Urban Outfitters saw its shares fall as much as 8 percent in trading Wednesday after chief executive and founder Richard Hayne said sales are down by half from pre-coronavirus days at the minority of stores that have so far reopened — and that a jump in online sales hasn’t been enough to maintain revenues or profits.
The stock for the South Philadelphia-based clothier fell as low as $16.01, and closed at $16.54, down 7.75%. Still, it remained above its market-crash April low of $12.77. That last figure was Urban Outfitter’s lowest share value in the last 16 years before a partial rebound last month on hopes of a fast recovery.
By comparison, Five Below, the etail chain focused on middle-schoolers also based in Philadelphia, fell as low as $52.27 in March, but Wednesday was trading higher than $93, approaching its pre-coronavirus level, as stores reopen and young shoppers return. (It closed Wednesday at $92.29, down 2.11%.)
Five Below plans to have most stores reopened by June after temporarily cutting salaries at its Market Street headquarters in Center City, including a 50 percent cut for CEO Joel Anderson, and for warehouse and field managers. It is adding curbside pickup while also trimming growth plans. It still plans to open as many as 120 stores this year, but that’s down from its previous target of 180.
Urban Outfitters had booked rising sales this winter, but that ended March 14 when Hayne agreed to close stores as “traffic and sales weakened, first in Milan, then Seattle, then New York,” he told investors in a Tuesday night conference call.
The company’s “outstanding quarter quickly became an exercise in crisis management,” he added.
While many worked from home, the company tried to keep models and other staff and contractors working at its Navy Yard offices, handling online sales, a decision that upset some employees. Hayne said that the firm had adopted rigorous cleaning procedures that Hayne said “greatly reduced the spread of infection within our community” and that the impact of coronavirus on employee health was "minor.”
But, he added, the business impact has been major, and damaging, and threatens to last. So far, the surge in digital sales — “two million digital shipments from our stores during the quarter” — has not compensated for the drop in store traffic and uncertain access to factories and suppliers. The company’s retail inventories fell 18 percent over the last three months.
Although 40 percent of the company’s stores, including 252 in North America and 27 in Europe, have reopened, and 100 more are set to open by early June, the company is bracing for a weak summer and autumn, at least.
Hayne says he has had to furlough “a substantial number” of store and wholesale staff, cut creative and marketing expenses, freeze hiring (except in call centers, and warehouses such as the big Urban complex in Gap, Pa.), and delay or cancel more than $140 million worth of new projects.
He had also had to “aggressively reduce” planned China store expansion and the Nuuly clothing rental and resale unit headed by the CEO’s son (and chief digital officer) David Hayne, reduce executive pay until furloughed workers are back, and boost borrowing by $220 million.
Next, “we are committed to reopening our stores and offices quickly, but responsibly,” with masked salespeople, daily store cleaning, Zoom meetings, and other steps following government guidelines.
But store sales remain weak, and analysts pressed Hayne on how many of its stores — Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People, Terrain garden centers, and Vetri restaurants — the company will likely shut permanently, given the drop in sales and high labor and rental costs.
“In North America, our stores are running down about 65% in traffic and about 50% in sales,” with sales also down 30% in Europe, Hayne said. “We do see it creeping up. When I say creeping, it’s slow.”
Stores begin operations with a small burst of shoppers, but “once stores are opened for a few days, we have sort of seen them revert into that down 50%-ish type range,” said Frank Conforti, chief financial officer. By the end of the year, he still expects reopened-store sales will remain down 20% “We believe a return to near-pre-virus levels will take many quarters and a medical vaccine or cure.”
Hayne said he was encouraged by a “63 percent jump in new online customers" over the last six weeks, especially for Urban Outfitters’ flagship brand, with more shoppers buying home products and casual ware online.
But dress and party clothes are “underperforming,” since vacations and parties are also down. Bigger sellers online include “active wear, lounge, renewal and knit tops.”
Citi Research analyst Paul Lejuez asked whether Hayne was ready to “rethink” his investments in Vetri Pizza, an in-store restaurant in Manhattan’s pricey Herald Square, two Navy Yard eateries, a Terrain cafe in Chadds Ford, and other food units.
“The restaurant business is crazy right now, particularly here in Pennsylvania,” said Hayne. “There is absolutely no way that anybody can make money with 30% of their customers,” the reopening guideline that some public health officials are pushing. He has no reopening dates for food service.
Pressed by analyst Lejuez and others whether Urban Outfitters can use the recession to get out of expensive leases, Hayne said, “the decision comes down to the relationship between store traffic and occupancy cost.”
Landlords, he said, are already offering big discounts. “Where landlords aren’t reasonable and are still thinking that it’s 1995, and they can command any rent that they wish, well, they can get it from somebody else, not us.” New stores will be “downsizing a bit,” Hayne added. Half the company’s store leases expire by 2024.
But Conforti noted that Urban doesn’t actually have any discount leases yet. The company has been increasing discounts to keep sales going, he added.
What about back-to-school sales? “It’s your strongest business,” Marni Shapiro, of Retail Tracker, reminded Hayne on the conference call.
“The supply chain has been a nightmare, air freight out of Asia is not only difficult to get, but it’s incredibly expensive. So we’re having to boat most of the things,” and that could delay deliveries, Hayne said.