Some Thoughts on Ulta Beauty

Ulta Elegance Inc. (NASDAQ:ULTA) is a top specialty retailer in the United States. The company, which was founded in 1990, gives a mix of status and mass splendor items as a result of 1,257 stores, as nicely as on the internet as a result of its site and cell application (e-commerce accounted for twelve% of Ulta’s gross sales in 2019). The company also gives a comprehensive support salon in its stores, which meets a need for some customers and can travel business to the other facet of the household (advertising splendor items). As shown under, the device rely has virtually quadrupled about the earlier ten years – throughout a time period where by numerous brick-and-mortar vendors have been battening down the hatches as they confronted a transforming aggressive landscape, mainly at the fingers of e-commerce huge Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).

In addition to including around 900 new stores, Ulta has also described powerful identical-keep gross sales (comps): about the earlier 10 yrs, comps have enhanced by around 10% for each annum, with the worst efficiency about the time period at up five% in 2019. (Note that new stores, as they perform their way to a hundred% productiveness about the course of a number of yrs, have been a materials contributor to identical-keep gross sales expansion for Ulta.) The stop final result has been a around 65% maximize in gross sales for each common keep about the earlier ten years, from $ million for each device in 2009 to $6.1 million for each device in 2019. Collectively, these aspects have pushed a 6-fold maximize in profits about the earlier ten years.


Income expansion, combined with an advancement in gross margins and slight running leverage, has resulted in a 30% compounded once-a-year expansion price for running revenue about the earlier ten years. Diluted earnings for each share has followed suit, climbing from 70 cents for each share in 2009 to $twelve.two for each share in 2019 – a CAGR of 34% (with enable from a lessen helpful tax price and a increasing emphasis on repurchases, with the share rely down 10% about the earlier four yrs).

Ulta competes in a fragmented market that gives distribution as a result of numerous channels, which include specialty retail (like Ulta), drug stores, office stores and e-commerce. As famous in the once-a-year report, management estimates that it holds around 8% market share of the $89 billion splendor solution marketplace. Most notably, the company has doubled its share in cosmetics about the earlier 5 yrs (this is also its most significant category at fifty% of profits). Those people gains also arrived throughout a time period when status make-up led the category’s expansion by a extensive margin, benefiting Ulta. The mixture of these two aspects has been the most important driver of the company’s extraordinary profits expansion. (It is a scaled-down participant in categories like skincare and fragrances, with small one-digit share.)

As famous earlier, Ulta has significantly expanded its footprint about the earlier ten years. As a final result, the company is only a number of hundred units away from its extended-expression target (1,500 to 1,seven hundred stores in the United States). Stated otherwise, it is possible to arrive at saturation in the U.S. inside four or 5 yrs at the new rate of device expansion (the affect of Covid-19 will possible hold off that). More time expression, management has shared designs to develop internationally, starting with Canada (designs for an omni-channel providing by 2021). It is even now early, but a thriving rollout in Canada could offer some hope that the company will even now be ready to incorporate new units for yrs, or even a long time, to come. Ulta’s results or failure in Canada is a thing I’ll be viewing carefully about the subsequent several yrs.

Even though the company’s historic expansion has been extraordinary, I think it is safe and sound to say that the success about the coming ten years are not likely to be wherever in the vicinity of what they achieved in the earlier ten years.

1st, as just discussed, the company is approaching saturation in its property market – and a great deal of vendors have shown that properly replicating a retail thought abroad is much from assured. That provides some reinvestment (capital allocation) possibility as we look to the yrs forward.

Second, I remain worried about the prospective extended-expression possibility from on the internet competitors like Amazon. I enjoy the arguments for why the make-up category may perhaps be a lot less susceptible to this possibility, significantly because of to solution quality worries when dealing with third-celebration sellers – but I have also followed Amazon extended more than enough to know that with more than enough time and energy, they frequently come across a way to produce for their customers (and negatively affect competitors). Very last year’s exceptional deal for Lady Gaga’s splendor manufacturer, Haus Laboratories, is 1 new instance that indicates the e-commerce huge has its sights on becoming a existence in this market extended expression.

