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Stocks W / Williams-Sonoma


Subject:  WSM writeup Date:  10/7/2006  7:16 PM
Author:  etalian Number:  120 of 123


Company – Williams-Sonoma
Ticker – WSM (NYSE)
Industry – Retail: Home Decor
Market Cap - $3.7 billion: Mid-cap


Fifty years ago, Chuck Williams opened up a store in Sonoma, CA aptly naming it Williams-Sonoma. Today, Williams-Sonoma has grown into a multi-channel portfolio of retail stores focusing on “enhancing customer's lives at home.” During that time W-S acquired or created several other brands including Pottery Barn and all its spin offs (e.g. Potter Barn Kids, Pottery Barn Bed + Bath, & PBteen), Hold Everything, and West Elm. At the beginning of 2006, WSM operated 570 retail stores represented by 254 Williams-Sonoma, 188 Pottery Barn, 89 Pottery Barn Kids, 8 Hold Everything, 12 West Elm, 3 Williams-Sonoma Home, and 16 Outlet stores.

The Williams-Sonoma stores sell kitchen essentials and accessories. The products are high quality and priced as such, making William-Sonoma kitchen products a must have for most upper-middle class American housewives. They offer in store demos and cooking classes to help sell products and educate customers. The customer service is top notch according to the customers I interviewed. Pottery Barn sells furniture and home accessories with a classic, muted, country style. They are considered the industry standard in home décor. The product quality is somewhere between the low cost retailers (e.g. Target) and the individual mom & pop furniture stores, although the products are priced closer to the high end market. WSM is developing a new store brand called West Elm which is similar to Pottery Barn, but carries products with a more edgy, modern, urban style.

Around 60% of WSM's revenues are derived from its retail stores. The other 40% of revenues is derived from direct-to-customer operations including catalog and internet sales. WSM mailed over 385 million catalogs last year, which is enough for every person in America to have one. These catalogs have become the industry standard for home décor and drive all three sales channels: retail stores, internet, and catalog. “When you ask people what their favorite decorating magazine is, they say the Pottery Barn catalog,” according to BB&T Capital Markets retail analyst Laura Richardson.

In fiscal 2005 net revenues increased by 12.8%, which was broken down as:
• 12.3% increase in retail store sales (7.4% due to new store openings & 4.9% due to an increase in comparable same store sales)
o Core brands (Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, & Pottery Barn Kids) net revenues increased 10.9%.
o Emerging brands (Hold Everything, PBteen, West Elm, & Williams-Sonoma Home) net revenues increased 35.6%. Excluding Hold Everything, which incurred additional expenses for shutting down stores and absorbing the brand into other WSM brand stores, net revenues in the emerging brands increased 48.8%.
• 13.6% increase in direct-to-customer sales (internet sales increased 36.5% and passed catalog orders for the first time in company history. Many of these new sales were probably at the expense of catalog orders, which would have a zero net effect on revenues).

The U.S. home décor market is around a $40 billion industry. In 2005 William-Sonoma's revenues were $3.5 billion accounting for a little less than 10% of the total market share indicating that WSM has room to grow. WSM maintains its revenue and ultimately earnings growth by launching new brands, opening new stores across its portfolio of retail brands, and increasing same store sales by bringing in more customers and/or raising the price of the merchandise.

Specialty retail and direct-to-customer business is highly competitive making it difficult to differentiate a brand/store from the competition. Pottery Barn is considered the industry standard for home décor, but this has led to many low cost imitators entering the industry. Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, and Sir La Table are WSM's main competitors at similar pricing points. Lower priced competitors include Target, Pier One, and Wal-Mart (who competes in every industry…or so it seems).


Over the past year, management has worked hard to reduce costs through refining the furniture delivery system and implementing a new daily store replenishment program. The new furniture delivery system was able to reduce shipping costs versus last year even though fuel prices increased. The daily store replenishment program was implemented just this last year to cut down on inventory costs. All the cost cutting measures have led to the highest operating margin in company history last year.

Management is committed to increasing shareholder value and plans to return around 70% of the 2006 free cash flow to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buy-backs. This commitment is further exemplified by the fact that 13% of the outstanding stock is held by company insiders, which aligns management's objectives with its shareholders. On top of this, the CEO recently bought $10 million worth of company stock., which is roughly 2.5 times his total annual compensation (salary + options). In one of his books, Peter Lynch said that there are plenty of reasons why executives might sell company stocks such as large item purchases (home, bo