Oxford Industries, Inc. (OXM) Q3 2017 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

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Oxford Industries, Inc. (NYSE: OXM)
Q3 2017 Earnings Conference Call
Dec. 5, 2017, 4:30 p.m. ET

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Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, and welcome to this Oxford Third Quarter 2017 Earnings Conference Call. Today's conference is being recorded. At this time, I'd like to turn the floor over to Miss Ann Shoemaker for openings remarks and introductions.

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Anne M. Shoemaker -- Treasurer and Vice President-Capital Markets

Thank you, Shannon, and good afternoon, everyone. Before we begin, I'd like to remind participants that certain statements made on today's call and in the Q&A session may constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the federal securities laws. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees, and actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied in the forward-looking statements. Important factors that could cause actual results of operations or our financial condition to differ are discussed in our press release issued earlier today and in documents filed by us with the SEC, including the risks factors contained in our Form 10-K. We undertake no duty to update any forward-looking statements.

During this call, we will be discussing certain non-GAAP financial measures. You can find a reconciliation of non-GAAP to GAAP financial measures in our press release issued earlier today, which is posted under the investor relations tab of our website at oxfordinc.com. Please note that all financial results and outlook information discussed on this call, unless otherwise noted, are from continuing operations, and all per-share amounts are on a diluted basis.

As a reminder, the results from the Ben Sherman business are reflected as discontinued operations for all periods presented.

Also, on April 19th, 2016, the company acquired Southern Tide. Please note that fiscal 2017, which ends February 3rd, 2018, is a 53-week year, with the extra week included in the fourth quarter.

And now I'd like to introduce today's call participants. With me today are Tom Chubb, Chairman and CEO, and K. Scott Grassmyer, CFO. Thank you for your attention, and I'd now like to turn the call over to Tom Chubb.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us. We are proud of our solid year-over-year growth in sales and EPS in the third quarter. More importantly, we believe we are well-positioned to take advantage of the emerging optimism in the consumer marketplace during this holiday season.

The positive momentum that resulted in a 4% increase in comparable store sales in the third quarter gives us confidence that we will continue to drive growth in the fourth quarter. Our business has had excellent plans centered on compelling product and innovative marketing campaigns that will set us apart in this highly competitive and promotional holiday season.

Before I dive into more detail on the third quarter results and our plans for holiday, I'd like to talk a few minutes a bit more broadly about what we have accomplished at Oxford this fiscal year. I'll walk you through the progress we've made on several key initiatives.

Perhaps our most important initiative in 2017 was our focus on improving Tommy Bahama's operating performance, and we are seeing real success. Great product supported by newly energized marketing campaigns have driven positive mid-single-digit comps at Tommy Bahama in each of the first three quarters of 2017. Gross margin has expanded year-to-date, as we focused on improving IMUs with cost reductions and selective price increases, and have made improvements in how we clear goods.

Our multi-pronged clearance strategy added very selective end-of-season markdowns in our stores and improved the merchandising and product presentation in Tommy Bahama outlets.

We have also focused on leveraging existing infrastructure to help manage SG&A. All this has had a positive impact on the bottom line, with adjusted operating margin expansion of 100 basis points year-to-date.

Another priority for fiscal 2017 across Oxford is to play to our strength in full-price eCommerce and mobile, which is our fastest-growing and most profitable channel of distribution. So far in 2017, 17% of consolidated sales have come from eCommerce, up 50 basis points from last year. In 2017, we're making additional investments that will further our commitment to serve our customer when and where she wants to be served, and allow her to reach us when and how she wants.

Dovetailing with our digital strategy is the ongoing investment needed to ensure streamlined fulfillment processes and holistic inventory management. We believe that we're toward the front of the pack with our technical abilities in digital and omnichannel, and view this as a true competitive advantage for Oxford. Fortunately, because we have experienced such great success in our eCommerce businesses, we recognized earlier than many in our sector that a cautious approach to store growth made sense, and as a result do not believe we are currently over-doored.

