According to the American Pet Products Association, the U.S. will spend more than $75 billion on pets this year, and the largest segment of pet owners are now millennials, who seem willing to spare no pet-related-expense. Yet even within such a large and growing industry, certain businesses thrive while others struggle. Examining the factors that decide success versus failure among pet-related companies yields some interesting results – points that have nothing to do with pets.
An example of a struggling company in the pet industry is Wag, a company that connects pet owners with a network of dog walkers and pet sitters. Last year, Wag received a $300 million majority investment from SoftBank and was poised to be a market disruptor in pet care, with a valuation estimated at $650 million. But things have not worked out as planned, and since last year, the company has had multiple rounds of layoffs. Finally, last week it was announced that Wag is discussing a potential sale for less than $300 million, a far cry from earlier valuations.
An example of a pet industry success story is Scratchpay, which, it was announced last week, recently received a $65 million investment. Scratchpay offers payment plans for veterinary care, assisting pet owners to deal with financial constraints that might otherwise prevent their pets from getting the care they need. Scratchpay has partnered with over 5,000 pet hospitals in the U.S. Another recent winner in the pet industry is Destination Pet, a provider of vet care and other pet health and wellness services such as daycare and grooming. It was announced last week that Destination Pet will be acquired by L1 Health, which is committing up to $450 million of capital to acquire and scale the company.
And then there is perhaps the brightest shining example of recent success in the pet industry: Chewy, Inc., the parent of Chewy.com, a popular online pet product retailer. Chewy was acquired by PetSmart for $3.35 billion in 2017, and went public this June – it now boasts a market cap of $10.1 billion. Chewy has successfully created a brand and customer experience that play up the special, loving relationship between pet owners and their pets. This approach drives new customer acquisition and deep customer loyalty.
So, what factors have led Wag to stumble, while Scratchpay, Destination Pet, and Chewy.com have flourished? Perhaps the answer lies in the companies’ different business models, specifically considering what they do excluding their connection to pets. Chewy.com has built a differentiated ecommerce retailer with extremely loyal customers. Scratchpay has created a differentiated and well-connected fintech payments tool. Destination Pet offers a convenient and comprehensive care platform. On the other hand, Wag relies on a decentralized network of individuals to provide a suite of services, a la carte. At its best, this proposition resembles certain unicorns, like Uber, and Airbnb. But at its worst, it is complex, and puts the fate of the brand in the hands of contractors whose execution decides whether customers have a good experience or not. Ultimately, this complexity and the difficulty of consistently executing well has doomed Wag; it isn’t too hard to find stories online about runaway pets and lackadaisical dog-walkers. Lastly, Wag also faces stiff competition from rival pet care companies that have fared relatively better in recent years, such as Rover.
As a dog owner, I am rooting for Wag to improve its business model and deliver better results. Insofar as offering undifferentiated services that are difficult to consistently execute is to blame for Wag’s troubles, continuing with that model may keep it in the doghouse.
Headlines of the Week
Under Armour reported quarterly earnings and sales that topped analysts’ estimates, but the company trimmed its revenue outlook for the full year, citing “traffic challenges.” The lowered guidance and Under Armour’s confirmation of a federal probe of its accounting practices sent the retailer’s shares plunging more than 14% in premarket trading. The athletic-leisure clothing-maker said it has been cooperating with the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department into whether the company used bad accounting practices to make its finances look healthier.
Google parent company Alphabet will buy Fitbit, putting the tech giant head to head with Apple in the fitness tracking space. The deal values Fitbit around $2.1 billion at a fully diluted equity value. Buying Fitbit could help Google extend its “ambient computing” hardware strategy, where the company aims to be a part of users’ lives wherever they are. The company has hinted at its health and hardware ambitions with the introduction of several new products in October, including the new Pixel 4 smartphone, and the hiring of former Geisinger Health CEO David Feinberg last year to consolidate its health-care strategy.
