Fresh Market Earnings Call Nuggets: New Store Productivity and Upcoming Openings

Fresh Market (NASDAQ:TFM) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

New Store Productivity

Jason DeRise – UBS: Just wanted to ask a couple of follow-ups on the new store productivity. Could you maybe share just how that’s varying across your different regions as you’ve been expanding out from your core base? Maybe updating, how it’s going in California, how it’s going in any of the new stores in the Northeast for example, that are still in the comparable base? Then, also obviously, you had very strong strength in the core markets, you got some very strong openings in Florida, how are those still doing?

Craig Carlock – President and CEO: We think about our store returns and our new store productivity in classes. And we are at 80% to 90% productivity levels right now, we report right in the middle of that range, that’s the range we’ve been projecting and forecasting we feel very comfortable with. With respect to Roseville; Roseville is off to a fine start, it is well within the range of what we see when we open new stores. We’ve got Future Stores coming quickly really in the Sacramento area. We’re are looking forward to openings in (indiscernible) later in the year and we’ve got Palo Alto opening next week. So, we are excited about California. We are committed to Sacramento and Roseville and we feel good about 80% to 90%, which is where we have been historically.

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Jason DeRise – UBS: When you guys are picking your locations I know you guys are looking at demographics and where your potential shoppers may be coming from. Are the shoppers in California the ones that you expected or are you pulling from further away. I mean, is there any insight that you have on that?

Craig Carlock – President and CEO: I don’t think that we’ve seen anything different or remarkable about our opening in Sacramento and Roseville compared to what we’ve seen in other new markets. We go into new markets and people come in they try the store, they enjoy the food. We are a shopping store that provides convenience and service and quality and intend to be shopped by folks who live in the immediate areas and then over time we build up to little bit longer drives, reputation builds. So, I feel like it is right down the middle of what we’ve seen in other areas…

Jason DeRise – UBS: One last follow-up on California. Is there anything different about the mix of the products that are being purchased? Had you had to make an adjustment in assortment already or any color you can add on that?

Craig Carlock – President and CEO: No real dramatic changes to our mix or to our assortment. We carry very high quality perishable items and those items tend to be well received by customers wherever we go. So, what people appreciate is freshness, cleanliness, size, color, taste, flavor and that’s what we are providing everywhere we open our stores. So, no real changes, nothing that’s making us ultra-thinking about our assortment. Now, we often bring in local items and to the extent we can source local items whether they are perishable like in produce or whether they are non-perishable like in the grocery department we’ll do that, but those are items that provide a visibility to our desire every part of the community. So, we’ll certainly do that, but those don’t make a large portion of the sales.

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Upcoming Openings

Stephen Grambling – Goldman Sachs: I guess one quick follow-up to Jason’s question which would just be on the new store productivity. Should we be expecting higher new store productivity from some of the upcoming openings in Palo Alto or Houston just to generate similar returns to the existing store base?

Craig Carlock – President and CEO: I think that that’s not how we think about it. We think about, hey, we are going to open 19 to 22 stores, some will surprise us on the upside, some will surprise us probably on the downside on average we are ought to be in the 80% to 90% range. We just don’t have the precision to forecast the sales the way you are describing and so we think about this. And I don’t think any retailer does. So, we think about this in the 80% to 90% range is how we think about things…

Stephen Grambling – Goldman Sachs: Then on guidance. Are there any special items in the back half that are keeping the EPS guidance in line, despite the bumps in comp and seeming encouraging tone.

Craig Carlock – President and CEO: No, there really aren’t any unique items. What we would say how I’m thinking about this is we feel better about sales than we did 90 days ago, so we bumped the sales forecast up. But we still have three quarters of the year left. We need to open, that 17 to 20 of our 19 to 22 stores. We need to get them open on time. We need to see what their sales levels are. We need to better understand product cost. So, in my view, the things that provide for a guidance range still exist and that’s why there’s really no reason to change that range.

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Stephen Grambling – Goldman Sachs: Then last one before I get to the floor. On the holiday you mentioned that you’ve had some time to digest and analyze the weakness that you saw. Can you maybe give us a sense for what you believe drove the change then? Then also maybe discuss how you would either adjust processes going forward to flex to that kind of environment?

Craig Carlock – President and CEO: I think we’ve wanted to say that we came into the fourth quarter with over 7% year-to-date comps. So, we had a great deal of momentum. And the first week of November you know with the hurricane and the second week there was an election, we saw our sales pattern change as people began to focus on potential changes to income tax rates and potential changes to their own personal situations. As there was certainty around those things in early January, our sales pattern improved and is continued to be steady and stable since that point. So I feel like, we’ve essentially isolated our pattern into a November December timeframe. I don’t know that we should put together extensive plans to deal with unforeseen macroeconomic events. It will be nice to have them from time to time, but I think our effort is better spent preparing for day to day execution and so that’s what our focus is on.

A Closer Look: Fresh Market Earnings Cheat Sheet>>