While we do believe that we have the opportunity for judicious store growth in the years to come, as the right bricks and mortar concept in the right location remains an outstanding vehicle for delivering our brand message.

We have made adjustments to our investment strategy in 2017. This includes a more rigorous scrutiny of all upcoming renewals and a conservative store opening cadence.

Tommy Bahama has opened four new stores, including a very successful retail-restaurant location in Plano, Texas, and closed five locations this year. Lilly Pulitzer currently has only 58 stores, having added five new stores and acquired a dozen license signature stores this year. Lastly, in fiscal 2017, we are focused on managing our exposure to department stores, which currently represent 16% of our revenue, down over 100 basis points from last year.

While we recognize that department stores still provide an important gross margin contribution in each of our businesses and can still be a good vehicle for customer acquisition, we need to be careful to not let their struggles end up tarnishing the integrity of our brands. As the traditional department stores work to enhance their relevance by revising their business models, we will continue to put the integrity of our brands first by monitoring, managing, and in some cases, reducing our exposure to the department stores.

So, we've accomplished a lot so far in fiscal 2017. I'd like to take a moment and talk about our brands.

The highlight for me of Tommy Bahama's third quarter was their particularly strong comps at 5%. As we look forward, it is important to remember that 75% of Tommy's fourth-quarter business occurs in December and January, so we have quite a way to go. I mentioned a minute ago Tommy Bahama's marketing, which we believe is fueling their business this year. Lastly, Tommy moved away from more traditional holiday marketing and pivoted to a resort offering online and in their retail stores.

They also sent a substantial catalog, similar to the very successful Spring '17 catalog. This holiday catalog recast Tommy Bahama's tag line, Live the Island Life, to the seasonally appropriate, Give the Island Life. It includes a compelling offering of colorful resort apparel and accessories, getaway gift-shopping pages, and reminders of the wonderful food and beverage component of the Tommy Bahama lifestyle. We believe this level of innovation for the holiday season will differentiate Tommy Bahama and entice our guests.

Lully Pulitzer's third-quarter results, as in the past, are dominated by the impact of their semi-annual flash clearance sale. This year, in just three days, Lilly fans purchased over $24 million of merchandise, at a very solid gross margin. But this year the flash sale also seemed to represent an inflection point for the Lilly business. Since the flash sale, Lilly's full-price business has moved back into positive comp territory, and the momentum continues.

Lilly continues to energize their customers with fantastic marketing initiatives. After a successful collaboration with Starbucks and S'well water bottles this spring, Lilly rolled out limited additional S'well bottles on December 1st, with three classic Lilly prints chosen earlier this year by Lilly customers. These bottles were sold out on the website in less than 30 minutes and flew off the shelves in our stores, reminding us once again how enthusiastic the Lilly customer is about this brand.

The holiday season is also full of fun products such as new Luxletic items, pretty holiday dresses, compelling gifts with purchase, and a rich assortment of giftable items at accessible price points. All in all, we believe Lilly will deliver very strong fourth quarter results.

Both Southern Tide and Lanier Apparel had a very nice quarter as well, with each generating year-over-year improvements in sales, gross margin, and operating margin. We are particularly proud that all four of our operating groups had solid improvements in their adjusted third-quarter results.

In closing, we are seeing a marketplace that, while improving, remains very competitive and promotional. Oxford's portfolio-differentiated authentic brands like Tommy Bahama and Lilly Pulitzer represent lifestyles and a culture that consumers want to be a part of. Whether it is Tommy's call to Live the Island Life or Lilly's Palm Beach resort chic, we give the consumer the reason she needs to look beyond price and discover unique products that remind her of happy times and happy places. We are confident that our businesses powered by talented teams have tremendous opportunity for future growth.

With that, I'll now turn the call over to K. Scott Grassmyer.

K. Scott Grassmyer -- Chief Financial Officer, Executive VP & Controller

Thanks, Tom. I'd like to walk you through our consolidated results, some additional details for operating group, and our guidance for the full year. Please refer to our press release issued earlier today for additional information.