Apparel & Footwear
Steve Madden, Ltd. reported better-than-expected third-quarter 2019 results, wherein both the top and the bottom lines continued to improve year over year. This NY-based company gained from sturdy performance across its Steve Madden and Blondo brands. The company witnessed incremental sales at its wholesale and retail businesses. Moreover, Steve Madden stated that the acquisitions of GREATS and BB Dakota are likely to be key catalysts. Notably, impressive performance prompted management to lift full-year net sales and earnings per share forecast. The company raised its view in spite of incremental earnings pressure due to the imposition of the 15% tariff on List 4 products imported from China.
When Michelle Cordeiro Grant launched her lingerie brand Lively in 2016 after having worked at Victoria’s Secret, she knew she could spend years going to every factory in Asia trying to find the right partner that could produce what she wanted and how she wanted it, and still not end up negotiating a good deal. But a solution presented itself when she met Yossi Nasser, the CEO of 70-year-old lingerie manufacturer Gelmart International, which became both her main manufacturer and her first investor. A manufacturer serving as a DTC brand’s investor is rare, but the partnership model has legs. Young brands save on manufacturing, notably one of the most difficult steps to navigate for one, as manufacturers get to take a stake in the fast-growing direct-to-consumer world while diversifying their revenue.
Allbirds is planning to open 20 stores next year, the company’s co-CEO Tim Brown said. The shoe company started as an online retailer out of Silicon Valley and began opening stores in only the last few years, allowing shoppers to try on the sneakers before purchasing them. The 14 stores the company has opened so far have helped create even more buzz about the wool sneakers, which the company touts as an environmentally sustainable approach to footwear. “We’ve got nearly 15 stores at the moment — 14 soon to be 15,” Brown said. “We’ll add 20 stores next year. Many of them in the states — we’ve got some overseas in China and the U.K. and in New Zealand.” Despite the company’s store expansion, an IPO may still be far off. “It’s premature to be thinking about that,” Brown said. “One day down the road, possibly, but at the moment we’re focused on execution and growing our business in a really, really sustainable way.”
Dressbarn has begun the final stages of its planned wind down, but the brand is not disappearing completely. Parent company Ascena Retail Group said that store-closing sales at all of Dressbarn’s remaining 544 locations will start on Friday, Nov. 1. Fixtures, furnishings and equipment in the stores will also be for sale. Dressbarn will honor existing gift cards and merchandise credits throughout the sale (or while merchandise supplies last.) All stores are expected to go dark no later than December 26. Ascena Retail also announced that it has sold the intellectual property assets of Dressbarn to a subsidiary of Retail Ecommerce Ventures LLC., and has begun the process of transitioning its e-commerce business to the company. Dressbarn.com will launch with a new platform and look on or about January 1, 2020.
Zac Posen, designer to celebrities and former “Project Runway” judge, is taking his final bow. The 39-year-old designer known for his evening gown creations announced Friday that he’s shutting down his business, Women’s Wear Daily reports. “The board made a difficult decision,” Posen tells WWD. “We were in a sale process and we ran out of time.” Operations for the eponymous label are ceasing and about 60 employees were informed they were being let go Friday, Vogue reports. Posen’s company has been in the middle of a sale process, according to the magazine, and an investment firm founded by Ron Burkle was looking to sell off its stake in the label.
Athletic & Sporting Goods
Nike has finalized a deal to sell the Hurley brand to Bluestar Alliance LLC. The $36.4 billion juggernaut Nike did not release terms of the deal, nor did representatives from Bluestar Alliance. The agreement is expected to be wrapped up in December. Nike acquired Hurley in 2002, when the then-Costa Mesa-based company generated annual sales of $70 million. Buying the brand started by surfing industry authority Bob Hurley gave Nike automatic credence into the surf, skateboard and snowboard category, which was new terrain for Nike at that time. With the mammoth support of Nike, Hurley broadened its reach beyond its SoCal roots to appeal to more international shoppers.
