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  Will profits blossom at 1-800-Flowers?

BENJ GALLANDER and BEN STADELMANN

Friday, March 22, 2013

With spring just around the corner, our thoughts have turned to the wonders of Mother Nature. Both of us are peering at our gardens, checking for any vacant spots that might need additions — a small plant here, a few flowers there, different touches of colour to enhance what bloomed last year and we hope will reappear. Despite those hard carapaces we present to the world, deep down, we are really softies at heart.

In December — on St. Nicholas Day, to be precise — Benj embraced 1-800-Flowers.com at $3.01 per share. This former high flyer during the Internet bubble has had a few ups and downs since then, and like many companies, slipped below a buck in early 2009. Since then, management has worked hard to assure that this enterprise resembles a perennial more than an annual.

One key factor accounting for the turnaround has been the reduction in debt. Back in 2009, this peaked at over $92 million on revenues of $713 million, compared to $22 million in 2012 on sales of $716 million. That differential of interest payments nicely enhances the bottom line. Focusing on cutting expenses has also helped.

While flowers are the calling card for this enterprise, there is a cornucopia of products that it sells and this does not just refer to The Popcorn Factory, a high-markup item if ever there was one. A trip through the website reveals fruit and coffee baskets, Cheryl's cookie assortments, Mrs. Beasley's dessert combos and Fannie May berries and chocolates — not to be confused with mortgages, of course.

There appears to be an offering for every occasion, including births, anniversaries, sickness and deaths. As the comely lass in the pop-up box waits to chat, she asks, "Need help finding that perfect gift? Let one of our representatives help you." This enterprise has worked hard to market, and it is paying off.

Back in 2009, the bottom line was ugly, with a loss of close to $100 million. Results were much better in 2010 as the red ink toned down to the $4 million level. 2011 turned the corner to positive with net income of almost $6 million and that nearly tripled last year. This year looks like it could be even healthier.

While insiders are reasonably well vested, owning 7.6 percent of the stock, institutions possess more than 65 percent. In the past two quarters, the company has purchased $5 million of shares. Since the stock price has blossomed to almost $5.00, and with the book value at $2.63, further buybacks are highly questionable.

While there are many mom-and-pop shops that serve the flower trade, the major competitor for 1-800-Flowers.com is FTD. This ubiquitous outfit has been around seemingly forever, established in 1910. It has 16,000 florists in North America alone, with around 45,000 in 154 countries. That is deep entrenchment. What this outfit does not have is the smorgasbord of products of FLWS, but certainly these two giants often compete petal to petal.

The Initial Sell Target on FLWS is $11.84, an echelon where it last traded in 2007. The company will have to open to full bloom once again to reach this level.


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