As Tom mentioned, we're very pleased with our third quarter results. Consolidated net sales increased 6% to $236 million. On an adjusted basis, consolidated gross margin expanded 60 basis points to 53.7%, and adjusted EPS went from a loss last year of $0.07 per share to earnings of $0.17 per share, with improvements in all operating groups in the quarter.

We have estimated that we lost approximately $2 million of sales and $0.05 in earnings per share due to the interruptions caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. However, we also recognize some tax benefits in the quarter, which basically offset the EPS impact of the hurricanes.

Once again, Tommy Bahama had a very good quarter. While sales were down a bit in the quarter, this was due to not anniversarying eCommerce flash sales from last year. Importantly, we saw nice sales increases in our full-price direct consumer businesses, driven by the third quarter in a row of mid-single digit comp increases.

There was solid improvement in Tommy Bahama's operating results in the quarter. For the year, we still expect Tommy to grow the top line in the mid-single digits and expand operating margin by over 100 basis points.

Lilly Pulitzer sales increased 13%, driven by their very successful end of season semi-annual flash sale. Not only is this a great brand-appropriate way to clear end-of-season merchandise, it also delivers a very healthy gross margin. For the year, we expect Lilly's sales to increase in the mid-single digits and adjusted operating margins to remain very healthy, at around 20%.

Sales at Lanier Apparel increased 23% in the third quarter, and operating margin expanded 250 basis points. Much of this improvement was due to a shift in timing. For the year, we expect mid-single digit comp line growth and an operating margin in the mid-single digits.

Southern Tide had a good year-over-year improvement on both the top and bottom lines in the quarter. Sales increased 6%, and gross margin expansion drove a 400-basis-points improvement in adjusted operating margin. Southern Tide, in its first full year of operations with Oxford, is on track to deliver revenue of approximately $40 million and an adjusted operating margin in the low double digits.

Our balance sheet remains strong. We continue to reduce inventory balances with a 7% year-over-year reduction at the end of the third quarter. We believe inventory levels in each of our operating groups are appropriate for planned sales. We continue to generate strong cash flow from operations, we continue to invest in our brands, and pay a dividend. In the last 12 months, we've generated $131 million of cash flow from operations and reduced debt by $70 million.

We ended the quarter with $72 million of borrowings and $205 million of unused available -- of unused availability under our revolving credit facility, and we are well positioned to support our growth initiatives.

I'll now walk you through our outlook for the year. For the full fiscal 2017 year, adjusted earnings per share are expected to grow to between $3.55 and $3.70, compared to $3.30 per share last year. We expect net sales to grow between $1.08 billion to $1.09 billion, compared to net sales of $1.023 billion last year.

Our effective tax rate for fiscal 2017 is expected to be approximately 37%, comparable to the fiscal 2016 rate, and the interest expense for the full year is estimated to be approximately $3 million.

Capital Expenditures in fiscal 2017, including $26.4 million in the first nine months of fiscal 2017, are expended to be approximately $40 million. This is lower than our earlier projections, as some of our projects have moved out to 2018.

Our investments are primarily in information technology initiatives, new retail stores and restaurants, and investments to remodel and relocate existing retail stores.

Finally, our board of directors has approved a cash dividend of $0.27 per share, payable on February 2nd, 2018. We've paid dividends every quarter since we became publicly owned in 1960.

And Shannon, we are now ready for questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question, please signal by pressing *1 on your telephone keypad. Please make sure that your mute function is turned off to allow your signal to reach our equipment. Once again, *1 will place you in the queue. We'll pause for just a moment.

We first go to Corinna Van der Ghinst with Citi.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Hi Cori.