Nike and Under Armour will each have new CEOs in 2020, but the sports apparel and footwear companies are expected to tread different paths en route to growing their digital businesses – and potentially adding new sponsorship deals with athletes. Analysts estimate that both Nike and Under Armour’s annual revenue from direct-to-consumer sales is 20% and 35%, respectively, compared to their wholesale segments. Yet direct business is easily more profitable, with retailers taking home a larger percentage of revenue when wholesale partners like Foot Locker or Modell’s are cut out.
ASICS Corporation announced the acquisition of Race Roster, a leading race registration platform for running events. Race Roster will join ASICS Digital’s portfolio of consumer-focused running platforms. As part of the agreement, ASICS formed a new Canadian subsidiary known as Race Roster North America. Established in 2012, the Race Roster platform is a global leader in race registration helping millions of athletes discover and register for running and endurance events, while providing event organizers with a robust CRM tool for tracking participant data, marketing campaigns and event revenue.
Cosmetics & Pharmacy
The Estée Lauder Companies has reported “outstanding financial results” for its first quarter ended September 30, 2019. Net sales of $3.90 billion increased 11% from $3.52 billion in the prior-year period. Excluding the impact of currency translation, net sales increased 12%. Net earnings rose 19% to $595 million, compared with $500 million last year. Diluted net earnings per common share increased 21% to $1.61, compared with $1.34 reported in the prior-year period. Adjusted diluted earnings per common share, which excludes items detailed below, rose 19% to $1.67, or grew 20% in constant currency.
With an investment in Coola, SC Johnson has made its second sunscreen deal in recent months, WWD has learned. The companies issued a statement through a spokeswoman confirming the investment: “SC Johnson has entered into an agreement with Coola, making SC Johnson a majority investor in the company. Coola and its brands share with SC Johnson a commitment to making products with formulations that are better for people and the environment.” Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Industry sources estimated Coola has about $30 million in sales.
GNC Holdings Inc. reported consolidated revenue of $499.1 million in the third quarter of 2019, compared with consolidated revenue of $580.2 million in the third quarter of 2018. The decrease in revenue was primarily a result of the transfer of the Nutra manufacturing and China businesses to the newly formed joint ventures, the closure of company-owned stores under a store portfolio optimization strategy, U.S. and Canada negative same-store sales of 2.8 percent and lower International franchise revenue. For the third quarter of 2019, the company reported net loss of $2.4 million compared with net loss of $8.6 million in the prior year quarter.
Discounters & Department Stores
Green Dot is renewing a prepaid card partnership with Walmart through Jan. 1, 2027, the companies announced October 29th. About 35% of Green Dot’s second-quarter revenue came from sales at Walmart’s stores, according to an August securities filing. Shareholders typically watch negotiations between the companies closely. The companies also announced the launch Tuesday of a fintech accelerator program, TailFin Labs, to be majority-owned by Walmart. With the deal, Green Dot remains the issuing bank and program manager of the reloadable MoneyCard, the U.S.’s largest prepaid account program, according to the companies’ press release.
Macy’s on October 28th announced a series of exclusive gifts and services for the holidays available both online, including mobile, and in store. The services include the department store’s new “fragrance bar,” which allows customers to explore and choose scents in a variety of ways, and a program where they can create their own jewelry. In an effort dubbed “Holiday Lane,” seasonal toy and trim pop-ups will open in “select locations,” and special toy and decor merchandise will also be a feature at more than 500 Macy’s stores nationwide. They’ll offer seasonal decor plus toy exclusives from F.A.O. Schwarz and “a well-rounded assortment” from toy brands like Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher Price, PAW Patrol and Lego, according to a company press release.
