The Victoria’s Secret turnaround keeps spinning as the brand continues to search for the right path forward.
When the uber sexy, in-your-face intimates brand started to grow stale, parent-company L Brands Inc. started to change direction two years ago. It ditched swimwear and apparel, axed the brand’s famous catalogue and switched its promotional approach, cutting back on promotional mailers.
But the results have been disappointing — to L Brands executives and to Wall Street — and now those old habits are creeping back.
On a conference call with analysts, Jan Singer, chief executive officer of Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, noted the brand was testing a “magalogue” to bring in “existing, new and lapsed customers” and had seen good results.
Citi analyst Paul Lejuez noted the reversals — the mailers have come back, magalogues are, of course, heavy on catalogue — and asked if swim might be next.
Stuart Burgdoerfer, executive vice president and chief financial officer of L Brands, hedged: “Is there ongoing dialogue from time to time about the potential of bringing swim back, per se? Yes, there is from time to time. But again, our energy is placed on growing our core categories and other adjacent categories, including lingerie, the loungewear business, sport in Pink and the beauty business as well.”
Clearly, the changes are still coming.
First-quarter comparable sales at Victoria’s Secret rose just 1 percent in the first quarter, underwhelming given the 14 percent drop a year earlier, and L Brands on Wednesday cut its projection for 2018 earnings per share to a range of $2.70 to $3 from $2.95 to $3.25.
Shares of the company rose 3.4 percent to $35.22 Thursday, but are down 69 percent for the year so far.
Burgdoerfer acknowledged that first-quarter operating income declined by 26 percent, with growth at the Bath & Body Works division more than offset by declines at Victoria’s Secret.
“We’re not satisfied with this result and are very focused on improving performance at Victoria’s Secret,” he said.
He said the company has plenty to work on as it fixes the business and listed its assets, including:
• A strong brand that leads the lingerie category in market share.
• A large, profitable store base with nearly 400 million visits annually.
• A profitable, rapidly growing e-commerce business.
• A large and growing customer file.
• Supply chain speed and agility.
People outside the company are keeping their own lists, however.
Jefferies analyst Randal Konik offered a simple and harsh summary of his view — “Victoria’s Secret is broken, Pink is breaking and Bath & Body Works is peaking.” He also listed 10 areas of concern from the first quarter.
Among Konik’s worries are:
• Anemic comp growth at Victoria’s Secret.
• A low-single-digit comp decline for Pink in the first quarter. Competitor Aerie comped up 34 percent in the fourth quarter when Pink saw a “slightly” positive comp.
• Guidance that is “still unrealistic.”
• Plans to cut capital expenditures to $675 million to $700 million from $750 million.
• Retail worries. “When we see management’s intentions to only close a handful of Victoria’s Secret units in the U.S., we question the sustainability of the 950-plus store fleet in the face of declining mall traffic trends,” the analyst said.
The future of Victoria’s Secret relies on just which list is more compelling.