Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (BBBY) Q4 2017 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

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Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (NASDAQ: BBBY)Q4 2017 Earnings Conference CallApril 11, 2018, 5:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

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  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Welcome to the Bed Bath & Beyond fourth quarter fiscal 2017 earnings call. All participants will be in a listen-only mode until the Q&A portion of the call. Today's conference call is being recorded. A rebroadcast of the conference call will be available beginning on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time through 8 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, April 13, 2018. To access the rebroadcast, you may dial 888-843-7419 with the passcode ID of 46495820.

At this time, I would like to turn the conference over to Janet Barth, Vice President, Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Janet Barth -- Vice President of Investor Relations

Thank you and good afternoon, everyone. Joining me on our call today are Steven Temares, Bed Bath & Beyond's Chief Executive Officer and member of the Board of Directors; Gene Castagna, Chief Operating Officer; and Sue Lattmann, our Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer.

Before we begin, I'd like to remind you that this conference call may contain forward-looking statements, including statements about or references to our internal models and our long-term objectives. All such statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from what we say during the call today.

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Please refer to our most recent periodic SEC filings for more detail on these risks and uncertainties. The company undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements. Our earnings press release dated April 11, 2018, can be found in the Investor Relations section of our website at www.bedbathandbeyond.com.

Here are some highlights. Fiscal 2017 net earnings per diluted share were $3.04. Excluding the net unfavorable impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, or the "Tax Act," we would have earned $3.12. Our fourth quarter net earnings per diluted share were $1.41. Excluding the net unfavorable impact of the Tax Act, we would have earned $1.48. Net sales increased approximately 5.2% in the fourth quarter and comparable sales declined approximately 0.6%, including strong sales growth from our customer-facing digital channels and a mid-single-digit percentage decline in sales from our stores.

Our Board of Directors today declared an increase in the quarterly dividend from $0.15 to $0.16 per share, payable on July 17, 2018, to shareholders of record at the close of business on June 15, 2018.

I will now turn the call over to Steven, who will talk about the company's ongoing transformation, and then Sue will discuss our financial results in more detail, as well as provide some of our planning assumptions for Fiscal 2018.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Thank you, Janet. As we have discussed in prior calls, we have been strategically focused on reinforcing our position in the marketplace as the expert for the home and heartfelt life events. We have made and continued to make significant investments in support of this mission. While these investments have weighed heavily on our expense structure and profitability during this time, we are excited by our progress and we are focused on creating the foundation necessary to grow our leadership position in retail for the home and our customers' life stage experiences.

I'd like to take a few minutes to discuss in more detail our vision for 2020. This is our roadmap for continuing to evolve the foundational structure of our company to support our mission with the following goals: growing our comp sales, which we expect to begin this year; moderating the declines in our operating profit and net earnings per diluted share this year and next; and growing our earnings per share by 2020.

It is important to note that we ended 2017 in a very strong cash position, which we anticipate maintaining to provide us the flexibility to fund our ongoing initiatives and act upon other opportunities that may arise. During the past few years, we have been transforming our company while continuing to conduct business day in and day out. We have challenged past practices, policies, and organizational structure while taking advantage of internal and external expertise, better processes, and ever developing technology, all with the intent of better positioning ourselves to execute the strategic initiatives on our roadmap.

The next few years of our roadmap are clear, as is our destination, and can be broadly expressed in four major areas of focus. We will have a merchandise assortment that is substantively and meaningfully differentiated that could be made available on all channels and from all concepts that could be fulfilled from a common distribution network, and we will be known for whole home, represented in part by a deep presence in decorative furnishings.

We will be in a position to intelligently and dynamically price our assortment across all channels, directed by pricing specialists and driven by systems powered by machine learning. Our value proposition will be further supported by a membership program that is robust, uniquely positioned in the marketplace in terms of offerings, and treasured by its members.

We will present best-in-class services and solutions reflecting our leadership and our life-stage businesses and strengthening our customer relationships through expanded and faster delivery options, as well as a premier offering of in-home services.

And we will deliver a superior customer experience across all channels. Our frictionless digital experience that is more personalized, more inspirational, more educational, and enjoyable to use, as well as a store experience that is more engaging, that shows more with less inventory, and presents product the customer wants and needs today in a store environment, including world-class seasonal offerings, commodity and deep-value products, and a treasure-hunt experience, all supported by marketing that is both personalized and communicates our branding message.

