FY 2016 has not been a fruitful year for coach outlet (NYSE:COH). As a matter of fact, even company management called FY 2013 a transition year. The question is where this transition leads to. In my opinion, the transition is in the wrong direction due to management's reluctance to accept even worse short-term results.
It is not a surprise that competition is heating up in the accessible luxury women handbag sector. While many analysts and commentators emphasize the impact of competitors such as Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS), Kate Spade (FNP), and Tory Burch, I emphasize that Coach itself is losing its soul. As management mentioned, competition is not a new thing to the company. Coach has stood out from numerous competitors in the past. However, this time, Coach is the one creating the problem for it to compete.
Factory Stores Caused the Brand Problem
The problem all stems from factory stores. It is OK to have small amount of your store base as factory stores to sell aged inventories at a higher margin. But over-reliance on factory stores is a problem. A while ago, in order to gain consumers who would otherwise not buy a regular-price coach outlet online, Coach came up with a solution to promote its factory store bags. It has opened more factory stores than regular stores in North America for years and frequently gave coupons to the factory store channel. The result was that Coach grew at double digits in North America.
Management pushed the stock price higher and higher and also sold quite a lot of stock during the uptrend. (See the insider transaction report, where you will find coach outlet store online executives sold quite a lot of stock during 2011 and early 2012.) Eventually, although the overall comps in FY 2011 were at 10.6% in North America, based on my observations the double-digit comps came from factory stores rather than full price stores. (Note: Coach never breaks out direct sales numbers between the full price channel and the factory store channel.)
When the North America comps declined to 6.6% in FY 2012, in order to bail out the stock price, management rolled out an even more aggressive strategy -- an online factory store site. Traditionally, factory stores are located far from cities so that only coach factory outlet customers will go there. Now, with the online factory store, every customer can conveniently purchase discounted Coach bags. To make things even worse, there are still numerous regular brand bags discounted by at least 50% in the online factory store. We have to ask ourselves: Who will even bother to go to a regular coach factory outlet online to buy full price handbags?