our Chief Development Officer.

Question-and-Answer Session


[Operator Instructions] And first we will hear from Bryan Hunt with Wells Fargo.

Bryan Hunt

Thank you for your time. Lane, I was wondering if you could just remind me – you said you had a positive month in the most recent quarter and it was tied to the three item promotion or the three course promotion, I was wondering if you could remind me which month that was.

Lane Cardwell

August was our three course promotion that we ran first, which gave us the encouragement to relaunch it for November, December.

Bryan Hunt

And did you get the same results in November, December?

Lane Cardwell

Got strong results, but we were coming off of a lower base than we were in August, and this time we had competition in the promotional arena. We don’t seem to be the only ones trying to fight for share.

Bryan Hunt

It seems that your same-store sales trends are especially volatile, you are up in August and then you are down materially I guess early in fiscal Q2. And then once you get back online with these promotions, you pop backup positive. I mean could you talk about – do you feel like the consumer views you all as a dining concept to cherry-pick or what do you feel like, what is your interpretation of the volatile sales trend?

Lane Cardwell

As I look across the landscape, I don’t see a lot of difference from what we are seeing than others whether we are promoting or not or whether others were promoting or not. A lot of what you mentioned is why we’ve done these initiatives. Doing nothing would probably result in the same types of results that you’ve mentioned looking backwards.

We’ve only had our new menu in place now since mid-November. We are about a week and a half away from launching our biggest initiative, which has been a year in making with the Garden Bar. I believe that these two things combined especially for why people use us, you know, again, we are very Garden Bar dependant. Half of our guests use the Garden Bar on any visit, and as many as 80% who come in and use the Garden Bar came in specifically because of that. We think that the enhanced Garden Bar that we are going to be rolling can kind of change the situation going forward.

Bryan Hunt

And in the three markets that you tested the Garden – expanded Garden Bar in Atlanta, Charlotte and – I forgot what that third market was off the top of my head – St. Louis. Can you talk about what the response was in those markets? Did you all see elevated same-store sales and consistent average check?

Lane Cardwell

We did see elevated same-store sales. Each market we kind of refined and refined as we got guest feedback and as we got operator feedback. What we are going to launch in mid-January is the culmination of literally over 3 million guest visits in the markets we’ve been testing with either people being exposed to or actually ordering in the Garden Bar. We are very confident that this is what we need.

Bryan Hunt

Okay. And then lastly, when you were – I imagine you were testing the menu, the new menu you are using in certain markets or locations as well, can you talk about the consumer feedback there as well as the average check response?

Lane Cardwell

I don’t want to get too specific on average check, but I can give you actual feedback from a national launch. The feedback has been extremely strong from both guests and from our team members. And the team members are sensitive to feedback that they get directly from the guest. Servers in any restaurant are commissioned sales people. The bulk of their income comes from the people they serve. If their guests aren’t happy, they are not happy. And they transmit that either happiness or unhappiness to us very directly and very quickly. We’ve been very pleased with what we’ve heard and very pleased with what we’ve seen. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see the new menu, but it’s dramatically different than the one that we’ve had in place for quite awhile.

Bryan Hunt

I think you all delayed it maybe a day or two. Unfortunately, I went in the day before launch. So maybe that’s a trip I need to make tonight. I will get back in the queue. Thank you.


[Operator Instructions] All right. It looks like we’ll move back to Bryan Hunt for a follow-up question.

Bryan Hunt

Just two follow-ups. One, can you talk about the reduced expenses associated with the store closures, where did they – maybe the difference in your original estimate versus the reduced estimate range of $32 million to $36 million, what was the driver behind that?

Sue Briley

Yeah, hey, Bryan. It had personally to do with the tightening up the range further we got into the project and understanding what the expenses would be. But I’d say the bulk of that I’d characterize as lease reserve in that range.

Bryan Hunt

Okay. And then additionally, it looks like you are getting greater cash proceeds from the properties that you are selling. It looks like your range moved up on the high-end by $5 million and on the low-end by $10 million from the property that you are marketing. Is there – there is always the law of averages. Was there one or two much higher proceed locations than you expected or is it pretty much across the board where you are getting slightly higher dollars than you anticipated?

Sue Briley

Yeah, I think the reason for moving up that range has to do with the properties that we have in some stage on the contract phase currently. Right now, we’ve got 25 properties in the contract phase and average for these properties is about $1.6 million. And of those 25, 20 of those are restaurants that we just recently closed as part of Asset Rationalization Plan. It made sense looking at the number of restaurants that we’ve had under contract and what was remaining to move that estimated proceeds number up.

Bryan Hunt

And with regards to timing, do you feel like you will still sell all the owned properties that you’ve closed down by the end of the year?

Sue Briley

It’s hard to say that definitely. I can say up to 25 that we have out there. We closed 20 of them just at August, we usually have 60-day inspection period, another 30 days to close. So it takes 90 days or a full quarter to start seeing those proceeds come in. We should start seeing the benefit of sales in our third quarter and then the development teams continues to work on the rest of the portfolio.

Bryan Hunt

Well, very good. That’s it for me. I will hand it off to somebody else.


[Operator Instructions] Next from Stifel Financial, we have David Hargreaves.

David Hargreaves

Hi, could you please remind us adjusted for all dispositions, your number of owned underlying sites and how many are encumbered?

Sue Briley

Sure. We’ve got units that are currently opened. We have 269 where we own both the land and the building. That’s down from 303 before we had asset rationalization. Of the 269, there is 84 that are encumbered.

David Hargreaves

And, I guess, we are trying to get a sense for what sort of EBITDA run rate you expect the company to be at now, if you are a $60 million or an $80 million company? I’m not sure, there is obviously a lot of noise in the quarter. Is there anything you could do to sort of give us a sense for what we should be thinking of in terms of the run rate?

Sue Briley

Thank you for the question. But given where we are at in our brand transformation and the execution of our Fresh Start Initiative, it would be premature for me to give you that kind of an estimate at this time.

David Hargreaves

Okay. And can you talk about your – how much capacity you have if you wanted to make bond repurchases and what your criteria might be for that?

Sue Briley

The capacity for fiscal full year for bond repurchases is $20 million. We haven’t made any bond repurchases to date. And as we look at those types of decisions, we look at our cash position and any uses of cash and evaluate that as a whole.

David Hargreaves

Fair enough. Thank you.


[Operator Instructions] All right. And it looks like that does conclude our question-and-answer portion of the conference today. I’d like to turn the floor back to Lane Cardwell for any additional or closing remarks.

Lane Cardwell

Thank you. With our Fresh Start Initiatives and the process rolling out across our system, we are confident that these strategies will be a catalyst to improve financial performance once they gain traction with our guests. We will also continue to focus on reducing our cost structure in driving greater operational efficiencies. We have our plan in place to enhance our food offering, execute our Garden Bar roll out, and deliver an overall better guest experience to reconnect with our target guest.

With the continued hard work of our teams and dedicated operating partners, Ruby Tuesday is committed to delivering value to our guests, franchisees, employees and our shareholders. We appreciate you all joining this today. We look forward to updating you in April on our third quarter results.


And ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude today’s conference. We appreciate your participation and you may now disconnect.

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