This excerpt taken from the AEO 10-K filed Apr 4, 2007.
Our ability to anticipate and respond to changing consumer preferences and fashion trends in a timely manner
Our future success depends, in part, upon our ability to identify and respond to fashion trends in a timely manner. The specialty retail apparel business fluctuates according to changes in the economy and customer preferences, dictated by fashion and season. These fluctuations especially affect the inventory owned by apparel retailers because merchandise typically must be ordered well in advance of the selling season. While we endeavor to test many merchandise items before ordering large quantities, we are still susceptible to changing fashion trends and fluctuations in customer demands.
In addition, the cyclical nature of the retail business requires that we carry a significant amount of inventory, especially during our peak selling seasons. We enter into agreements for the manufacture and purchase of our private label apparel well in advance of the applicable selling season. As a result, we are vulnerable to changes in consumer demand, pricing shifts and the timing and selection of merchandise purchases. The failure to enter into agreements for the manufacture and purchase of merchandise in a timely manner could, among other things, lead to a shortage of inventory and lower sales. Changes in fashion trends, if unsuccessfully identified, forecasted or responded to by us, could, among other things, lead to lower sales, excess inventories and higher markdowns, which in turn could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
Our ability to continue our current level of sales and earnings growth
With our Fiscal 2006 fourth quarter, we achieved 12 consecutive quarters of record high sales and earnings. Our gross margin and operating margin rates are also near historic highs and exceed most of our industry peers. This performance has led to recent historic high trading prices for our common stock. It is difficult to maintain this level of performance and to continue to reach higher levels. However, we have growth initiatives that we are pursuing to achieve our goal of increasing earnings by at least 15% per year over the long term. Nonetheless, our product offerings are constantly changing and our success is directly dependent on customer acceptance of these new offerings. If our future product offerings are not as well accepted by our customers, our financial performance may decline until we are able to improve our product. A decline in our financial performance could result in a decline in the price of our common stock.
The effect of competitive pressures from other retailers and other business factors
The specialty retail industry is highly competitive. We compete primarily on the basis of quality, fashion, service, selection and price. There can be no assurance that we will be able to successfully compete in the future.
The success of our operations also depends to a significant extent upon a number of factors relating to discretionary consumer spending, including economic conditions affecting disposable consumer income such as employment, consumer debt, interest rates and consumer confidence. There can be no assurance that consumer spending will not be negatively affected by general or local economic conditions, thereby adversely impacting our continued growth and results of operations.
Our ability to grow through new store openings and existing store remodels and expansions
Our continued growth and success will depend in part on our ability to open and operate new stores and expand and remodel existing stores on a timely and profitable basis. During Fiscal 2007, we plan to open 45 to 50 new American Eagle stores in the U.S. and Canada, at least 15 aerie stand-alone stores and approximately 12 MARTIN + OSA stores. Additionally, we plan to remodel or expand approximately 45 existing American Eagle stores during Fiscal 2007. Accomplishing our new and existing store expansion goals will depend upon a number of factors, including the ability to obtain suitable sites for new and expanded stores at acceptable costs, the hiring and training of qualified personnel, particularly at the store management level, the integration of new stores into existing operations and the expansion of our buying and inventory capabilities. There can be no assurance that we will be able to achieve our store expansion goals, manage our growth effectively, successfully integrate the planned new stores into our operations or operate our new and remodeled stores profitably.
Our ability to grow through the internal development of new brands
We launched our new brand concept, MARTIN + OSA, and our new intimates sub-brand, aerie by American Eagle, during Fiscal 2006. Our ability to succeed in these new brands requires significant expenditures and management attention. Additionally, any new brand is subject to certain risks including customer acceptance, competition, product differentiation, the ability to attract and retain qualified personnel, including management and designers, and the ability to obtain suitable sites for new stores at acceptable costs. There can be no assurance that these new brands will grow or become profitable. If we are unable to succeed in developing profitable new brands, this could adversely impact our continued growth and results of operations.
Our international merchandise sourcing strategy
Substantially all of our merchandise is purchased from foreign suppliers. Although we purchase a significant portion of our merchandise through a single foreign buying agent, we do not maintain any exclusive commitments to purchase from any vendor. Since we rely on a small number of foreign sources for a significant portion of our purchases, any event causing the disruption of imports, including the insolvency of a significant
supplier or a significant labor dispute, could have an adverse effect on our operations. Other events that could also cause a disruption of imports include the imposition of additional trade law provisions or import restrictions, such as increased duties, tariffs, anti-dumping provisions, increased Customs enforcement actions, or political or economic disruptions.
