Select Comfort puts out earnings alert

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS  , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2013 - 9:56 PM
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Select Comfort has been busy trying to get just the right mix of mall and non-mall stores that can lower costs and accelerate growth.

Select Comfort Corp., the comeback company that recently opened a slew of new stores nationwide, took another curious step backward Monday, announcing that it will likely miss its financial targets for the first quarter.

The Plymouth-based maker of adjustable air beds said in a short statement that sales have been below plan since Feb. 1 due to increased advertising costs. CEO and President Shelly Ibach said Select Comfort is “making necessary corrections to both media buying and near-term expenses” and that she is confident in the company’s growth plan, but officials declined to comment or offer specifics beyond the statement.

Investors punished the stock Monday, with Select Comfort shares falling more than 15 percent to close at $17.28, a new 52-week low.

The news was the second notable setback for Select Comfort, often lauded by analysts and investors for its incredible turnaround story. In January, it announced that fourth-quarter earnings fell 19 percent and missed analysts’ expectations by a dime per share because of costs associated with advertising, research and new standalone stores. Now the company is surprising Wall Street again, despite predictions from analysts that the company would benefit from the recovery in the housing market. 

Dave Brennan, a University of St. Thomas marketing professor and the co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence, said Select Comfort is likely having trouble balancing all of its interests.

“They design, manufacture and retail their product, which gives them a lot of leverage on the one hand. But it also increases their fixed costs quite a bit,” he said. Slowing sales can prompt more advertising in an effort to hike sales and keep manufacturing costs low, he said.

After a decade spent surviving the recession, expensive third-party partnerships, moldy mattresses and high-rent mall stores, Select Comfort re-emerged as a Wall Street darling in 2010.  After an extensive restructuring, the company’s stock went from 23 cents a share in 2009 to as high as $35.60 during the past 12 months.

As recently as October, Zacks Investment Research gushed about the stock in a note to investors, in which it talked about Select’s outstanding third-quarter results, impressive returns, robust earnings growth projections and a positive earnings surprise history.

Select Comfort officials said they will not discuss any revised outlook for full year 2013 until after first-quarter earnings are released April 17.

Officials previously predicted that full-year 2013 same-store sales would rise 10 percent to $1.03 billion, and that earnings would reach $1.65 to $1.80 a share. If achieved, that would be a 15 to 26 percent increase over the adjusted $1.43 reported in 2012.

Company officials previously said they expected to spend between $70 million and $80 million this year on new stores, relocated and remodeled outlets and customer management systems. Select Comfort has been busy trying to get just the right mix of mall and non-mall stores that can lower costs and accelerate growth. In 2012, the company closed 28 stores, but opened 57 new locations. The new spaces feature larger square footage, more touch-and-feel stations, and a greater number of high-tech products.

Brennan applauded Select Comfort’s standalone stores. The rents are often cheaper, “so they can reduce their expenses very significantly,” he said, adding that such a change takes a lot of time.

Select Comfort ended 2012 with 410 stores, 8 percent more than in 2011. In January, it announced the purchase of air mattress maker Comfortaire Corp. for about $15.5 million.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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