As many of its stores remain closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Lululemon Athletica Inc. plans to cut costs by slowing the pace of new hires, trimming its marketing spending, and delaying development work on new stores that it had slated for opening. But the company is signaling to investors that it expects to recover from the disruption to its business.
Retailers across Canada and around the world have had to shut their doors as governments crack down on non-essential activities, in a bid to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Despite the challenges that such closures pose for the company, Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald said he remains confident.
"We know that our brand is strong," Mr. McDonald said on a conference call to discuss the company's fourth quarter results on Thursday. "We had fantastic momentum coming into the current situation, and there's nothing that I believe will fundamentally change our ability to regain that momentum once we reopen."
The Vancouver-based athletic apparel retailer said that its business in China is gaining momentum, and that all its stores in that country have now reopened except for one in the hardest-hit region of Wuhan. That store will reopen next week. Lululemon's experience in China is giving executives optimism for the ability to recover from the disruption to its business in other markets, Mr. McDonald said.
However, most Lululemon stores in China were closed for only a two-week period in February; the company is planning for a longer period of closures in North America and Europe.
The company declined on Thursday to provide guidance for its performance in the 2020 fiscal year, considering the uncertainty resulting from the pandemic's effect on the retail sector.
According to Lululemon, one advantage it has in dealing with the disruption is the fact that its apparel is less seasonally-dependent than other fashion retailers. While Lululemon does sell outerwear and season-specific merchandise, much of its products are sold throughout the year and this means the company faces less pressure to "flush out inventory" than others, Mr. McDonald said.
Since closing all its stores in North America and Europe on March 16, Lululemon has seen its e-commerce purchases increase, but the volume of online purchases has not been sufficient to make up for the lost business at its stores.
Many retailers have also been asking landlords for rent relief, as revenues have decreased significantly due to store closures.
“We have a great relationship with our landlords,” chief financial officer Patrick Guido said when asked about the issue on a call to discuss the company’s earnings on Thursday. “We are in active conversations with them. We’re hoping for some flexibility, and anticipate some.”
For the 13 weeks ended February 2, Lululemon reported net revenue of $1.4-billion, up from $1.17-billion in the same period last year. Fourth quarter net earnings were $298-million or $2.29 per share, compared to $218.5-million or $1.66 per share in the prior year.
For the full fiscal year, Lululemon’s net revenue grew to nearly $4-billion, from $3.3-billion in fiscal 2018. Its net income was $645-6-million or $4.95 per share, up from $483.8-million or $3.63 per share the year before.
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