LONDON — UBS has offered Burberry some very public advice about how to improve sales and profits at the company, which has seen revenue and profit growth shrink over the past year.
Slashing expenses and keeping a lid on bonuses is only part of the solution, according to two straight talking UBS analysts, Helen Brand and Fred Speirs, who issued a report based on recent research from one of the bank’s divisions, UBS Evidence Lab.
“The bigger prize would be for Burberry to improve as a retailer,” said the report, which was issued Thursday ahead of Burberry’s full-year results on May 18.
UBS said Burberry’s sales densities remain “materially below peers” with “volume and value” per retail selling staff at the bottom end of the brand’s peer group. That said, changing the selling strategy shouldn’t be too hard, according to the bank.
The report pointed out that Burberry’s handbag pricing is also well below that of its peers — about 14 percent lower — and that the Burberry name remains strong with the Chinese consumer.
“A 10 percent uplift in sales densities equates to 104 million pounds [$151 million at current exchange] of profit before tax, assuming that 70 percent of the operating expenses are fixed,” the report said.
Putting that figure into context, the bank said it’s expecting Burberry’s cost savings in the 2016-17 fiscal year to amount to 10 million pounds, or $14.5 million.
“An uplift in retail sales densities could have a much larger impact on profit before tax than cost. We believe improving retail is key in the medium term,” UBS said.
The report also pointed out that Burberry has higher bills to pay compared with its peers, measured in operating expenses as a percentage of sales, and employee costs, which make up one-third of operating expenses. The bank believes that Burberry has about 15 percent more retail sales staff per directly operated store; 6 percent more headquarters staff, and 5 percent higher pay per person than its core peers.
Little wonder, then, the company was rated as the ninth most-desired place to work in fashion, according to a recent report in WWD.
UBS believes Burberry should help its sales staff to increase conversion and also boost the marketing of its large leather goods and focus on some key regions. “We think the business should be targeting volumes per retail staff above other peers. This can be driven by improved training, further use of CRM data analytics, merchandising and ominchannel.”
The report also said opportunities lie in large leather goods, notably handbags, as well as “ramping up Japan and medium-term brand elevation in the U.S. market.”
UBS Evidence Lab surveyed 2,109 Chinese and U.S. consumers, and said the brand ranked well with the Chinese. It also collected prices for more than 66,000 stockkeeping units across the industry
“In the U.S., the brand does fall down versus other luxury names although it still ranks much higher than premium peers,” the report said.
The bankers at UBS said they are waiting to see what Burberry principals have to say at the year-end results presentation on May 18. They are expecting to hear details about how Burberry plans to drive a more productive retail business as well as about the cost efficiency plans.
Separately, the bank said it’s expecting sales to recover in the second quarter of the current 2016-17 year, with like-for-like growth rising 4 percent.
A Burberry spokesman declined to comment on the UBS report.
As reported last month, Burberry saw its second half revenue shrink by 1 percent in the six months to March 31, on the heels of a flat first half.
Last year, amid a hostile macroeconomic environment and slowing sales, the company began a cost-cutting program aimed at protecting its increasingly fragile bottom line. The company has not been hiring new people, is keeping an eye on travel and expenses, and is looking at further savings.
Sales in the second half were 1.41 billion pounds, or $2.1 billion at average exchange, marred by a steady deterioration in Hong Kong; a sharp downturn in Continental Europe, and uneven demand in the U.S., where Burberry sells mostly to a domestic audience.
Carol Fairweather, Burberry’s chief financial officer, said at the time that the external environment continues to be challenging for luxury goods players, and that Chinese spend globally had slowed in the third and fourth quarters.
In the second half, sales of women’s and men’s wear both contracted by 3 percent, while accessories edged up 1 percent, with bestsellers including the new leather and nylon rucksack, scarves and ponchos. Children’s wear and beauty grew in the double digits.
The company added that in the 2016-17 fiscal year, adjusted profit before tax will be “around the bottom of the range” of analysts’ expectations, currently about 405 million pounds, or $577 million.