American Eagle Outfitters Inc. has a “new” chief executive officer — its chairman Jay L. Schottenstein.
He has been interim ceo since January 2014. He’s also been chairman of the company since March 1992. Schottenstein previously held the role of ceo from March 1992 until December 2002.
The board’s appointment is the latest in a series of executive changes where the individual hired is rejoining the company for a second tour of duty. Those include Alan George “A.G.” Lafley as ceo at Proctor & Gamble Co., who transitioned to the role of executive chairman on Nov. 1; Myron “Mike” Ullman 3rd as ceo at J.C. Penney, until he left in August; Julian Geiger at Aéropostale, where he continues as ceo, and Michael Weiss at Express, although he is set to retire in January. Then there is Manny Mashouf, who founded Bebe Stores Inc. He served as ceo from 1976 to 2004, and again from January 2009 to January 2013. Mashouf, who is nonexecutive chairman, is technically on his third tour of duty, although this time “reengaged” with the firm more as an adviser on the design and merchandising side.
Michael Jesselson, lead independent director for American Eagle’s board, said, “Jay has orchestrated a swift recovery since taking the helm, successfully guiding the company through a challenging and highly competitive retail environment.”
When Schottenstein took over the reins as interim ceo, he succeeded Robert Hanson after a two-year tenure. At the time, American Eagle was struggling along with its competitors in the highly promotional teen apparel sector. Its fourth-quarter profits at the time plummeted 89 percent to $10.5 million from $94.8 million, while total net revenues fell 6.7 percent to $1.04 billion and same-store sales fell 7 percent for the quarter.
Fast forward one-year later and Schottenstein and his team were able to general net income of $61.6 million, or nearly six times the $10.5 million when he took over for the same 2013 period. The next fourth-quarter report won’t be available until March 2016.
Jesselson said Schottenstein has “exceptional instincts for our brands, a strong strategic vision and proven ability to lead the company to profitable growth.”
He also has a sizable stake in the retailer. Together with his wife, Jean, Schottenstein owns 7.6 percent, or 14.8 million shares, of American Eagle, according to the company’s proxy statement.
Schottenstein said the company for the past two years has set as its priorities to strengthen the merchandise, reinvigorate the brands and deliver profit improvement. “As a result, we have achieved several quarters of sales and earnings growth in a tough retail landscape,” he said.
For the third quarter ended Oct. 31, the company said net income jumped to $74.1 million, or 38 cents a diluted share, from $9 million, or 5 cents, a year ago. Total net revenues rose 7.6 percent to $919.1 million from $854.3 million. Comparable store sales rose 9 percent, compared with a 5 percent decline in the year-ago period. Wall Street was expecting EPS of 34 cents for the quarter.
The company said gross profit rose 17 percent to $368 million, and that part of that was due to lower markdowns as the company continued to reduce promotional activity.
On the conference call to Wall Street, Schottenstein said, “All channels and brands excelled in the quarter. Both American Eagle and Aerie delivered record third-quarter sales, more full-price selling and increased profitability….We see a bigger future for the AE brand. In addition to international expansion, our goal is to make AE America’s favorite casual destination. To that end, we will continue to raise the bar on product innovation and newness each season. Our marketing plans in 2016 will ramp up to include a new loyalty program and more customer engagement. Over time, our goal is to gain a greater reputation for quality and value and extend the reach of our brand.”
The company has 126 licensed stores operating in 20 countries, and has 23 company-owned stores in Mexico. Last month it acquired casual apparel line Tailgate Clothing for $11 million, as well as Todd Snyder’s upscale namesake line.
Mary Boland, chief financial officer, in a telephone interview said the company is in the process of putting together a plan to build out the Tailgate business. Considered a college campus concept, she said there is opportunity to include some American Eagle denim products in the business. The upscale Todd Snyder line will continue as a standalone business.
For holiday so far, the company has pulled back on promotions and has still seen positive results. “The mall was extremely competitive over the weekend, with 50 to 60 and even 70 percent off. We ran a 40 percent off sale, the same as last year, but we ran it for [fewer days], two days less online and one day less in-store,” Boland said.
While the company seems to be able to get traction from consumers even at a lower promotional discount, its job will be to maintain the emotional connection with its customer base. To that end, Boland said the updated loyalty program will strive to meet that need, focusing on increasing the digital component. There are 13 million loyalty customers. The updated version is in the beta testing stage with a subset of its customer base, and a rollout is slated for the end of 2016.
Boland said that so far what’s been selling are sweaters and outerwear. “We are the leader in denim innovation across men’s and women’s, and [what’s been selling well] in the third quarter is carrying into the fourth quarter,” she said.
Based on a midsingle-digit increase in comps, the company expects fourth quarter 2015 EPS to be between 40 cents to 42 cents.
Shares of American Eagle inched up 0.3 percent to $15.81, and then picked up 2.2 percent in after-market trading to $16.15. The company disclosed its quarterly results and ceo change after the markets closed.