J.Jill, Inc. (NYSE:JILL) Q4 2022 Earnings Call Transcript March 14, 2023
Operator: Good morning. My name is Rob and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the J.Jill Fourth Quarter 2022 Earnings Conference Call. On today’s call are Claire Spofford, President and Chief Executive Officer; and Mark Webb, Executive Vice President Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers’ remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. Before we begin, I need to remind you that certain comments made during these remarks may constitute forward-looking statements and are made pursuant to and within the meaning of the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 as amended.
Such forward-looking statements are subject to both known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from such statements. Those risks and uncertainties are described in the press release and J.Jill’s SEC filings. The forward-looking statements made on this recording are as of March 14, 2023, and J.Jill does not undertake any obligation to update these forward-looking statements. Finally, J.Jill may refer to certain adjusted or non-GAAP financial measures during these remarks. A reconciliation schedule showing the GAAP versus non-GAAP financial measures is available in the press release issued March 14, 2023. If you do not have a copy of today’s press release, you may obtain one by visiting the Investor Relations page of the website at jjill.com.
I will now turn the call over to Claire.
Claire Spofford: Thank you, operator, and hello, everyone. Thank you for your interest in J.Jill. For today’s call, I will review highlights of our fourth quarter and full-year performance and provide an update on our strategy before turning the call over to Mark to review our financial performance and outlook in more detail. We are pleased to have delivered stronger-than-expected top and bottom-line results for the fourth quarter. Sales increased 1.7% versus the prior year and adjusted EBITDA came in at $15 million. We believe the actions we took entering the quarter, specifically related to our decision to pull holiday and winter deliveries forward positively impacted our results and supported strong full price selling early in the quarter.
Throughout the period, we continue to see little price resistance to unique and novelty styles, to gravitated toward dresses and sweaters, and cozy seasonal styles like Chanel sweaters and versatile occasion options. These results include a slightly higher promotional cadence over the holiday period in order to exit the quarter in a clean inventory position. Our fourth quarter performance capped off a strong year for J.Jill, in which we delivered sales growth of over 5%, as well as an increase in adjusted EBITDA of over 19%, driven by gross margin expansion and disciplined expense management. These results are a testament to the hard work of our teams and the improvements and increased disciplines we’ve instilled in our operating model over the past two years as we focused on full price selling inventory management and slowing newness.
Through the strong execution of these principles, we have reinforced our foundation allowing us to better capitalize on our brand strength and the opportunities that lay ahead. As we look forward to driving profitable growth, we remain encouraged by several important elements of the J.Jill business. We have a terrific customer. He is loyal, engaged and relatively affluent, compared to the average consumer. Our brand proposition as a premium casual retailer is more than ever. She’s shopping for quality fabrications and clothing that moves through her life and day with her. The team here does a really great job of translating trends and developing product that our customer has demonstrated she is willing to pay full price for. We also benefit from a balanced business model that is relatively evenly split across stores and e-commerce, allowing our customer to shop and enjoy a delightful experience wherever and whenever she chooses to shop with us.
That said, I often say our brand is still somewhat of a well-kept secret and that creates an opportunity for us to further expand awareness and in turn gain share in our market. As we move into 2023, we will maintain the focus on our operational discipline to ensure strong execution given the uncertain macro environment. We will also move forward with the profitable opportunities for growth we discussed in prior calls. In 2022, we invested in strategies focused on driving awareness and customer acquisition. We modernized the J.Jill brand focusing on communicating our brand value proposition more effectively to customers, while amplifying our position as a size inclusive shopping destination through the launch of our welcome everybody campaign in the second-half of the year.
Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash
We were pleased to see growth in this space both in new to brand and reactivated customers. While still fairly-early, we are pleased with the initial success of this initiative and the opportunity to build on it in 2023 and beyond. As part of this focus, we are testing and optimizing new marketing channels and working with influencers in the size inclusivity category to further penetrate our targeted customer segment with our compelling products and brand proposition. Underlying much of this work is our commitment to staying close to our customer and listening to her through our ongoing customer insights work, an initiative we stood up in earnest in 2022, which we now leverage to explore opportunities to understand and further meet our customers’ wants and needs.
In addition to modernizing our brand and value proposition, we continue to see opportunity to engage and acquire customers through growing of both our retail and direct channels. Approximately 60% of new customers make their first purchase through our stores and we are focused on investing in tools and systems that will allow us to leverage this important channel to enhance our omni capabilities even further. Our omni-channel customers spend approximately 3 times more per year and our single channel customers. And through a new POS system, which we are rolling out in 2023, we expect to improve the easier transactions across channels over time. Today, we are in an enviable position of not being over stored and we will continue to evaluate store opening opportunities as the economics make sense.