We have a Vendor Code of Conduct that provides guidelines for all of our vendors regarding working conditions, employment practices and compliance with local laws. A copy of the Vendor Code of Conduct is posted on our website, www.ae.com. We have a factory compliance program to audit for compliance with the Vendor Code of Conduct. However, there can be no assurance that our factory compliance program will be effective in discovering violations. Publicity regarding violation of our Vendor Code of Conduct or other social responsibility standards by any of our vendor factories could adversely affect our sales and financial performance.
Since the time of the attack on the World Trade Centers in 2001, we believe that there has been an increased risk of terrorist activity on a global basis. Such activity might take the form of a physical act that impedes the flow of imported goods or the insertion of a harmful or injurious agent to an imported shipment. We have instituted policies and procedures designed to reduce the chance or impact of such actions including, but not limited to, a significant increase in the number of factory audits performed; the revision of our factory audit protocol to include all critical security issues; the review of security procedures of our other international trading partners, including forwarders, consolidators, shippers and brokers; and the cancellation of agreements with entities who fail to meet our security requirements. In addition, U.S. Customs has recognized us as a validated, tier three member of the CustomsTrade Partnership Against Terrorism program, a voluntary program in which an importer agrees to work with Customs to strengthen overall supply chain security. However, there can be no assurance that terrorist activity can be prevented and we cannot predict the likelihood of any such activities or the extent of their adverse impact on our operations.
Historically, our operations have been seasonal, with a large portion of net sales and net income occurring in the fourth fiscal quarter, reflecting increased demand during the year-end holiday selling season and, to a lesser extent, the third quarter, reflecting increased demand during the back-to-school selling season. During Fiscal 2006, the third and fourth fiscal quarters accounted for approximately 60% of our sales and approximately 65% of our income from continuing operations. As a result of this seasonality, any factors negatively affecting us during the third and fourth fiscal quarters of any year could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations for the entire year. Our quarterly results of operations also may fluctuate based upon such factors as the timing of certain holiday seasons, the number and timing of new store openings, the acceptability of seasonal merchandise offerings, the timing and level of markdowns, store closings and remodels, competitive factors, weather and general economic conditions.
Our reliance on key personnel
Our success depends to a significant extent upon the continued services of our key personnel, including senior management, as well as its ability to attract and retain qualified key personnel and skilled employees in the future. Our operations could be adversely affected if, for any reason, one or more key executive officers ceased to be active in our management.
Our ability to successfully complete important infrastructure projects
We are implementing multiple infrastructure projects in Fiscal 2007. The major projects include:
We rely upon our facilities and information systems to support the management of our operations. Any delays or difficulties in these important projects could have a material adverse impact on our business.
Failure to comply with regulatory requirements
As a public company, we are subject to numerous regulatory requirements. Our policies, procedures and internal controls are designed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including those imposed by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the SEC and the New York Stock Exchange (the NYSE). Failure to comply with such laws and regulations could have a material adverse effect on our reputation, financial condition and on the market price of our common stock.
Our reliance on third-party distribution services for our Canadian stores
Our stores in Canada receive merchandise through logistics services provided under a transitional services agreement with the NLS Purchaser. Any significant interruption in the logistics services provided by the NLS Purchaser could have a material adverse effect on the operation of our stores in Canada and on our financial condition and results.
Other risk factors
Additionally, other factors could adversely affect our financial performance, including factors such as: our ability to successfully acquire and integrate other businesses; any interruption of our key business systems; any disaster or casualty resulting in the interruption of service from our distribution centers or in a large number of our stores; any interruption of key services provided by third party vendors; any interruption of our business related to an outbreak of a pandemic disease, such as the Avian Flu, in a country where we source or market our merchandise; changes in weather patterns; the effects of changes in current exchange rates and interest rates; and international and domestic acts of terror.
The impact of any of the previously discussed factors, some of which are beyond our control, may cause our actual results to differ materially from expected results in these statements and other forward-looking statements we may make from time-to-time.