Corinna Van der Ghinst -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Hi, good afternoon Tom, Scott, and hope you guys are doing well. I was just hoping we could start with Lilly. It sounds like you're seeing some really nice improvement in the full-priced business in comps there. I know that the compares were a little bit tougher this quarter, but I just wanted to clarify with the positive quarter-to-date comps. Does your guidance assume or return positive comps for Lilly in the fourth quarter?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, it does. And so, what happened in the third quarter, Cori, is really that once we got past the flash sale, which was very successful, the momentum that we had there really continued in our full-price business. So, August comps in Lilly were not positive, but then September, October, and since then have been really pretty good. We've been very happy with what we've seen there. And I think there are some things that account for that. They very specifically have done some things to try to create more excitement and more buzz in the brand, and have sort of sprinkled those in on a fairly regular basis to try to keep that excitement and momentum going. And it's been working nicely for them, which is good to see.

Corinna Van der Ghinst -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Okay great, and yeah, just to that point, I mean, I know we've been talking all year about some of the changes that needed to be made at Lilly with the opening price point items being reintroduced as holiday. Is that kind of part of what's driving the momentum, and are you guys doing anything else kinda differently with regards to marketing or in the assortment for holiday resort?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I think if you look at holiday assortment, there are a plethora of things that are available there under $100.00, which make great gifting items, and I think those are important. The S'well bottles themselves were an example of that. At under $50.00, we've got a lot of great jewelry items. Some of them are more than $50.00, but there are a lot that are sorta in that $38.00 range. I think the lowest price item we have is an $8.00 embroidered patch, which, as you know, is very on-trend fashion-wise. And for a patch, that's sort of a premium-priced patch, but it's still a great entry point for maybe a young person looking for a gift item to give to their friend.

So, we feel great about the product and the assortment we've got. And then the holiday assortment not only has gift items but of course things like special occasion dresses, where we think we've got a terrific assortment that's really addressing the needs of our customer there in a great way, and we supported that with a mailer that basically is all about occasion dressing during the holiday season. And then we've got other marketing initiatives that we've done through the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, all of which are combining to help drive the business.

Corinna Van der Ghinst -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Okay great, and then lastly, the Q3 gross margin expansion looked better than expected, even though you had the bigger flash sales and also the Tommy friends and family moving into the quarter. Are you still expecting the Q4 gross margin expansion to be significantly greater [00:22:04] due off last year's price down on inventories, and is there anything else that we should be thinking about in that line item as we go into fourth quarter?

K. Scott Grassmyer -- Chief Financial Officer, Executive VP & Controller

Yeah, we do expect fourth quarter to have nice expansion of fourth quarter. And the other thing in the third quarter, Tommy did not do their flash sales that they had done the previous year, so that also had some positive year-over impact. But we do expect solid improvement in gross margins in Q4 still.

Corinna Van der Ghinst -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Great, thank you, and happy holidays.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

You too.

Operator

Next question comes from Ed Yruma with Keybanc.

Edward Yruma -- Keybanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Hi, good evening guys, thanks for taking my question. I guess first, nice to see kind of continued momentum within the Tommy Bahama business. I was wondering if you could click down a little bit on some of the drivers of strength. Are there particular categories? Is it women? And then I guess as it relates to that, I know you've used the Flipside Promo fairly consistently for the past couple years. In light of the current strength, should we expect that type of promo to continue?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, so starting with the promo, the answer is yes, we are doing -- will be doing the Flipside. We think it is a great sort of less brand -- or more brand-friendly way to engage the consumer and give them a little reward for spending more money with us, hopefully getting some incremental dollars out of them, and we definitely believe that it works and it's effective. So, we will be doing that.

Then with regard to product and what's been driving the business, first of all, I do think there's a marketing element to it going back to the Live the Island Life book that we did in the spring. I think we've continued to kinda play off that, and now we're gonna reinvigorate that with the Give the Island Life book that's hitting homes right now, as we speak. Some of them are already in homes, and the rest of them will be filtering in this week, but we think that's part of it. But then on the product side, there are some great successes that we've had this year. Women's has actually been -- has been strong for us; it's been a success this year that has been driven particularly by swim, which has always been a strength for us in women's, but we've just had a fantastic year in women's swim. And then we've expanded that offering by adding some activewear-type pieces within our swim world that we're very excited about and that we think the guest is very excited about.