Now let me give you some more specifics and our progress on a few of the critical projects on our roadmap for our vision for 2020. In merchandising, we, together with the assistance from expert consultants, have identified and begun implementing organizational changes to include and better align our people, processes, and technology to the work being done within our volume organization. We are restructuring our merchant organization to free up our buyers to focus more of their time on driving a meaningfully differentiated offering and while creating a best-in-class digital merchandising strategy.

As a model for our organizational structure, we have recently piloted our new decorative furnishings merchant team, which will embed our pricing, analytics, supply chain, and web experience experts to work alongside our buyers and planners to drive a more cohesive strategy for decorative furnishings across all of our channels and a number of our concepts. Also, we are in the early stages of expanding our capabilities to sustain a higher penetration of our own sourced and developed proprietary product in our assortment.

We recently established a new price sourcing office in Shanghai that should soon be in operation, which together with our sourcing office in Hong Kong provides us with the needed overseas infrastructure to pursue direct importing and sourcing at a greater level. Over time, our ability to do more direct importing and sourcing should create a significant opportunity for gross margin improvement.

We are also undergoing a comprehensive evaluation of our supply chain, enabling our ability to leverage all of our companywide assets for fulfillment to stores and to customers, including to support our growing decorative furnishings business and its unique needs, as well as to improve our reverse logistics.

In value, we have invested in our pricing teams and new tools that will enable us to execute multiple pricing strategies to address opportunities in base, competitive, and mark-down pricing, and do it at a much more focused and local level than we were able to do previously. We will be embedding pricing specialists within buying teams to accelerate the use of these new tools to further our value proposition and to drive more optimized pricing strategies.

We have been dynamically our online-only assortment and more recently, we have begun piloting dynamic pricing strategies in a limited number of stores and product categories. As we gain more experience, we plan to roll it forward, expecting impact on both volume and gross margin dollars.

To further increase our value proposition and customer loyalty, in addition to our Cost Plus World Market Explorer program, we have been expanding enrollment in our Beyond Plus membership program. With Beyond Plus, in addition to 20% off your entire purchase and free standard shipping, we are also providing additional offers throughout the year, which include features like early notification of savings events, discounts on designer services, and other cross-concept offers. We plan to continue evolving the benefits of the Beyond Plus program as we learn more about what member customers value.

We see favorable results across a variety of metrics, including frequency, sales, and overall profitability. As we continue to test and learn, we should gain better insight into the lifetime value of our member customers.

In services and solutions, we are passionate about our leadership in life-stage businesses, and we remain focused on driving unparalleled customer service and offering innovative solutions. In registry, we are developing more personalized tools to help our customers celebrate life events such as getting married, having a baby, going to college, or moving to a new home. Recent introductions include interactive checklists, associate recommendations, favorites badging, and a thank you manager tool, as well as new tools within our highly rated mobile apps, such as visual search functionality. We're also planning a major redesign of our digital registry experience to provide a much more personalized registry journey.

In addition to our market-leading registry business, we are building out a series of home-related services including interior design, installation and assembly, and more convenient fulfillment options. These advancements in our merchandising, value and services and solutions will be manifested in our customers' digital and store experiences and express through more comprehensive, personalized marketing communications on the one hand, and a more effective branding message on the other.

In our pursuit of delivering a world-class digital experience, we are undergoing a major transformation of our digital architecture in a project we call front-end optimization or FEO. In short, we're replatforming a large portion of our digital commerce solution into a service-based architecture with a responsive design. FEO should significantly increase the speed in which we can develop and release many types of new features, and cut down on the time and costs for developing them. We're targeting completion of FEO by this fall.

As part of this transformation, we're migrating our e-commerce systems and applications to the cloud. We're also establishing a dedicated offshore technology office in India, just outside of New Delhi, to enhance the delivery of cost-effective support for this new architecture, as well as other strategic projects and capabilities. The digital experience we are creating will be more engaging, more inspiring, and give us the capability to deliver more personalized content intended to convey our expertise of the home and heartfelt life events.

Fulfillment is also a critical component of the digital experience. Our goal is to be able to consistently execute on a delivery promise of click-to-home within two days. We have plans to open an additional fulfillment facility which, when fully operational, should improve our direct-to-customer delivery speed. We also have plans to continue to leverage our existing fulfillment facilities and our store network to expand our same-day delivery service from 10 markets a day up to another 10 to 14 markets during 2018.