Third, I fret about the expansion of emerging, digitally-native models advertising specifically to individuals. The skill to market items as a result of influencers and stars on platforms like Instagram and YouTube, alongside with the skill to total a transaction as a result of a Shopify (NYSE:Shop) enabled keep, has turn into a reputable competitor to items sitting down on retail cabinets. (Note that Ulta has taken motion to test and capitalize on these developments: take into account the 2018 partnership with Kylie Jenner, with the Kylie Cosmetics solution line out there in all Ulta stores and on the internet.)

Last but not least, as I discussed earlier, Ulta benefited from a market tailwind about the earlier several yrs, significantly inside status cosmetics almost nothing I have read qualified prospects me to imagine we’ll see a return to outsized expansion in that vertical. (On the other hand, the bulk of status splendor items are even now offered in office stores, which may perhaps current chance for added share gains by corporations like Ulta). If lackluster cosmetics expansion qualified prospects to marketplace mix change towards categories like skincare, that could also be a problem for Ulta due to the fact they beneath-index in people spots (and skincare has lessen profit margins for Ulta than cosmetics as nicely). For what it truly is truly worth, management instructed traders throughout the fourth-quarter meeting simply call that they expected the U.S. make-up category to carry on to be challenged in 2020 – and that was in advance of the affect of Covid-19 was fully appreciated.


All of Ulta’s stores have been shut because March 19 because of to the pandemic. Even though they are possible seeing added benefits in the e-commerce business, that is not likely to offset the profits declines from brick-and-mortar places (for what it is truly worth, e-commerce has lessen running margins as nicely for Ulta). In addition, a time period like this may perhaps in the end accelerate alterations in consumer conduct (for instance, far more eager to store on the internet than in advance of), which could convey to light-weight some of the risks I have outlined above. For people good reasons, even although the inventory does not seem significantly high priced at around eighteen situations trailing earnings, significantly relative to what Mr. Marketplace has been eager to fork out for it in the earlier, I’m going to remain on the sidelines for now.

It is really truly worth highlighting that the company finished 2019 with half a billion bucks in funds and equivalents, alongside with publicly introduced designs to repurchase $1.3 billion truly worth of inventory in 2020 – but that prepare will possible be altered given the present-day point out of the business.

A person ultimate level. In looking into Ulta, I have noticed analysts argue the business will advantage from the struggles of competitors, most notably office stores. Essentially, as vendors like J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) and Macy’s (NYSE:M) carry on to deal with headwinds, Ulta will take share. And when I enjoy that argument, I think it is a little bit brief-sighted. Here’s my concern: and then what?

Not to overstate the analogy, but I think it is similar to the arguments that have been manufactured a ten years ago about Barnes & Noble (BKS) when Border’s went bankrupt. It is not improper – but it misses the even bigger photo. To give you a far better plan of what I’m getting at, think about the splendor items business on a continuum from most effective positioned to worst positioned – from on-shopping mall office stores to digitally-native models or e-commerce. Along that spectrum, where by does Ulta belong?

The pessimistic take would be that Ulta results in being the subsequent iteration of the traditional shopping mall vendors (names like Victoria’s Mystery and Bathtub & System Is effective). A person of the most about information factors I have noticed is that Ulta’s legacy (5-plus yrs old) stores have not too long ago noticed identical-keep gross sales convert detrimental, compared to mid-to-substantial one-digit comps for this identical class a number of yrs ago. Just place, an lack of ability to stabilize and boost this would be a significant worry for Ulta.

On the other hand, the company may perhaps come across a satisfied medium. It could be amid the select team of retail that has survived, and even thrived, in a transforming globe. Arguably, results of this type would need investment decision to assist a much better on the internet existence (with shipping alternatives that are on par with most effective-in-class e-commerce), continued partnerships with digitally native models (or even ownership given the company’s sturdy funds era) and sustained emphasis on salon to travel visitors (currently, only about five% of Ulta’s customers use the salon companies). In brief, Ulta wants to carry on enhancing what it gives to customers inside and outside the house of its stores.

Which path is the company possible to take about the subsequent 5 to 10 yrs?

I’ll leave that 1 for visitors to reply.

Disclosure: None.

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About the writer:

The Science of Hitting

I’m a price trader with a extended-expression emphasis. My objective is to make a compact quantity of significant conclusions a yr. In the text of Charlie Munger, my favored technique is “tolerance followed by really intense carry out.” I operate a concentrated portfolio – a handful of equities account for the bulk of its price. In the eyes of a businessman, I imagine this is adequate diversification.