Another big plus has been big and tall. We believe we serve the big and tall guest better than any other brand out there. For us, that's an online and wholesale business. It's a really nice business. We're, I think, serving the needs of an important part of the guest population, and we're being rewarded for it.

And then the last thing I would point to but not least at all is the Boracay pant, which I believe, Ed, we convinced you to buy a couple of pears of maybe when we saw you out in Las Vegas. But the Boracay pant has been a -- was a great success for us online earlier in the year, and now is in stores in the wholesale accounts, and it's really, really working well. Our people are excited about it, the guests are excited about it, I'm very excited about it, and I know Doug Wood, CEO of Tommy is excited about it. I think it represents our opportunity to have a go-to pant in Tommy Bahama in a way that we really haven't had in a number of years. We've had nice men's pants in Tommy, but we haven't had that go-to kinda pant, and we think the Boracay can be and is that pant, which is exciting to see.

Edward Yruma -- Keybanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Got it. No, it is a great pair of pants. I guess just a quick housekeeping question, could you give us a little bit more understanding on the nature of the tax settlement, and then I guess, did you have any excess inventory that arose from store closures surrounding the hurricane or any other expenses that we should expect that could fall into the fourth quarter?

K. Scott Grassmyer -- Chief Financial Officer, Executive VP & Controller

On the inventory, no. I mean, we -- the hurricane was -- we lost some sales from it, but there was very little long-term interruption in the stores and no inventory issues related to that. On the tax, though, we recognize about $800,000.00 of tax benefits, and it was a few different things: We had some -- drew up with some Southern Tide returns that -- pre-acquisition that made -- that we got a benefit from. We also had an R&D credit related to some software expenditures, and then we also had one other offshore settlement that went favorably.

So, it was a few different items that hit in the quarter, and they are roughly a nickel a share. And the hurricane impact was roughly a nickel a share, so they just happened to be pretty close to offsetting each other.

Edward Yruma -- Keybanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Great, thanks so much.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Ed.

Operator

Next question comes from Rick Patel with Needham.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Hi Rick.

Rick B. Patel -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

Hey, good afternoon, and congrats on the nice quarter.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Rick B. Patel -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

I had a question on department store exposure. So, that's 16% of sales, and comps, to your point, there's a lot of changes going on to that side of the market. Are you satisfied with this level of penetration, or do you think it's likely to continue to be deemphasized as we think about the next year, and are there any callouts by brand, as we think about changes to that exposure?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

No specific callouts by brand at this point, but I think with department stores, look, we're pulling for them. They're good people, we have a lot of friends there, it's good business for us, and we like the margin contribution and the customer acquisition that we can get from it. But all that said, as you know, they are -- a lot of them are really struggling to sorta redefine the role and relevance in the marketplace these days, and we -- our way of looking at it is that we wanted to do business where we can be mutually successful: so, it's good for us, and good for them. And where it's not -- doesn't fall into that category, then we're gonna back away from it.

And what I think that means is that the department store business is probably flat at best and more likely continues to decline gradually. I don't see anything catastrophic happening in the foreseeable future, but I do think that there's a reasonably good chance that it'll continue to gradually decline.

Rick B. Patel -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

And I know there's still a lot of unknowns out there as it relates to where our tax code is going, but any preliminary thoughts on the potential changes that are being floated by our government? Perhaps how much your tax rate could be impacted by this or any updated thoughts on potentially repatriating cash that you might have in some of your overseas subsidiaries.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, so I'll make a general comment first. We do think that what is on the table at the moment on the corporate side will be beneficial for the economy, and over the longer term, that'll be good for all of us, we believe. And then as to the specifics of how it will impact us directly in terms of taxes paid, I'll let Scott comment on that.