In driving a better in-store experience, our vision is to deliver the best of the best of what we can offer in our stores and leverage our unique skills and assets to enhance the customer experience. Under the leadership of our store and merchant organizations, we have been transforming our store operating model and delivering operational efficiencies to allow us to more effectively utilize our resources and free up our people to be more available to take care of our customers, especially as we advance into growing new areas such as decorative furnishings.

Over the next 6 to 12 months, we are implementing a number of new systems, including our new POS system and other technology tools to support associate selling and training programs and further optimize store labor hours. In addition, we've launched a series of inventory initiatives during Fiscal 2017, including what we call "Show More, Carry Less," "SKU space reduction," and "SKU rationalization," as well as "assisted store ordering."

As many of you know, in our Bed Bath & Beyond stores, our store managers reorder up to 70% of the merchandise available in store. We continue to believe that empowering our local store managers with ordering decisions uniquely enables us to manage our assortment and satisfy local demand. Our assisted store ordering initiative optimizes our store inventory levels by utilizing advanced analytics and algorithms to more accurately project our inventory needs to support the evolving in-store experience. These and other inventory optimization strategies favorably impacted our retail inventories in Fiscal 2017 by approximately $170 million at cost.

We continue to focus on inventory optimization strategies and project that these initiatives should yield further inventory reductions for slightly more than $150 million at cost this year. By early this summer, we will begin to introduce our expanded decorative furnishings assortment in about 10% of our Bed Bath & Beyond stores in the U.S. and Canada. The goal of this pilot includes raising awareness of our growing furniture business. Our associates will be supported with technology tools and training that should enable them to help customers find more beyond the store, as well as place orders through the Beyond store for home delivery.

In parallel with incorporating our decorative furnishings pilot, we are also moving forward with and excited by our new store format initiative for Bed Bath & Beyond. This initiative leverages some of the best merchandise categories across our concepts, including Cost Plus World Market, andThat!, and Harmon Face Values, while featuring expanded seasonal assortments, commodity products, a treasure-hunt experience, and more deep value opportunities throughout the store. This will produce a notably shopping experience that is expected to drive increased store traffic and sales in these new product offerings and our core categories.

We have recently opened our first reformatted store and have plans to open three additional stores over the next two months, with another eight stores to be reformatted by the end of our second quarter. This includes a combination of relocated and renovated stores. We're excited by this initiative and plan to learn from each of these early openings so as to quickly iterate for future openings, as well as potentially rolling back into existing stores.

As we recreate the foundational structure of our company over the next several years, our stores remain a critical part of the equation to achieving our growth objectives and we remain focused on optimizing our real estate portfolio, including the potential closing of stores and/or the sale of real estate assets.

We have just under 400 stores across our retail fleet that come up for renewal at the natural lease expiration over the next two years, of which we expect to permanently close 40 stores this year unless we are able to negotiate more favorable lease terms with our landlords. These closures are primarily under the Bed Bath & Beyond banner. Meanwhile, we have plans to open approximately 20 new stores during Fiscal 2018, primarily buybuy BABY and Cost Plus World Markets.

Finally, as I just described, we continue making investments to evolve and improve existing store formats by strengthening our offerings, enhancing our omnichannel services, integrating technology tools, and creating a more experiential shopping environment in our stores.

Finally, critical to communicating who we are and how we can serve our customers both in-store and online is our marketing. Our vision is to deliver personalized marketing communications, meaning driving higher relevance, cross-channel communications, and experiences to our customers that are informed in real time by an ever-increasing level of information about them. In addition, we are making significant investments to further develop our integrated technology tools, including a personalization decision engine, a density management, infrastructure, and a customer data platform, among others, to leverage our best-in-class customer data, as well as demographics and other relevant third-party data to develop and scale tailored and personalized marketing communications.

We're also continuing to optimize our traditional marketing program, including direct mail, email, and text messaging through enhanced contact strategies. At the same time, we will be building a brand awareness strategy for the company that conveys Bed Bath & Beyond as the experts and your choice for all things home. We believe the future benefits of a more comprehensive, personalized marketing strategy, together with branding that communicates our expertise for the whole home should significantly contribute to growing the lifetime value of our customers.

In summary, in every area of the company, we are reimagining the way we do business. 2017 was the year we accelerated the pace of change across our company and our vision is clear for the work to be done throughout 2018 and 2019, with the following goals: growing our comp sales, which we expect to begin this year; moderating the declines in our operating profit and net earnings per diluted share this year and next; and growing our earnings per share by 2020.

