In the money: Juicy Couture weighs on Liz Claiborne fortunes
You won’t be reading about the name Liz Claiborne in a corporate sense for very much longer – and managers at the apparel business will be hoping that the change of name also signals a change in fortunes after a year of huge volatility.
CEO Bill McComb has led a strategy of slimming down and paying down debt over the past 12 months, through a series of transactions that have netted nearly US$500m and necessitated May’s name change to Fifth & Pacific Companies.
The strategic revamp has narrowed the company’s focus on three main brands, but it has also thrown into sharp relief ongoing problems with the most significant of the trio: Juicy Couture.
This much is clear from the company’s fourth quarter results, where the underlying loss (once the sale of the Liz Claiborne brand is factored out of the figures) was deeper than last year.
Revenues were down too, and only because of Juicy Couture, which lost more than 15% of its sales, overshadowing substantial revenue gains for Lucky Brand and Kate Spade.
More recent figures for January and February to date show an evolution of these trends: the declines for Juicy Couture are slowing, but so too are the comps increases for the other two labels.
Meanwhile, in talking to analysts, McComb is holding fast to his three-brand strategy, maintaining a full-year 2012 EBITDA forecast of $125-140m, and stating: “To achieve this, we will take action aimed at further unlocking growth opportunities in each of the core brands.”
In detail, this means a projected full-year comps increase “in the teens” for Kate Spade, with the brand’s total revenue growth predicted to top 30%.
Similarly, McComb expects Lucky Brand to post a comps rise of 10%-plus – and, most crucially of all, it requires a recovery from Juicy Couture.
He remains optimistic here, pointing to the trend behind the figures, which show December comps down 6% and falling 8% for the fourth quarter as a whole.
January’s comp figure was also down 8%, but February’s to date figure fell only 2%, which the CEO believes is evidence of the Juicy Couture strategy beginning to take hold.
The key to this is fewer discounts, which is hurting volumes but helping margins, and more sales through owned retail outlets – helping fourth quarter margins to lift 2.3 points to 53.8% of sales.
Addressing concerns that Kate Spade’s comps growth is decelerating – January’s figure was +30%, February to date +16% – McComb highlighted the reported February 2011 comp figure of +87%, and the February 2010 figure of +49%.
To back up further growth, Liz Claiborne plans to open a further 35-40 new stores this year, mostly for the Kate Spade and Jack Spade brands.
But the strategy goes beyond mere brand performance: the renamed Fifth & Pacific Companies will transform its corporate infrastructure over the next few years, which means a series of systems investments to be announced in more detail in April.
And the other main priority is to boost the company’s operations outside the US, expanding internationally or, as McComb calls it, “strengthening our global footprint”.
This process will also include improving the e-commerce offer both in the US and in Europe – and McComb says he is “happy with the momentum” in both areas, but admits there is much still to be done.
These factors all combine to make 2012 a hugely important year for Liz Claiborne – or rather for Fifth & Pacific.
By the time the name change kicks in during May, the success or otherwise of McComb’s company-wide restructuring will be increasingly clear.
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