Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rick And Dave And Buster Are On The Same Beam.

If you've read my Forbes article on the new paradigm in restaurants and retail, as exemplified by Dave and Buster's, you will find what's happening at Rick's Hospitality of interest. I wrote an article on RICK back in 2013 at Seeking Alpha, and what they were about back then was certainly ahead of the curve in today's ongoing train wreck in retail. Just last week alone, Kohl's was down 9%, JC Penney was down 17%, Sears was down 12%, Macy's down 18%. The Rick's article was an exclusive and is available now with a Seeking Alpha Pro subscription. So I can't reproduce it here, but I'll comment on it.

The point of my Dave and Buster's article, as explained by Patrick Doyle of Domino's Pizza, is that if you are a restaurant or retailer looking to just serve good food or merchandise and prosper, you will probably be suffering in today's evolving environment, despite adequate offline consumer spending. "People still get out" as Doyle said. You have to also be serving up "experiential retail" as it is coming to be called. Rick's Hospitality, or Rick's Caberet as it was called before their name change, is all about just that.

Rick's is a growing restaurant/entertainment chain where the entertainment is "the most beautiful women in the world featured daily". It's a little like Hooter's but there's more fun with the girls. The dancers pay a "facilities use" fee to entertain and collect tips. They can make as much as $1000 in tips for a night's shaking of the booty. But before you dismiss them as a sleazy massage parlor that has somehow wound up a public company, be aware that no less than Forbes has not only put them on their America's 200 Best Small Companies List (they installed them at # 94) but they've also been written up at The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Smart Money, and other places that don't normally cover massage parlors. They are simply some of the early settlers in the experiential retail frontier along with Domino's Pizza, Dave and Buster's and other's with the same idea - only their experience is a little more naughty.

And they combine naughtiness with alcohol, to make money, not trouble. In the tight margin world of competitive eateries, alcohol is everything. These beverages are market up more than anything on the menu. The study "Adding Value: Beverage Alcohol's contribution to Restaurant Sales Is Significant And Growing In Importance"  gives the numbers. Of the top 500 chains, only half deal with all the hassles of alcohol at all, and only eight are able to derive 30% or more of sales from it. Rick's is an elite player here with 40%. Alcohol at over 30% is sought after by everyone in the business.

This includes even the restaurant chain giant Darden. As I covered in my article, they are trying the new ideas too. I pointed out three comparables to Rick's:
The second sort-of comparable is Yard House Restaurants. This is a private seafood/pub combo with 44% of sales from alcohol and a focus on growth. They were snapped up by Darden (DRI) last year, who paid 1.8 times sales (compared to 0.8 for Darden itself) for Yard's 15-20% annual growth rate to add some punch to the Darden lineup.
Darden recruited them into their Specialty Restaurant Group, their SWAT team for future growth.
So the second of the quasi-RICK comps, Yard House, is also a case of blistering growth, but now available as an investment only in diluted form with DRI stock.
DRI has been performing well despite old style restaurant ("casual" dining) blues and the horrors of old style retail in general:

And so has RICK:

These charts don't look at all like most restaurant chains do nowadays.

But hasn't this been tried before - entertainment with meals? What about Buffalo Wild Wings and such? Well yes it has been tried here and there, and with great success. In my RICK article, I point out three comparables, BWLD, Yard House, and VCG. Eric Langan, CEO of Rick's has compared themselves to Buffalo in past presentations, with BWLD at 30% of sales from alcohol, Yard House is now in Darden, and VCG was merging with Rick's in mid 2010 after posting blistering growth numbers in the five years they were public! But the merger fell through, and the VCG chief bought up all the shares he didn't already own and it went private.

This new paradigm is not untested, and now several players are getting in on this new beam. And those that are able to execute geographical growth will likely be good growth stocks of the future. There is something of a store count barrier here at around the 30-50 store area where growth skills of management are severely tested, and parabolic growth ensues if they prove their skills there. I show this on a chart in the Rick's article for the history of Walgreens, Walmart, Lowe's, and Rick's. Dave and Busters is just beyond this barrier with about 80 locations, Rick's is at about 40. There will be many of the big chains trying to adapt their behemoths to the new concepts, but Rick, Dave, and Buster are growing with the right idea to begin with.

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