American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) Q4 2011 Earnings Call March 07, 2012 9:00 am ET Executives Judy Meehan - Robert L. Hanson - Chief Executive Officer and Member of The Board of Directors
Before we begin, today's call, I need to remind you that during this conference call, we will make certain forward-looking statements. These statements are based upon information that represent the company's current expectations or beliefs. Results actually realized may differ materially from those expectations or beliefs based on risk factors included in our quarterly and annual reports filed with the SEC.And now I'll turn the call over to Robert for his opening remarks. Robert L. Hanson Thanks, Judy, and good morning, everyone. It's great to be with you. I am very excited to be here and to have the opportunity to lead American Eagle Outfitters into its next growth chapter. I want to acknowledge Jim for the company he's built with Roger and thank them for their support during this transition. My first 30 days have been energizing and insightful. Simply put, my reasons for joining AEO have been confirmed. We have a solid foundation in place with significant potential for improvement. In our current arsenal, we have one of the strongest brands in the business, an extensive and profitable store fleet, a well-established e-commerce business, a leading infrastructure and an excellent balance sheet. As the cornerstone of our company, the American Eagle brand is well-positioned for the times. The brand has a strong customer value proposition, leading core businesses, an untapped growth potential in additional categories, channels, as well as international expansion opportunities. With this foundation in place, I see opportunities to leverage my 24 years of experience in apparel and global brand building to bring value to the company. To drive improved performance, we need to continue innovating our product, customer experience and elevating our capabilities. I clearly recognize the challenges of the past several years. Our top line has been essentially flat, and margin erosion has been significant. During the first few weeks, I've been working with the team to evaluate our longer-term strategies to ensure we are positioned to deliver sustainable, profitable growth. And this evaluation will continue over the next several months. In the meantime, our near-term priorities include driving a competitive top line, improving margins and strengthening inventory productivity. Other areas that have my attention include plans to accelerate e-commerce and evaluation of our store fleet and leveraging our corporate infrastructure.
Before I review our priorities in greater detail, I'll turn it over to Roger and Joan to go through our 2011 performance and outlook. Roger, over to you.Roger S. Markfield Good morning, everyone. I am absolutely delighted to welcome Robert to our company. As he has discovered over the past few weeks, the core strength of our company is our brands, the relationship we have with our customers and of course, our people. During the second half of the year, we had success regaining business momentum by delivering on-trend assortments and great value to our customers. In fact, we saw 40% growth in our active customer database in the fourth quarter. I'm pleased that we delivered top line growth that led our sector and peer group during the fourth quarter. As you will hear from Robert in a few minutes, our priority is to strengthen inventory productivity and generate higher returns. Now let me review the drivers of our holiday assortment. I'm extremely proud of the team's accomplishments. We delivered on our core businesses, the areas that we are famous for, including tees, denim and wovens. We struck the right balance between fashion and fashion basics. We were on-trend and saw tremendous response from our customers to new silhouettes and a powerful color story that clearly differentiated us against our peers. Denim was once again among the strongest categories, continuing to drive our leading market position. Of course, there's always room for improvement, with opportunity for next year in cold-weather accessories, outerwear, sweaters and fleece. As we move forward into spring, we are continuing to lead with a powerful color statement. Our stores this spring are vibrant, fresh and optimistic, truly reflecting our brand DNA. Within the assortment, we're building on fashion basics that are resonating well with our customers and leveraging our strength in bottoms with new trend-right color jeans and shorts. Within women's, we are also maximizing our dress business along with accessories to complete the outfit. Our teams continue to work hard to maximize our core strengths and keep the momentum going. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com