You don’t have to look hard to see the consequences of the wave of bankruptcies and store closures rocking the retail industry: Thousands of jobs have been lost, and malls are starved of visitors as more and more storefronts empty out.
When Under Armour reported its latest financial results on Thursday, though, it amplified a less obvious effect of the turmoil: The closures can create serious challenges for brands that depend on chains as access points for reaching customers.
Under Armour recorded its first red ink since it went public in 2005, posting a $2.27 million loss or 1 cent a share. It said revenue fell 1.1 percent in its North American business in the most recent quarter. The athletic apparel giant has been adding plenty of new distribution points for its gear, including by bringing its merchandise to Kohl’s fleet of more than 1,000 stores. And yet executives said this was not enough to offset the sales it has lost related to bankruptcies that occurred in 2016.
Although Under Armour did not specify exactly which retail bankruptcies sapped its sales, it’s safe to assume Sports Authority’s filing was a particularly devastating one. That big-box chain liquidated last year and closed all of its 463 locations.
The shifting retail landscape is just one of a long and varied list of issues that has Under Armour playing defense right now. While the company’s stock popped more than 9 percent Thursday because of a profit loss that wasn’t as bad as investors expected, the stock has plummeted more than 50 percent over the past year. That’s the biggest decline by any stock in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index during a period when markets have been surging.
The company acknowledges its shoe business could be stronger. Growth in the footwear division was just 2 percent this quarter compared with a year ago. That is quite a drop-off from 2016, when the company reported an eye-popping 64 percent jump in footwear sales for the same three-month period.
“We don’t like it and we don’t accept it,” Kevin Plank, Under Armour’s chief executive, told investors during a conference call.
Part of the problem is its Stephen Curry-branded line of basketball shoes. The recently launched Curry 3 has not sold as well as the first two sneakers bearing the NBA star’s name. Under Armour is now stuck trying to figure out how to sell through that inventory. Meanwhile, it says it has revamped its testing and scaling operations so that it doesn’t miss the mark again with the Curry 4. The company is thinking carefully about everything from color options and to how scarce to make the shoes. (Scarcity, after all, can create a helpful halo of exclusivity.)
Plank says he expects that by the end of the year, the footwear division will see sales growth that outpaces that of the company.
Meanwhile, the company is seeing a host of new competitors crash the fitness wear category as the “athleisure” look remains a default dress code, even when we’re not in the gym. And so the brand is creating new lines that push it more deeply into the fashion business, with garments that have the performance attributes of the gear worn by professional athletes but have design elements that reflect style trends.
And then there’s its core basics such as T-shirts and golf shirts, which are undergoing a refresh.
“We lived on a legacy business for a long time where our product would just sell,” Plank said Thursday.
It also appears the company is simply experiencing some growing pains. Before January, Under Armour saw at least 20 percent quarterly sales increases for more than five straight years, a breakneck expansion that necessitated organizational change. Plank talked Thursday about an earlier decision to reorganize the company around certain sports categories, saying that the company hopes to soon see fruits of a structure aimed at allowing it to be more in touch with shoppers.
Despite the head winds that Under Armour must grapple with, it has plenty of opportunity, too, in the marketplace. The brand saw skyrocketing international sales in the quarter, including a 60 percent jump in Asia that suggests the brand is resonating strongly overseas and has ample room for growth there.
Plus, the direct-to-consumer business — which includes its e-commerce site and Under Armour stores — saw a healthy 13 percent lift in sales. If Under Armour can continue to grab more sales under its own retailing banner, it will help make it less dependent on troubled big-box and department stores.