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Subject:  NILE: Blue Nile Q4 2007 CC Transcript Date:  2/14/2008  11:19 AM
Author:  FreethinkerKW Number:  12 of 25

Mark Vadon

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today’s conference call. In addition to releasing our quarterly and annual financial results today, we made another big announcement. Last week our board of directors promoted Diane Irvine to the role of CEO. Along with that change I have assumed the role of executive chairman. Diane as retained her position on the board of directors and I will continue as chairman of our board. Investors who have followed us over the years release that Diane and I have taken an extremely collaborative approach to managing this business. That approach will not change with our new roles. I started Blue Nile in 1999 with the dream of using the Internet to transform the $60 billion dollar retail jewelry market. In the fall of 1999 I met Diane and instantly new that she would be an essential part of making my dream a reality. Diane joined me at Blue Nile as chief financial officer and over the years she has been my partner at Blue Nile through the best and worst of times and through it all her faith in what we are doing has not wavered. I always said, if one person believes in our mission more passionately than I, it is Diane.

Through the years, in addition to managing the finance function, Diane has been responsible at different times for every functional area of the business and in January, 2007 she was appointed president of Blue Nile. Diane has had full operating responsibility for the business since this summer leaving me the time to work on the longer term growth strategy for our business. With the change announced today we are formalizing the role that Diane had already begun to play. As we move into the next stage or our business, my role will be to continue to help articulate the long term vision for the business, to help manage critical relationships with our partners and to be a sounding board for Diane and the rest of the management team in our mission to create an iconic global brand.

On today’s call I will take us through the highlights of Q4 and the full year. Diane will talk more about where we are going in 2008 and Robin will take us through the details of the Q4 numbers and provide financial guidance for Q1 and 2008.

A year ago, I informed you of our key goals for 2007. I’d now like to revisit these objectives and provide an update on how we performed. First, we said we would focus on generating profitable growth. We drove sales growth of 26.9% in 2007 and delivered an operating margin of 7%, an improvement over the 6.6% in 2006. Our EPS in 2007 grew 36.8% to $1.04. Second, we committed to expand our international operations. We launched two local currency websites in 2007, serving the Canadian and UK markets and opened an operation center in Dublin to service the UK and greater European markets. Our international sales doubled in 2007 from the prior year from over $17 million and grew over 150% in Q4. We have much more to do on the international front and I’ll talk more about this in a moment. Third, we continue to perfect the Blue Nile experience for our customers.

Repeat and referral continues to be the greatest source of business for Blue Nile so it is important that we exceed our customers’ expectations in every way. For the holiday season we enhanced the customer experience by offering free priority overnight shipping on all orders. Additionally, we enhanced all three of our websites in November to highlight our focus on guidance and education and to improve the usability of the sites. Lastly, we committed to continued disciplined cost management. I touched on this a moment ago when I highlighted our improvement in operating margin. For 2007, SG&A excluding stock-based compensation fell from 11.9% of sales to 11.6% of sales. We accomplished this while opening a new operation in Dublin that is still coming up to scale. We continue to capitalize on the leverage in our business model and are working towards our long term goal of SG&A expense equal to 10% of net sales in our business.

The fourth quarter was another good quarter for Blue Nile and capped an excellent year for the company. Revenue for the quarter was up 23.3%. Importantly, we achieved this growth against the backdrop of deteriorating macroeconomic environment in the fourth quarter. As other jewelry retailers announced negative same store sales growth for the holiday season, Blue Nile achieved excellent growth in comparison. For perspective, there are five other significant publically traded US jewelry retailers. For the holiday season Tiffany reported US comp store sales excluding their New York flagship of -4%. Signet reported -8.1% comps for the holiday, Zales was at -9%, Finley at -5.9% and Birks & Mayors reported -10% holiday comps for their US stores. In this environment we reported 23.3% growth including 18.3% growth in December.

As a luxury category the jewelry sector is perhaps more volatile and more prone to economic downturns than other categories of retail. Within the category, we have steadily gained market share over the years. If you look at an index of comp store sales for the major industry players and then compare our growth numbers over time to this index you’ll see that for several years we have consistently been growing some 20 points faster than the category but, our quarterly numbers do tend to move up or down with changes in comp store sales of other industry leaders. For us as a business, the goal is really to consistently gain share through good and bad markets. If our category is negatively impacted by a macroeconomic slowdown, our goal will be to continue to rapidly gain share focusing on the relative growth versus the category. You will see that our guidance for 2008 today is more conservative than historically. This guidance is reflective of our view of the environment for high end jewelry. With the current uncertainty among consumers we feel that it is prudent to plan conservatively and hope to be surprised by the upside.

Turning back to the 2007 numbers, engagement had strong performance in the fourth quarter and full year. The average sales price in 2007 for an engagement ring sold on our website was just over $6,200, well above the industry average. We are pleased to see this category perform consistently well for us. All other product categories from diamond earning to pendants to wedding bands showed impressive growth for the quarter and the year. For the full year, our non-engagement jewelry sales reached over $100 million and accounted for about 32% of total revenue compared to about 30% of revenue in 2006. Our high end sales growth was strong. Sales in this category with prices over $25,000 grew greater than 50% in the fourth quarter and in fact, grew greater than 50% year-over-year in every quarter of 2007. As the fourth quarter came to a close and the first quarter started however, we began to see weakness at very high price points. We believe that the uncertain macroeconomic environment is finally having an impact on this sector of the market.

International expansion, as I stated earlier, is a key strategic initiative for our business. Q4 marked the first holiday season for our Canadian and UK websites with transactions in local currency. The response to our business in these new markets has been exceptional. International sales in the fourth quarter were $7.2 million, up over 150% from Q4 of 2006. We are excited about the expansion of our shipping capabilities to 12 new countries that we announced last week. Already with almost no marketing spend in these markets we have received multi thousand dollar orders from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany and Switzerland. Our offering in these markets is limited but it is providing us with insights into these new areas and is giving us confidence in continuing to push rapidly into international markets.

I would now like to turn the call over to Diane who will provide us with an overview of where we are going in 2008.

Diane Irvine

Before I begin talking about our goals for the coming year, I want to take a moment to recognize all that Mark has accomplished as CEO in building Blue Nile’s business. Mark started Blue Nile in 1999 with just a few people, several telephones and computers, a website and a dream of creating a great business with a unique economic model and the opportunity to build a lasting brand. Mark is a true visionary who has built an amazing business, one that has redefined the consumer experience for diamonds and jewelry. Under Mark’s leadership Blue Nile invented a category, the online retailing of diamonds and jewelry and has become its undisputed leader. Mark is in many ways the quintessential customer for our products and he has created a culture at Blue Nile that obsesses about our customers and strives to create the perfect customer experience. Mark has lead us through nearly nine years of growth, through the ups and downs of the Internet from a raw start up to a highly profitable business with sales of over $300 million in 2007.

Since the day Mark offered me the opportunity to join Blue Nile in 1999 it has been an honor and privilege to work alongside him. He has built a team of talented incredible people who are passionate about what they do and committed to building a very special business for the long term. Mark has established exceptional relationships with our employees, our suppliers and business partner and our investor and he has done it all with intelligence, honestly, a sense