L Brands Inc., parent to Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works, has one of the most successful brick-and-mortar businesses going — and now that strength is starting to work against it.
Credit Suisse analyst Christian Buss downgraded the company to “neutral” from “outperform,” noting, “We are increasingly cautious on traditional specialty retailers with outsized store footprints.”
L Brands has 3,005 owned stores, roughly 90 percent of which are in the U.S. Further, the company is looking to grow its square footage by about 4 percent this year. (Chairman and chief executive officer Leslie Wexner just recently took direction operational control at Victoria’s Secret and is looking to make some course corrections at the chain.)
Investors took the move in stride and shares of L Brands slipped just 32 cents to $86.77.
But Buss is working on a thesis that has a much longer time frame.
“The sophistication of digital platforms and technology has led to a new brand-building paradigm and a structural shift in how brand equity will be derived in the global softlines industry,” a group of Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a far-reaching research note titled, “Revolution in the Softlines Brand Landscape: Digital Is the New Wholesale.”
“We now see digital commerce and marketing as the primary and most effective mechanisms for building softlines brands, replacing the historical gatekeepers of third-party retailers and mass media marketing,” the analysts said. “This structural change has reduced the barriers to entry for new brands, created opportunities for brands to build profitable enterprises much earlier in their lifecycle, and created competition where scale and retailer relationships have historically provided high barriers to entry.
“Adding to this erosion of support for the traditional brand-building model, the rise of online-only marketplaces like Amazon, backcountry.com, wish.com, Yoox and ASOS as well as subscription-based models like Birchbox and Trunk Club, creates a new distribution channel for brands whose primary relationship with its customers is digital,” Credit Suisse said.
The analysts, however, said they retain a preference also for companies that have the “capital and predisposition to diversify through acquisitions.” These include Coach Inc., Urban Outfitters Inc., Columbia Sportswear Inc., Michael Kors Holdings Inc., Ralph Lauren Corp., Tiffany & Co. and VF Corp.