I'd like to close by taking this opportunity to welcome our newest Board member, JB Osborne, the co-founder and CEO of the brand marketing firm, Red Antler. We look forward to Jos. A. Bank's contributions to our company.

And most importantly, taking the opportunity to thank our more than 65,000 associates for their hardworking commitment to Bed Bath & Beyond as we progress on creating the foundational changes necessary to grow our leadership position in retail for the home and our customers' life-stage experiences.

I'll now turn the call over to Sue, who will discuss our financial results and review some of our planning assumptions for Fiscal 2018.

Sue Lattmann -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

Thank you, Steven, and good afternoon, everyone. As a reminder, Fiscal 2017 was a 53-week year and as much, the fourth quarter consisted of 14 weeks versus 13 weeks in Fiscal 2016. Net sales in the fourth quarter were approximately $3.7 billion, an increase of approximately 5.2% over last year, primarily due to increases from the 53rd week and non-comp sales, including new stores and linen holdings, partially offset by a decrease in comp sales. Our fourth quarter comp sales declined 0.6%, and are based on the 14 weeks of the current-year period.

Comp sales in the quarter reflected a decrease in the number of transactions in stores, partially offset by an increase in the average transaction amount. On a directional basis, comp sales from our customer-facing digital channels continued to be strong in the quarter, while comp sales from our stores declined in the mid-single-digit percentage range.

Gross margin for the quarter was approximately 35.9% of net sales, as compared to approximately 38% in the fourth quarter of last year. In order of magnitude, this decrease as a percentage of net sales was primarily due to an increase in coupon expense, resulting from increases in redemptions and the average coupon amounts, a decrease in merchandise margin, and an increase in net-direct-to-customer shipping expense.

SG&A for the quarter was approximately 26.8% of net sales, as compared to approximately 25.8% in the prior year period. In order of magnitude, this increase in SG&A as a percentage of net sales was primarily due to increases in payroll and payroll-related expenses, occupancy expenses, technology-related expenses, including related depreciation, and advertising expenses.

Our effective tax rate in the fourth quarter was approximately 39.5%, which included a net increase of approximately 3.3% resulting from the Tax Act. Additionally, our fourth quarter effective rate included approximately 1.3% of favorable net after-tax benefits due to distinct events occurring during the quarter. In the prior year period, our effective rate was approximately 35%, which included 2.2% of favorable net after-tax benefits due to distinct events occurring in that quarter.

Net earnings per diluted share were $1.41 for the fourth quarter. Based on our conclusions, which include many assumptions, we estimate the benefit from the extra week was about $0.05 per diluted share. Excluding the net unfavorable impact of the Tax Act, we would have earned $1.48 per share. For Fiscal 2017, our net earnings per diluted share were $3.04. Excluding the net unfavorable impact of the Tax Act, we would have earned $3.12 per share, which is a bit higher than our model indicated going into the quarter.

Now looking to our balance sheet. We ended the year with approximately $744 million in cash and investment securities, an increase of $166 million over the prior year, which is primarily the result of reductions in share repurchases and merchandise inventories, partially offset by the prepayment of certain operating expenses related to the Tax Act. Retail inventories of $2.7 billion at cost continue to be tailored to meet the anticipated demands of our customers and are in good condition. This represents a reduction of about 6%, compared to the end of Fiscal 2016.

As Steven mentioned earlier, we have been and remain focused on inventory optimization strategies. Capital expenditures for the year were approximately $376 million, in line with our modeling assumptions. For the year, approximately 50% of the CapEx spend related to technology projects, including investments in our digital capabilities and the development and deployment of new systems and equipment in our stores.

The remaining CapEx was primarily related to investments in our stores, a new distribution facility, and a new customer contact center. We opened a total of 22 stores during Fiscal 2017, including 2 during the fourth quarter, and we closed a total of 16 stores during the year, including 8 this past quarter.

Share repurchases under our current $2.5 billion share repurchase program were approximately $45 million in the quarter, representing about 2 million shares, and has a remaining balance of approximately $1.5 billion at the end of the fiscal year. In addition, our Board of Directors today declared a $0.01 increase in the quarterly dividend to $0.16 per share from $0.15 share, to be paid on July 17, 2018, to shareholders of record as of June 15, 2018.

