Urban Outfitters 4Q16 Earnings Call Notes

Richard Hayne – CEO

Results disappointing and unusual

“Let me begin with a fourth quarter overview. I would characterize results during this year’s fourth quarter especially the holiday season as both disappointing and highly unusual. Total company comparable sales were flat for the quarter. But within the quarter two distinct periods appeared.”

Saw wide fluctuations in traffic

” Comps were up nicely in the month of November. All three brands enjoyed a fantastic start of the holiday season by driving double-digit comp sales gains on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Things were looking very good. Then came December, store traffic and overall demand in North America at all three brands evaporated for several weeks at the beginning of December. More normal demand returned only as Christmas and Hanukkah drew near. Demand remained normal immediately after the holidays but fell back again once the New Year began. I can’t recall having ever seen a quarter with such wild and wide fluctuations.”

Retailers face a lot of challenges

“Now let me say few words about the macro environment. Without that the retailers in general and URBN specifically face a number of challenges. The most obvious of which is disruption created by the digital revolution. Once again sales from the DTC channel grew much faster than the store channel. DTC session traffic is up strongly while store traffic is weak. The shift in consumer preference is both obvious and growing. Total company penetration of our direct channel across all brands increased by roughly 400 basis points during the holiday season. I predict within the next three years, total URBN retail segment sales by channel will be almost equal.”

Digital shopping is negatively impacting store margins

“This would be fine if the increase in DTC sales were wholly additive, but they’re not. Digital shopping is partially replacing store shopping and thus is negatively impacting store traffic and store generated sales. Flat to negative store ‘comps’ are causing occupancy deleverage and eroding four-wall margins.”

The bubble of this industry is deflating

“Add to that the fact that the U.S. market is oversaturated with retail space and far too much of that space is occupied by stores selling apparel. Retail square feet per capita in the United States is more than six times that of Europe or Japan. And this doesn’t count digital commerce. Our industry, not unlike the housing industry, saw too much square footage capacity added in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Thousands of new doors opened and rents soared; this created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst. We are seeing the results; doors shuttering and rents retreating. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future and may even accelerate. Another consequence of overcapacity is discounting and endless promotions as retailers try to drive demand through lower prices. This causes AUR deflation and erodes merchandise margins.”

We’re investing in the most promising opportunities

“how does URBN, with our current portfolio of strong, omni-channel, lifestyle brands, adapt, grow and remain solidly profitable? The answer: we plan to do what any good portfolio manager would. Invest resources in the most promising opportunities, diversify to lower risk, and increase liquidity. Fortunately for us, we are already reasonably diversified. Three years ago, we set out to strengthen and grow our non-apparel categories and have done so with considerable success. We now see many additional opportunities to grow by channel, category and geography.”

Highest priority is digital

“Our highest priority is where we’ve had the most recent success, digital. Last year, we made many improvements to our capabilities in this channel. We developed a single platform for all brands. This enables URBN to be more scalable and efficient in developing and rolling out front end enhancements across all brands, both on mobile, and all websites. We have improved our functionality around check out, payments, search, inventory visibility, in store pick-up, ship to store, mobile capabilities and speed on all web platforms.”

Not abandoning stores, but investment is trending downward

“I certainly don’t want to give the impression that we are abandoning the store channel because we’re not. I envision our brick and mortar store fleet as an equal partner with the virtual store in the new omni-channel retail world. We will continue to invest in this channel, but relative to historic levels, store investment is trending downward. This is largely because both larger brands have now reached what we believe, and have always said, is full penetration in North America, a fleet between 200 to 250 stores. Furthermore, it makes little sense to enter into many new, long-term leases at this time when all signs indicate that a similar lease will be less expensive in the near future.”