Business Strategy and Outlook| David Swartz |
In our view, narrow-moat Ralph Lauren's restructuring over the past few years puts it on solid footing as it navigates the extraordinary challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to poor inventory control and heavy discounting in years past, Ralph Lauren has closed more than 75 stores, reduced exposure to U.S. department store and off-price channels, and cut product lead times. These and other changes have resulted in strong gross margin increases. Although sales have declined in North America from peak levels, we believe the restructuring, including new merchandise and better pricing for core products, has positioned Ralph Lauren for low-single-digit sales growth and mid-60s gross margins. Further, we forecast advertising support as a percentage of sales in the mid-single digits in the long term and anticipate its direct-to-consumer sales will rise to 72% of sales by fiscal 2032 from 63% in fiscal 2022, thereby reducing the brand’s dependence on U.S. physical retail and providing better control over pricing and positioning. We view an increasing direct-to-consumer business as essential as customer visitation is declining in many retail stores and malls.