Now I would like to discuss our outlook for 2018, starting with some of our macro assumptions. First, Fiscal 2018 is a 52-week year and since Fiscal 2017 was a 53-week year, we are not going to benefit from the estimated $0.05 we earned attributable to that week. Also, this fiscal calendar change will have a more pronounced shift of sales and expenses from the fourth quarter to the third quarter.

Second, we are adopting a new revenue recognition accounting standard in the first quarter of 2018. While we do not accept the option of this standard to have a material impact on our full-year results, we do anticipate an earnings shift within the year from the third quarter to the fourth quarter.

Moving on to our major planning assumptions for 2018, which include comparable sales growth in the low single-digit percentage range, including continued strong growth in our customer-facing digital channels; consolidated net sales to be relatively flat to slightly positive, compared to 2017, which had 53 weeks; gross margin deleverage, primarily due to our continued investment in our customer value proposition and the ongoing shift to our digital channels; SG&A deleverage, primarily due to the investments we are making to transform the company; operating margin deleverage to be less than we experienced in 2017; depreciation expense in the range of approximately $315 to $325 million; net interest expense of approximately $75 million for the year; an estimated full-year tax rate in the 26% to 27% range; capital expenditures in the range of approximately $375 to $425 million, subject to the timing and composition of projects; the opening of approximately 20 new stores with the majority being buybuy BABY and Cost Plus World Market stores; the closing of approximately 40 stores unless we are able to negotiate more favorable lease terms with our landlords, and as Steven mentioned, these closures are primarily Bed Bath & Beyond stores; continued growth of our cash and investments, even after funding our operations and capital expenditures, as well as our quarterly dividends and share repurchases.

As a reminder, our share repurchase program may be influenced by several factors, including business and market conditions. Based on these and other planning assumptions, we are modeling net earnings per diluted share to be in the low-to-mid $2.00 range. As I mentioned earlier, when comparing to the prior year, our estimated 2018 quarterly EPS as a percent to the total year is anticipated to be lighter in the third quarter and stronger in the fourth quarter, due to the adoption of the new accounting standard. This is despite the shift of one holiday week from the fourth quarter into the third quarter and the loss of the 53rd week.

As Steven said earlier, the next few years of our roadmap are clear, as well as our goals: growing our comp sales, which we expect to begin this year; moderating the declines in our operating profit and net earnings per diluted share this year and next; and growing our EPS by 2020.

We are making heavy investments in people, practices, and technology as we continue the transformational work necessary to accomplish our goals. We look forward to giving you updates as the year progresses.

Before opening the call to questions, please note that our next quarterly conference call will take place on Wednesday, June 27. At that time, we will review our first quarter results and provide an update on Fiscal 2018. We can now open the call to questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you have a question, please press *1 on your telephone keypad. If you would like to be removed from the queue, please press the # sign or the # key. If you're on a speakerphone, please pick up your handset first before dialing the numbers. Once again, if you have a question, please press *1 on your telephone keypad.

From Citi Research, we have Kate McShane. Please go ahead.

Kate McShane -- Citigroup Global Markets -- Analyst

Hi, thank you for taking my question. The first question is just on the comp guidance for the year. I'm just curious what's giving you the confidence that we'll see a return to positive comp growth, how that cadence will look throughout the year, and what are the main drivers in the inflection?

Sue Lattmann -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

Hi, Kate. It's Sue. We've been hovering around a relatively flat comp for the past couple quarters. Also, in terms of the economy, we feel as though it's positive, and then also the initiatives that we just discussed give us the confidence in that comp model we provided for the year.

Kate McShane -- Citigroup Global Markets -- Analyst

Okay, but a lot of the initiatives seem like it might take some time. What initiatives specifically are going to be more nearer-term or you see having a more nearer-term effect versus some of the other initiatives?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Hi, Kate. It's Steve. I think that there's a lot of things that you're right, that a lot of them are smaller to begin with and they'll be growing. But when you have the composite of things like the personalization in our marketing that's getting under way, the furnishings décor business that we're growing -- these are positive signs that we're seeing of the new Bed Bath format, the andThat! Store, the benefits we'll be deriving in the BABY business.

Some of the changes we're making in our registry college mover parts of the business are going to be beneficial to our top line. So there's a lot of little things that are under way and we'll see benefits from them, much larger benefits as we go forward. But because there's so many of them that are taking place, even the smaller benefits combined gives us confidence that we will have positive comps.

Operator

Thank you. From Bank of America Merrill Lynch, we have Curtis Nagle. Please go ahead.