K. Scott Grassmyer -- Chief Financial Officer, Executive VP & Controller

Yeah, our rate will obviously go down materially. And I'm not gonna try to estimate an exact number right now, as there're a lot of moving pieces. Also, the transition piece of offshore earnings, we don't think that's gonna be a major negative to us, where some companies might be in situations where that's a little bit more of a negative. So, we think it's gonna be overwhelmingly positive, and we're still wrestling through some of the details of it, but we think it's going to be overwhelmingly positive and have a significant -- favorable impact to our rate going forward.

Rick B. Patel -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

Great, and if I could just squeeze in a quick housekeeping one, and I apologize if I missed this, but could you remind us of what the impact will be of your 53rd week to sales margins and earnings and any lumpiness that we should be keeping in mind in terms of timing shifts on the wholesale side?

K. Scott Grassmyer -- Chief Financial Officer, Executive VP & Controller

On top line, it could be close to $20 million in sales, but it's not gonna have a big bottom-line impact, as we allocate expenses on a weekly basis. So, that 53rd week, that month will get five weeks' worth of rent, five weeks' worth of other major expenses, whereas some companies might handle that a little differently. So, we think it'll be pretty minor on the bottom line but will also have top line impact. Obviously, that week is a week where you're right into initial spring shipments, and the last week of our year is always the week of, did they take it? Get in the last week, where they take them in the first week of the next year, where hopefully we'll -- we're projecting to get a little bit more in that last week or last month of the year due to the extra week. But on the bottom line, it's not gonna be a major impact.

Rick B. Patel -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

Great. Best of luck this holiday.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Rick.

Operator

Next question comes from Pamela Quintiliano with SunTrust.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Hi Pam.

Pamela Quintiliano -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

Hi guys, and congrats on the quarter.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Pamela Quintiliano -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

So, Tommy, can you just talk about performance of the Coconut Point Marlin Bar and any plans to open more of those? And could you also just provide an update on what's going on with Hawaii and Asia and how performance has been there?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, so on the Tommy Bahama Coconut Bar, it continues to perform extremely well. It has exceeded our expectations, and we're very pleased with it and excited by it, both in terms of what the food and beverage side has done and then the improvement -- and that was already a great store for us -- but the improvement it's driven in that store. So, we're very excited about it. Landlords share our excitement for the Marlin Bar concept. The minor challenge is just that if you've seen at least pictures of it, it's a configuration that doesn't fit within the sorta standard configuration of life -- typical lifestyle center or mall. And so, it's really working with the landlords to figure out where that fits in their venues and what the lease deal looks like. But we think we'll get there. Don't have anything to announce yet on that front, but we do think that we will have opportunities to open additional Marlin Bar concept stores and restaurants.

On the Asia business, I think we're tracking -- right on track to achieve our plan for the year. Nothing's really changed there, Pam. As you know, for the last several years, we've focused on chopping away at the loss and reducing it significantly every year, and we will do that again this year, then growing Australia, which is a good business for us. And then in the Japanese market, really looking for a solution that allows us to maintain a presence there while getting out of the ongoing operating losses. And as soon as we know anything more on that, we will report it.

And then your last question was... Hawaii. Hawaii is great. Hawaii is on fire right now. Business is good for us there, the tourism business is up, we were talking with Doug earlier today, and there are lots of great stats on -- you know, average air ticket prices have increased a lot, which is great because it means there's a lot of demand. Hotel bookings are full. We're seeing it in our restaurants and stores there, so we're happy with what we're seeing in Hawaii.

Pamela Quintiliano -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

That's great. And then just one other question, Tommy. With the current environment in the mall and how well your restaurant retail locations do, I know you've always been considered a desirable tenant, but are you having more landlords knocking on your door? And how are the concessions that you're getting?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I think that we're definitely a highly desirable tenant, and I think, again, as I mentioned a minute ago, this Marlin Bar concept is very, very enticing for landlords, and they all want a piece of that action. It's really just working through with them and figuring out what the right locations need to look like and what the rent deals need to look like. And again, we feel pretty confident that we will have opportunities to do more Marlin Bars and that they will be successful. We just don't have anything to announce quite yet.