Hudson’s Bay Company CEO Helena Foulkes knows the department store sector is troubled. “Barneys [New York] is an example of how tough it is out there,” Foulkes said during a discussion at WWD’s Apparel & Retail CEO Summit in New York on Tuesday afternoon. “People … loved Barneys. We hope very much to learn from what they loved about Barneys [to] help us build on our experiences themselves.” Barneys New York filed for bankruptcy protection in August and has since been fighting for its life, putting other U.S. department store operators on notice and keeping them on their toes.
Emerging Consumer Companies
b8ta, best known for its tech-focused stores and “retail-as-a-service” offering, announced that it has closed $50 million in Series C funding. The round was led by Evolution Ventures with participation from existing investors including Macy’s, Khosla Ventures, and Peak State Ventures. Founded in 2015, b8ta offers “presentation centers” – retail stores that began by featuring consumer electronics and innovations. b8ta will operate 25 flagship locations worldwide by the end of 2019, enabling brands to access physical retail space and consumers to try new products in the hopes that they will discover, try, and buy. B8ta also announced the launch of Ark and its flagship product, Ark Marketplace, a technology platform for retailers and retail landlords to operate their own retail-as-a-service.
Koio, the New York-based sneaker brand offering luxury Italian leather sneakers at accessible price points, announced that it has raised $6 million in new funding. The round was led by Founders Fund, with participation from existing investors Acton Capital Partners and Brand Foundry. Koio sells primarily through its own sales channels, either via its own website or at its brick-and-mortar locations, with roughly 60% of direct sales coming online and 40% coming from its retail stores. It also sells to Madewell and Nordstrom.
Herschel Supply Co., a Vancouver-based lifestyle brand rooted in backpacks, has partnered with Eurazeo, a global investment firm, which has invested $60 million for a majority stake in the company. Eurazeo was joined by co-investors Alliance Consumer Growth and Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.
Grocery & Restaurants
McDonald’s Corp. said Sunday that it had “separated” CEO Steve Easterbrook from the company for violating policy and demonstrating “poor judgment involving a recent consensual relationship with an employee.” In an email sent to McDonald’s employees, Easterbrook admitted to breaking a company policy by becoming involved with an employee. The Chicago-based burger giant said its board named Chris Kempczinski, most recently president of McDonald’s USA, as CEO and president, effectively immediately. Kempczinski has also been elected to McDonald’s board of directors.
Amazon tops other U.S. online retailers on price by an average of 20% across 16 key product categories, but in grocery it’s Kroger — not Walmart — that stands as the No. 2 price competitor, a study by Profitero finds. The e-commerce analytics firm’s “Price Wars: A Study of Price Competition” report, released Tuesday, compared the daily prices of 12,500 products across 20 retailers from July to September. For grocery items, Kroger averaged 1.6% more expensive than Amazon on 156 exactly matched products, Profitero said. Next were Jet.com, a Walmart subsidiary, at 3.5% more expensive (133 matching products and Walmart at 6.2% more expensive (172 products), followed by Instacart grocery retailers at 10.7% more expensive (137 products) and Target at 11.6% more expensive (153 products). “No retailer studied beat Amazon on price in grocery during the period studied,” Boston-based Profitero said in the Price Wars report. “Interestingly, supermarket leader Kroger, and not Walmart, was the closest to Amazon’s pricing in grocery.”
The Krystal Company this week announced plans to refranchise between 100 and 150 of its company-owned restaurants. The Atlanta-based company has 318 restaurants, with 202 of them company-owned and the remaining 116 franchised. The company on Wednesday said it has hired an investment banking firm to manage the refranchising initiative for restaurants in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. “We’re ready for the next step in the brand transformation that began when I came on board in 2018,” said Paul Macaluso, Krystal president and CEO, in a statement.
Grubhub, which has lost its market share lead to DoorDash, went on the offense during its latest earnings period by issuing a lengthy shareholder letter outlining the brand’s aggressive strategies for increasing daily orders and restaurant inventory. The 10-page letter, released Monday night and signed by CEO Matt Maloney and CFO Adam DeWitt, described multiple challenges the company faces amid fierce competition. Here’s what restaurants need to know.