We are excited to follow our Granger Indiana store opening in Q4, which marked our first store opening in three years with two additional openings planned for Q1 2023. As Mark will discuss, our first quarter outlook reflects a challenging year-over-year comparison, but we remain focused on our principles and look forward to continuing to delight our customers with our new spring assortments. Looking to the balance of the year, visibility to the consumer environment for 2023 is difficult and we will consequently remain focused on managing the business with discipline, while simultaneously building our platform for profitable growth as we move forward. Now I will turn the call over to Mark to discuss our financial performance in more detail.
Mark Webb: Thank you, Claire, and good morning, everyone. We are very pleased with performance in 2022 as our disciplined profit focused operating model continued to deliver strong results, including healthy cash generation. The fourth quarter ended the year on a strong note with results above our expectations. Total company comparable sales for the fourth quarter increased 5.3%, driven by strength in the stores channel. Total company sales for the quarter were $148 million, up 1.7%, compared to Q4 2021. This performance was better than prior guidance due largely to a better-than-expected January, which was the strongest month in the quarter when compared to prior year. Store sales for Q4 were up over 6% versus Q4 2021 on 4% fewer stores.
Traffic and full price average unit retail drove the increase over last year, with the traffic comparison likely benefiting in part due to the impact to traffic last year from the COVID Omicron surge. Direct sales as a percentage of total sales were 50% in the quarter, compared to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2021, direct sales were down 2.5% as sales mixed more to markdown and online returns ticked up slightly. Q4 total company gross profit was $95 million, up $2 million, compared to Q4 2021. Q4 gross margin was 64.4%, up 50 basis points over Q4 2021, driven by about 270 basis points of favorability, which more than offset margin pressure from increased raw material costs and additional markdowns taken in the quarter to ensure clean inventory as we start 2023.
SG&A expenses were $87 million, compared to $85 million last year, driven by increases in marketing, store selling costs on higher sales and slightly higher operating hours and G&A overhead. Adjusted EBITDA was $15 million in the quarter, compared to $15.2 million in Q4 2021. For the full-year, we delivered total net sales growth of 5.1% to $615.3 million, adjusted EBITDA was $109.4 million, up $17.7 million or 19.2% over fiscal full-year 2021. Please refer to today’s press release for a reconciliation of adjusted EBITDA. Turning to cash flow. For the quarter, we generated $8 million of cash from operations resulting in ending cash of $87 million with zero borrowings against the ABL. For fiscal 2022, we generated $74.4 million of cash from operations.
We continue to focus on tight inventory management and have now largely worked through the supply chain disruption that began in the back half of 2021. In line with our expectations, we ended the year with inventory levels down 10%, compared to the end of year 2021 and are comfortable with the balance of full price and markdown units. Capital expenditures in the quarter were about $10 million bringing total spend for the year to $15 million, compared to $5 million last year. We made important investments this year. We re-platformed our e-commerce site, performed necessary capital maintenance, opened our first new store in over three years and launched and made good progress on our new POS initiative. Actual capital spend was above prior guidance, due to more timely procurement of POS hardware than previously estimated.
With respect to store count, we closed five stores in the fourth quarter and opened one, resulting in net 10 closures for fiscal year 2022. We ended the year with 243 stores. Turning to our outlook for fiscal 2023, given uncertainty related to the 2023 macroeconomic forecasts and our overarching objective to maintain profitability over time, we are guiding full-year adjusted EBITDA about flat to fiscal 2022. This outlook includes the benefit of the 53rd week in fiscal 2023, which is expected to deliver about $8 million in sales and $2 million in adjusted EBITDA. We remain very disciplined with respect to inventory buys as we enter the year and will retain some flexibility should the economic outlook materially improve. As it relates to the cadence of our outlook, we expect to anniversary our strongest quarters from a sales perspective in the first-half of the year and expect to benefit from gross margin tailwinds associated with freight favorability, which will help to mitigate potential promotional activity should the environment warranted.
More specifically for the first quarter of fiscal 2023, we expect sales to be down in the mid-single-digits, compared to Q1 2022 and first quarter adjusted EBITDA to be between $25 million and $30 million. Regarding store count, we expect flat store count to end 2023 with any openings offset by closures. As Claire mentioned in her remarks, we believe there is opportunity to grow this channel and are actively pursuing select new store openings, but we are steadfast in the metrics we need to do so, as well as the economics required to retain existing stores that come up for lease review in 2023. To the extent we need to close stores, we will do so. And are confident based on recent experience that if we do, it will not materially impact EBITDA.
It is our intent to strike fair deals and in time begin to grow this important channel. With respect to full-year capital, we expect to spend between $18 million and $20 million with investments focused on technology, stores capital and the completion of the POS project late in 2023. Thank you. And I will now hand it back to the operator for questions.
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