Pamela Quintiliano -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

How about with the traditional -- the restaurant retail locations? Is there any opportunity on that end too? I know in the past you've had some landlords come to you and offer to do the buildouts and all of that. How are you seeing that, and how do you think about the restaurant retail locations?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I think the restaurant retail concept, we had this one that opened in Plano four or five months ago that's just terrific, and I guess you were there Pam.

Pamela Quintiliano -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

Yeah, it was wonderful.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, and I mean that's the future of what retail is gonna look like. I think venues like that, that are not so much department-store-anchored but are really built around food and beverage and unique, interesting retail concepts. And we're perfect for that type of location.

Pamela Quintiliano -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

And then if I could just ask one quick question, sorry if I missed this. Store traffic for Tommy and Lilly in the quarter?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Store traffic continues to be down a bit. Our conversion rates generally are rising. And I think that that is a reflection of what's going on in the world these days, that the guest may be visiting a little less often, but when they do visit, they're probably incrementally readier to purchase than they would have been in years past. So, it's an evolving situation, but we're generating positive comps in stores, notwithstanding the fact that traffic is still drifting down. It does seem like maybe it's starting to -- the rate of decrease is starting to go down a bit. It's decreasing at a slower rate, which is good to see.

Pamela Quintiliano -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

And with the catalog coming in the mailbox, that should be a nice traffic-driver, right, because that was good for the spring for you guys.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, and we definitely saw that in spring with the book that I know you've seen, and you've heard those stories about guests coming in with the page that has the layouts of sorta how to pack for your weekend getaway, and they come in, and they say, "I want this," meaning all of it. We love seeing that kinda stuff, and we think we're gonna get a similar reaction with this Give the Island Life book, which obviously takes a slightly more holiday spin to it, with some gifting ideas in there as well as getaway ideas.

And I mentioned it before, but I think it's worth reiterating that as of I guess last week, really, we have pivoted to resort in our assortment and what we're offering, and what we've realized is that for Tommy Bahama, really playing to what they're gonna be doing and where they're gonna be going after the holiday is really a competitive advantage for us and a way that we can be differentiated in the marketplace and really stand out and shine by serving a very real need of customer population.

Pamela Quintiliano -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

Well, thanks for all the detail. Best of luck, guys.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Sure, thanks a lot.

Operator

Next question comes from Andrew Burns with D.A. Davidson.

Andrew Burns -- D.A. Davidson Companies -- Analyst

Good afternoon, thanks for taking my question. You spent a lot of time working on improving the merchandising at the Tommy outlets, and it sounds like it's resonating. Could you give us an update on how they're performing now versus what you think they can do? Is there still a lot of runway for further productivity improvements there, and what would you need to execute on that?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I'll let Scott maybe give you a couple of directional, at least, indicators on some of the key stats, but I do think there's -- that they will continue to improve, I believe. That said, I don't think we're looking for rapid growth in the outlet world. So, as you know, Andrew, for us, outlets have always been primarily a vehicle for clearing excess inventory, which is very, very different than the majority of the outlet mall that's comprised of made-for-outlet product.

So, for us, it's different, and when we look at clearing excess inventory, what we wanna do is sorta balance protecting the integrity of the brand with maximizing the recovery on the excess inventory. So, outlets play a part in that, but there're other channels that we can use to help accomplish some of that some purpose, including doing some limited end-of-season markdowns in our own store, which gives us less to shift to other channels, and then some selective use of some of the off-price third-party guys as well. And then Scott, do you wanna give them some of the directional...

K. Scott Grassmyer -- Chief Financial Officer, Executive VP & Controller

Yeah, I think the main thing is in the gross margin. Even though outlet traffic's down, our sales are holding pretty well, maybe down a little bit on a comp basis, but our gross margins are significantly higher. We have closed three outlets, so we have fewer outlets than we did, but the ones we have are certainly performing better on a gross margin line and on a bottom line. So, we think it's -- we think we made some really good progress, and as Tom said, I think there's some more progress to be made, but we are pleased with the actions we took, and it's starting to show up in the numbers.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

And then the inventories would be up, turns would be up pretty significantly as well because we got a lot less inventory jammed into those outlets, which is good on multiple fronts.