Home & Road
Furniture store sales in July were up 2.6% from one year ago, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales reached $5.5 billion in July, up from $5.4 billion in July 2018. Sales from Furniture To-day’s Top 100 stores continued their stranglehold on the market, accounting for 78% of furniture store sales last year. However, this represents a de-crease from the 82% of sales the Top 100 comprised in 2017 and the first time the Top 100’s share decreased year-over-year since 2007.
Mohawk Inds., Inc.’s U.S. business hit the company’s third quarter the hardest, landing results disappointingly within expected low levels. Net sales were $2.52 billion, down 1% from last year’s $2.55 billion. Net earnings stumbled 31.3% to $156 million, or $2.15 per diluted share, from $227 million, or $3.02 per diluted share, a year ago. “Our third quarter operating results were in line with our expectations, although we are not satisfied with our performance,” said Jeffrey S. Lorberbaum, chairman and CEO. “As anticipated, our U.S. businesses presented the greatest challenges during the period given soft retail demand, the impact of LVT [luxury vinyl tile], a stronger dollar and excess ceramic industry inventories.” He also blamed weakened trends in the company’s other major markets with creating a more competitive environment.
Jewelry & Luxury
LVMH’s $14.5 billion bid to take over Tiffany calls to mind the luxury conglomerate’s purchase of another high-end jeweler, Bulgari, in 2011. At the time, Bulgari’s CEO, Francesco Trapani, told Bloomberg: “[M]ore and more, I think the big groups will be the protagonists of the luxury business.… Life will be progressively more difficult for the independents that are not large enough.” Trapani eventually took over LVMH’s watch and jewelry division. He’s now a member of Tiffany’s board of directors.
At a forum in New York City, De Beers executives spelled out their vision for the diamond industry of the future, one that is more responsive to changing societal mores and consumer desires. The presentation was built around the release of De Beers’ latest Diamond Insight Report, which included new research about how younger consumers view love and marriage.
Bentley Motors has lost a long-running high court trademark battle with a small, family-owned business which could mean the luxury carmaker has to destroy all of its branded clothing. The high court in London on Friday ruled that Bentley Motors had infringed trademarks owned by Manchester-based Brandlogic, which owns the Bentley Clothing brand. Bentley Motors said the company was “extremely disappointed” by the decision, and added it would consider an appeal.
As luxury brands over a century old adapt to the tastes of newer generations, the fastest route to youth culture relevance has been through strategic partnerships with cult streetwear labels many decades their junior. This has been especially true in China, where streetwear-obsessed Millennials and Generation Z shoppers have become a significant focus for luxury labels.
Office & Leisure
The Los Angeles-based mobile game development studio Scopely has become America’s newest unicorn thanks to a $200 million financing, which values the company at a whopping $1.7 billion. Scopely said it would use the capital to continue its strategy of developing and acquiring new games as it looks to continue its run of six consecutive mobile games that will gross $100 million or more in lifetime revenue. The new investment follows Scopely’s milestone of achieving more than $1 billion in lifetime revenue. Games in the company’s portfolio include: Looney Tunes World of Mayhem and Star Trek Fleet Command, created with the recently acquired DIGIT Game Studios. Indeed, part of the reason for the financing is to accelerate the pace of its acquisitions and investments into new game development studios, according to chief executive Walter Driver.
Mattel’s chief financial officer Joseph Euteneuer will leave the company following an investigation into accounting errors that were raised by a whistleblower. The company said the investigation, conducted by the board of directors’ audit committee, found income tax expense was understated by $109 million in the third quarter of 2017 and overstated by $109 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, with no impact for the full year. It said it would amend its 2018 annual report to restate its financial results for the third and fourth quarters of 2017 and said it would work to identify weaknesses in its internal control over financial reporting. Euteneuer was named CFO at Mattel in September 2017. He will stay with Mattel for a transition period of up to six months while the company conducts a search for a new CFO. Euteneuer was previously CFO at Sprint, Qwest Communications, XM Satellite Radio, and Comcast. In August, the company said it was made aware of a whistleblower letter and was halting the refinancing of senior notes due in October 2020.
