Ralph Lauren Earnings Call INSIGHTS: Luxury Apparel, Wholesale Inventories

On Wednesday, Ralph Lauren Corp (NYSE:RL) reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Take a look.

Luxury Apparel

Omar Saad – ISI Group: Roger, wanted to see if I could ask you about the Retail business, it’s a big focus for the company, globally. You had some interesting comments in your prepared remarks about maybe some of the shifts going on in the factory business is really holding up very well and that luxury apparel side and the full price might be a little bit more challenging. As you try to manage the brand kind of across these prices points and diverse customer basis, what are key elements there, is it the macro factor that is playing the biggest piece, are there product fashion issues that might be going on affecting us. Well, how do you think about managing that whole, that Retail business holistically across the channels, the price points, the different sub brand et cetera?

A Closer Look: Ralph Lauren Earnings Cheat Sheet>>

Roger N. Farah – President and COO: I think it’s a good question Omar because we obviously have been focusing a lot on Retail over the years and since you’ve been following the stores as well as anybody, you noticed our ongoing ability to develop a very profitable business model. I think what you’re alluding to is some of the channel mix issues that go on between e-commerce or factory stores, the Ralph Lauren stores we own or even the licensed stores that we don’t necessarily report as part of the Retail comps, I think what’s happenings is in the first quarter and probably the first half of the year, we are going against some extraordinary comps last year. First quarter last year was plus 19% and (NYSE:LLY) was plus 7%. So, we are up against some extraordinary changes. I also think what’s happening on a macro basis is we are really dealing with a worldwide customer. We’re seeing more and more – the high-end customer who shops in London is shopping in Paris or Dubai or New York or Beverly Hills or Asia and so our efforts around a global customer consistency of merchandising, consistency of marketing, the same standards for service is a big push for us around the globe. Now, in the first quarter the Ralph Lauren store business was softer than prior trends. I think most of that has been a footfall issue with a higher-end luxury apparel customer was not shopping in Europe or in key markets with the same kind of urgency they’ve had in the past I think the accessory businesses, watch jewelry businesses have held up better perhaps than the apparel customer. The other thing affecting that is the shifting of the tourist business. There’s no doubt that Chinese tourists today are the number one consumer who are traveling around the world and are distorting sales in stores or cities or markets to a much higher degree. We have a very low penetration at the moment with the Chinese customer. I think we talked about it last time. It’s less than 2% and we think over time as we build our presence in China and build our brand we will begin to see them in some of the other markets. Very interesting to me is a data point even a smaller business like Club Monaco that today has almost 20 stores in China. The second largest tourists that they are seeing in New York City are Chinese, wherein the Ralph Lauren business where we’ve closed our distribution and we don’t have a big network there the Chinese customer doesn’t make the top 10. For us the largest tourist groups are Brazilians and Russians and people from the U.K. So it’s a very interesting global dynamic playing out across the world landscape. The factory business is strong worldwide and we feel good about that, not really through door expansion, it’s just through the away we’re executing and running that business and we think that does complement the value customers’ need for product at a price. Then of course the ongoing overlay of e-commerce continues to be very strong double-digit growth here in the United States. Our business in Europe has almost doubled given the expansion of countries and markets and we continue to see growth there. We’re very excited with the Club Monaco launch here in the United States and Canada in March and April, we think that’s going to have real strength for the customer and then we launched in Japan this fall. So it’s really a multichannel customer today in terms of some of our customers access all three and we expect that to continue. The other, again, subject that’s not reported in that numbers is the license market like the Middle East or Russia where we’ve had great strength and continue to have great consumer acceptance, which we think is why those customers when they travel throughout Europe or the United States are fans of the brand. So, it’s getting to be an integrated complicated world and I think that our ability to reach all those customers with consistency is going to help us in the long run.

Wholesale Inventories

Kate McShane – Citigroup: Roger I was wondering if you could comment at all about the inventories at Retail and clearance inventory that at your Wholesale account, and clearance activity in both the U.S. and the European market.

Roger N. Farah – President and COO: Sure, the inventories within our Wholesale channel are very clear. As a matter of fact, Jacky and I were just talking about the August performance which is strong really on the back of new fall receipt, so with a very strong double digit the spring summer performance we’ve had we are in good shape domestically. In the European markets consistent with what we’ve said earlier in the call, we actually chose not to ship some products into the market that were originally on order, combination of our concerns about their ability to sell through it as well is some deteriorating credit with some of the customers. So, the actual inventory levels in Europe are down and the inventory in the channel is clearing through, perhaps a couple of weeks slower than this time last year in Europe. Domestically, we’re fine.