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Financial, Retail

Bassett Announces Fiscal First Quarter Results

The furniture retailer, despite cconsolidated gross margin of a record 55.3 percent, reports an operating loss of $2.4 million and a net loss of $1.2 million.

BASSETT, Va. -- Bassett Furniture Industries, Inc. (Nasdaq: BSET) announced today its results of operations for its first quarter ended March 2, 2024.

Robert H. Spilman, Jr., chairman and CEO issued the following statement: As we once again compared to the inflated sales of the pandemic period, our consolidated sales dropped by 19.6% (14 weeks vs. 13 weeks) in the first quarter of fiscal 2024 compared to the first quarter of 2023. We do expect easier comparisons starting with our second quarter of 2024. Wholesale and retail orders were more stable and fell by 6.3% and 3.4%, respectively (14 weeks vs. 13 weeks). The final two weeks of January proved to be especially damaging to written sales during the period as we lost the historically strong MLK holiday event due to storms across several regions of the country where we expect to write good business.

We produced an operating loss of $2.4 million and a net loss of $1.2 million in the challenging sales environment. Our consolidated gross margin of 55.3% was an all-time high but spending reductions were not enough to generate profitability at the reported level of sales. We continue to explore expense reduction strategies that will not be detrimental to gaining market share in the competitive furniture industry landscape. Inventory levels are stable and are appropriate for the current pace of business. Total headcount in our wholesale segment has been reduced by 26% since the peak of the pandemic booms in 2022. The corporate retail organization is 44% leaner than February 2020, the last month before the world changed. And the balance sheet is well built and provides stability as we focus on improving results in anticipation of a better macro-economic environment in the future.

Despite producing a record retail gross margin for the quarter, corporate retail posted a $1.6 million operating loss compared to a $1.5 million profit last year. We were excited to open new stores in Tampa and Houston. Startup expenses recorded on the income statement were in excess of $700 thousand. Our average ticket was $3,800 and 41% of sales came from design projects as we generally write a smaller percentage of design business around the holidays. We did not curtail retail marketing expenses for the quarter, although we are currently cutting back prior to picking up again in May for the Memorial Day promotion. On the digital front, we are continuing to optimize our tactics to build our omnichannel capabilities and enhance website conversion. Declining written and delivered sales obviously apply pressure to results through the deleveraging of SG&A expenses. On the expense side, we are at the early stages of implementing a new retail distribution model designed to reduce warehouse and delivery expenses by 200 basis points. The first phase of this plan will eliminate five facilities that are currently in use primarily in the mid-Atlantic region. After evaluation of the results, we plan to implement further warehouse consolidations in other regions. On the revenue front, we plan to sharpen the value proposition of a portion of our assortment with the addition of several new products that we believe will complement the wide array of customizable furniture that currently dominates our stores. We have already seen success in the small number of transactional products that we have begun to integrate into the line and we plan to unveil more pieces designed to increase unit velocity over the course of 2024.

There are currently no new corporately owned stores planned for 2024, although we are performing due diligence in several markets. Our attention is now focused on a refurbishment program for the existing fleet, which will begin in earnest this summer. Coming out of the pandemic, corporate retail posted 14 consecutive quarters of profitability; several quarters were at record levels, albeit admittedly fueled by an unsustainable tailwind of written business. The pendulum of consumer preferences has since swung dramatically away from purchases surrounding the home, not to mention several quarters of a weak housing market. While our gross margin was at record levels, we were not able to generate enough sales to overcome the burden of our fixed costs to post a profit for the quarter. With our lean organization, we are committed to returning to a consistently profitable corporate retail network, no matter what the economy throws at us.

Total wholesale revenue declined by 22% for the period (14 weeks vs 13 weeks). Despite the uncertainty of work schedules, our team produced a 200-basis point gross margin improvement for the quarter. Embedded in the wholesale results is the return to profitability of the Club Level motion assortment which has been a drag on the bottom line in recent quarters. We expect further improvement in the Club Level results in the upcoming months. 80% of the products that invoiced in the quarter were manufactured in the U.S. and were shipped from a domestic facility. We take pride in our Made-in-America positioning and heritage but balancing capacity with order backlogs has been an ongoing hurdle since the slowdown began. Our domestic wood operation began production of the contemporary-styled solid maple Parkway bedroom and the more popularly priced Origins dining program. These products hit our store floors during the quarter and the sell-through is encouraging. In upholstery, our facility in Newton, North Carolina produced the first pieces of our Premier Custom Upholstery in leather, which sold well at retail in the final weeks of the quarter. We are also now shipping some of the imported casegoods and accent furniture products that we introduced last fall. Our move into sourcing from India has added new artistic design elements to our line and we have been pleased with the initial response by our wholesale customers. Unfortunately, the historic ocean freight lead times that have existed for most of the past two decades have once again been disrupted, this time by the geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East that has affected traffic through the Suez Canal.

Approximately 60% of wholesale revenue was derived from the combination of our corporate and licensed Bassett Home Furnishings retail stores. Another 18% came from the Bassett Design Center (BDC) network that is currently comprised of nearly 100 independent furniture accounts with 150 locations. The Bassett footprint in a BDC typically runs from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet and is supported with space planning assistance, store fixtures and signage, point of purchase materials, and promotional events. Many of the business relationships with these dealers have been in place for twenty years or more. The heartbeat of this strategy is the emphasis placed on the display and promotion of our Premier Custom Upholstery and Bench Made dining and bedroom products, all of which are Made-In-America. Generally speaking, this template blossoms into a larger commitment to the Bassett brand on the part of the dealer, largely resulting from the high level of service and training provided by our field representatives. In an effort to expand the reach of our dedicated distribution universe, Bassett introduced the new Bassett Design Studio concept in January.

In short, the Design Studio is a smaller version of the BDC built almost entirely around the display of our Premier Custom Upholstery program. For a comparatively modest financial commitment, the dealer enjoys a product that is well proven at retail and a program that includes several of the store elements found in the BDC program complete with a compelling in-store technology package. We are confident that the return on investment for the retailer will be quite strong as our Premier Custom Upholstery display model has been successfully executed in the field for many years. Thus far, we have brought 17 Bassett Design Studio accounts into the fold. Our initial target is 100 accounts and we will make presentations on the Studio concept by featuring the 1,000 square foot footprint in our showroom at the Spring Furniture Market next week in High Point, North Carolina.

We used $7.7 million of cash in operations for the period as we made the typical upfront payments to satisfy annual service contracts and also incurred an extra monthly payroll and rent outlay due to the fiscal calendar’s extra week. Nevertheless, as we try to mention every quarter, we continue to maintain a strong balance sheet to weather downturns like the one we are in now while supporting the dividend. Meanwhile, we will pursue product innovation, store refurbishment, enhanced technology, and improved operating results in the current climate as we look ahead to a better home furnishings landscape in the future.

The full announcement can be found here.
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