Dog-walking startup Wag has explored several options for a potential sale, including a deal with rival Rover, according to a new report. Recode reported Wag is in talks with pet giant Petco about a deal. An alliance between the two companies would make sense as they have teamed up in the past. Wag also approached its top competitor, Seattle pet care company Rover, about a sale. However, Recode reports that a deal between the rivals is unlikely to happen. Wag got a major boost early last year when investment firm SoftBank sank more than $300 million into the company. However, the company has reportedly struggled since then, with The Wall Street Journal noting earlier this year that Wag’s sales growth remains behind that of Rover.
Vacasa just raised a whopping $319 million in new funding as the Portland, Ore.-based company aims to extend its reach in the vacation rental industry and fuel growth of a new real estate offering. Global tech investor Silver Lake, which counts Dell, Alibaba, and Tesla among its portfolio companies, led the Series C round. It’s one of the first Pacific Northwest investments for Silicon Valley-based Silver Lake. Existing investors Riverwood Capital, Level Equity, and NewSpring also participated. The round is the largest for a Pacific Northwest company in the past 13 years, according to PitchBook. Founded in 2009, Vacasa — ranked No. 2 on the GeekWire 200 — bootstrapped for six years but has raised more than $500 million since 2016. It manages more than 23,000 vacation homes in 31 U.S. states and 17 countries, and bills itself as “North America’s largest vacation rental management platform.”
Technology & Internet
The Amazon Fresh ultrafast delivery service is now included in Prime subscriptions. Online orders for tens of thousands of fresh products, including meat, seafood, produce, and everyday essentials, are available for one- to two-hour delivery from Amazon Fresh. Previously, Prime members could obtain access to Amazon Fresh for $14.99 per month as an add-on to their Prime membership. Now, existing Prime members who have been paying for Amazon Fresh will continue receiving Amazon Fresh services for free. All other Prime members who live in one of the more than 2,000 cities and towns where grocery delivery is available can request an invitation to shop Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods Market via Amazon Fresh.
Faire, which operates a wholesale marketplace for independent local retailers and makers, announced it has raised $150 million in a Series D round co-led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Founders Fund. The round brings its total funding raised to date to $266 million, and values the company at $1 billion. It included participation from existing investors such as Forerunner Ventures, YC Continuity, and Khosla Ventures. San Francisco-based Faire is just two years old, and growing fast. It was founded with the mission of helping local retailers and makers “break free from the inefficiencies of an antiquated wholesale model.” To date, Faire has on-boarded 7,000 makers and 50,000 local retailers onto its marketplace and sold more than 15 million products. In 2019, the company expanded to include international makers from 39 countries and brought Canadian retailers onboard this month.
Finance & Economy
Stocks rose as investors cheered the Federal Reserve’s third rate cut of the year and comments from Chairman Jerome Powell that signaled it would be a while before the central bank hikes rates. Powell and the Fed struck just the right tone to satisfy equity investors by signaling it would pause rate cuts, but wouldn’t think of hiking again until inflation moved higher.
U.S. consumer spending rose marginally in September while wages were unchanged, which could cast doubts on consumers’ ability to continue driving the economy amid a deepening slump in business investment. The Commerce Department said consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, gained 0.2% last month as households stepped up purchases of motor vehicles and spent more on healthcare. Consumer spending is being powered by the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 50 years.
U.S. consumer confidence dipped slightly in October as worries over business conditions and employment prospects ticked up, according to data from The Conference Board. Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, said in a statement that consumers feel good about present conditions, but future expectations lowered slightly “as consumers expressed some concerns about business conditions and job prospects.”