Andrew Burns -- D.A. Davidson Companies -- Analyst

Okay, thanks for the color.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks a lot, Andrew.

Operator

And once again, as a reminder, it is *1 to be placed in the queue. At this time, we next move to Kristina Westura with Telsey Advisory Group.

Kristina Westura -- Telsey Advisory Group -- Analyst

Good afternoon, everyone. Congratulations on the quarter.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Good afternoon.

Kristina Westura -- Telsey Advisory Group -- Analyst

Just I guess two things. I was just wondering if you could provide some more color around the eCommerce performance across the businesses in the third quarter. And then in conjunction with that, Tom, I think you talked about additional investments that are going to be made, and can you elaborate more on what those might be?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, so with regard to third quarter, the comp was much stronger in eCommerce than in stores. And that's been the case throughout the year and really for -- really the last five or six years, and I think will continue to be the case in the future. So, while in stores, we're happy to have a modest comp at this point because of what's going on with traffic, we think a modestly positive comp is really a pretty good thing. And in eCom, we think we can be up there in double digits, and for the most part, we've been achieving that, so that's good.

Then the investments, the biggest thing is really around trying to maximize the visibility and usability of our inventory across the network to satisfy demand no matter where it comes from. So, if somebody comes into the 5th Avenue store in New York, right near where you are, and asks for a shirt in a size large, a particular shirt, then we want to be able to serve that demand with any -- if we got that shirt anywhere in the system, we want to be able to get it to that customer quickly and efficiently, and there's a lot that goes into that. But that's a major focus of the investments.

A second major focus is just on better planning, merchandising, and allocation. A lot of that, we're doing on a semi-manual basis at this point, largely through Excel, and we'd like to have that more automated. There're great tools out there, and we're in the process of putting those in place.

Scott, am I leaving anything out that's...?

K. Scott Grassmyer -- Chief Financial Officer, Executive VP & Controller

And then just having the ability to have multiple DCs in service with the [00:46:38] com guest quicker. You know, having DCs closer. One on the east coast, and one on the west, and we're working with that also.

Kristina Westura -- Telsey Advisory Group -- Analyst

Okay, great. And just maybe one other one, just maybe any update on Southern Tide. How is the spring order book looking?

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Spring order book's good at Southern Tide. It's a nice year-over-year increase. They made good progress this year. They're certainly not immune from some of the issues that are going on in the marketplace in general, but they, by the end of the year, will have posted nice growth, and as we go into '18, we don't wanna give too much -- get into guidance, but we do expect them to have another year of growth in '18.

And then I think one of the most positive developments in this year has been starting to ramp up the license store business within Southern Tide. So, at present, we have seven open. When we bought them two years ago, they had one. We're now up to seven. We're in a lot of discussions and have a lot of opportunities for additional license stores, and we think over the next couple years, that'll be a very valuable and good growth channel for them.

Kristina Westura -- Telsey Advisory Group -- Analyst

Terrific. Thanks so much, and happy holidays.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Okay, you too. Happy holidays, Kristina.

Operator

And with no further questions in queue, I'll turn the conference back over to Mr. Tom Chubb for closing remarks.

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you again for your time this afternoon. We very much appreciate your interest and hope you have a very happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous 2018.

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude today's conference. We thank you for your participation, and you may now disconnect.

Duration: 49 minutes

Call participants:

Anne M. Shoemaker -- Treasurer and Vice President-Capital Markets

Thomas Caldecot Chubb -- Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

K. Scott Grassmyer -- Chief Financial Officer, Executive VP & Controller

Corinna Van der Ghinst -- Citigroup -- Analyst

Edward Yruma -- Keybanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Rick B. Patel -- Needham & Co. -- Analyst

Pamela Quintiliano -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

Andrew Burns -- D.A. Davidson Companies -- Analyst

Kristina Westura -- Telsey Advisory Group -- Analyst

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