Zale (ZLC) Q3 2012 Earnings Call May 23, 2012 9:00 am ET Executives Roxane Barry - Director of Investor Relations Theophlius Killion - Chief Executive Officer and Director Thomas A. Haubenstricker - Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President Matthew W. Appel - Chief Administrative Officer Analysts Rick B. Patel - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division David Wu - Telsey Advisory Group LLC Jeffrey S. Stein - Northcoast Research William R. Armstrong - CL King & Associates, Inc. Presentation Operator
Also, please note that during this conference call, we may discuss certain non-GAAP financial measures as we review the company's performance. One of these non-GAAP measures is EBITDA, which is defined as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. A second non-GAAP measure is adjusted EBITDA, which excludes charges related to store closures. We use these measures as part of our evaluation of the performance of the company. In addition, we believe these measures provide useful information to investors. Please refer to the appendix in the Investor Relations presentation for a reconciliation of these non-GAAP measures to the most comparable GAAP financial measures.Now, I'll turn the call over to Theo. Theophlius Killion Roxane, thank you, and thank you to everyone joining us on the call today as we report our earnings for the third quarter. For those of you following along with the slides that we posted on our website, please direct your attention to Slide 3. In our press release earlier today, we highlighted 4 important financial measures that underscore the progress we're making in executing our turnaround plan. They were a comparable store sales increase of 8%. This is our sixth consecutive quarter of comp store improvement and our sales results follow a 15% increase in the same period a year ago, resulting in a 2-year comp of plus 23%. Our plan is working. We have traction, and we're committed to not only returning the business to profitability in the near term, but returning long-term value to shareholders, who believe in our strategy and the work that we're doing to execute it. Revenues increased $33 million for the quarter to $445 million. Gross margin improved $22 million to 51.3%. During the quarter, we implemented another price increase without adversely impacting sales. We believe that we're building equity in the Diamond Store with great product, and great guest engagement. This allows our jewelry consultants to focus on the features, benefits and quality of our assortment, not just price.
One of the significant accomplishments in our business is when a jewelry consultant sells $1 million worth of jewelry in a fiscal year. This year, for the first time, we had 4 jewelry consultants exceed $1 million by the third quarter, a tribute to their selling skills and to the improvements we're making in our merchandise offerings. And finally, operating earnings of $6 million, an improvement of $12 million compared to the prior year. This is the first time in over 5 years that we delivered positive operating earnings in the third quarter.As a result of the 4 metrics we highlighted in the press release, net loss per share improved by $0.17. The performance highlights that I just described were driven by executing the business strategy that I referred to earlier, the first element of which is constant vigilance on the core assortment. By achieving our 80% plus goal, it allows us to continuously edit slow turning SKUs, while we methodically introduce new items, test them and expand them once that margin in turn characteristics at or above category norms. Our inventory is much more efficient as we've eliminated unproductive merchandise and reduced our clearance penetration to under 6%. Having done so, it allows us to test and launch proprietary product, product like Vera Wang LOVE. Growing our penetration of proprietary product is a strategy that will continue to have increasing importance in the future. On our last call, I talked about the work that we're doing to tap into the emerging world of Omni-Channel retailing and marketing. The guest is not standing still and as the guest moves, so too must the way we communicate with them. Our integrated Mother's Day campaign is an illustration of our blending traditional and new media to communicate with the guest on their terms, another important strategic imperative. And of course, none of this happens without strong execution by our customer-facing teams. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com