Curtis Nagle -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Great, thanks very much for taking the question. Just a quick one on SG&A. Could you guys just be a little more specific on how you guys are investing SG&A dollars this year? What proportion do you think will go to digital, wages, store, and merchandising initiatives?

Sue Lattmann -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

Sure. We do have initiatives that will be impacting our SG&A. We're investing in talented people. We continue to invest in the web. We've had some of the discussions today, whether it's FEO or other areas like that. We also have continued investment in our people, as well as continued wage pressures that we've been discussing in the past as well.

Curtis Nagle -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Just as a quick follow-up, would you, in terms of the rate, continue to expect more pressure from SG&A or from gross margin?

Sue Lattmann -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

Well, we did model out that we felt as though the operating margin would deleverage less than last year, so that's one impact of information to provide.

Curtis Nagle -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Okay. Maybe just one other quick question if I can. As you mentioned, inventory, I think, we down about 6%. How much of that was due to early efforts on inventory optimization?

Sue Lattmann -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

A portion of it certainly was. Our initiatives including SKU reoptions, as well as space reduction initiatives as well.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Yeah, I guess you said and as we just said, there's a number of things, including it's just store ordering that's impacting inventory levels and as Sue said, SKU rationalization, SKU space optimization initiative, we're looking at the e-commerce inventory and doing a better job of planning there as well. Overall, I think the number is $170 million this past year and I think we're projecting $150 million in costs going forward. Again, as we continue to do things like show more, to carry less back stock, and fewer accessories to support it, as there continue to be additional opportunities to optimize our inventory.

Operator

Thank you. From Barclays, we have Matt McClintock. Please go ahead.

Matt McClintock -- Barclays -- Analyst

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for taking my question. Steven, you said something in your prepared remarks that caught me -- not by surprise, but just took my attention. That was talking about having a meaningfully differentiated assortment. Those three words, as I think about them, it's something that I think the whole retail industry struggles with today because in an e-commerce world, it seems like a difficult thing to accomplish when there's access to inventory at all times, 24 hours a day, around the world. Can you talk a little bit more about how to create the meaningfully differentiated assortment in today's omnichannel world? Thank you.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Sure, Matt. Listen, we were very successful when it comes to concepts like andThat! and Cost Plus World Market. A significant portion of those inventories are differentiated and we would say meaningfully differentiated in the customers' minds. As you get to One King's Lane, what we're doing with Ralph Lauren and having unique product, it's another avenue for us. But as we look at product development, as we look at being able to direct source, these are opportunities for us. A lot of the vendors that we have today, or a number of the vendors that we work with to take what they're doing and to either tweak it or to have lead time when they bring things to market, when we talk about what we're doing with personalization mall, the opportunity to personalize the assortment, it's a type of differentiation as well.

So, there's many different ways to attack it but there are many different ways. We see it as a significant opportunity and it's been growing for us. It's critically important, if we're going to be viewed as the expert and trusted as the expert for the home, that people think of us first for things that they can't find elsewhere. We've always said it, we take great pride in our merchandising capabilities in the history of merchants that we are. This is a significant focus for us.

Matt McClintock -- Barclays -- Analyst

If could ask one more follow-up on the new store format, you've opened one. You have a couple more planned. I know it's really early, but can you just talk through what you've learned, what you've seen, and what makes you so excited about that initiative?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Sure. The big picture would be that we know today through broadband in the store and the technology tools that we can provide our associates, that we could sell more and carry less inventory, so we could effectively shrink the core assortment of Bed Bath & Beyond in a box and be able to bring more into the store and not impact the sales of the core categories. Then what we could bring into the store are the things that really customers are looking for today to a great extent, are successful within our own concepts.

That are things like decorative furnishings, treasure hunt, things that come in and might not be there tomorrow. Things that we could do in our seasonal department, commodity product like food and beverage, health and beauty care. Deep value. These are things that we can do, that we have under our umbrella, that we're able to bring into the new format to drive additional foot traffic and then also show them our core assortment in less space, but to be able to have our associates be able to help those customers more one-on-one with the tools they have to be able to satisfy them to a greater degree and sell more of the core product as well, is an exciting thing for us.

Like you said, it's very early. In terms of executing it at the store level, we have one that opened, one that's opening, another dozen that will be opening, I guess, between now and the summertime at some point. Each one is going be iterating significantly. The first ones that are opened really don't have the assortment that we're looking for because the lead time it takes to bring some of that product into the format. We don't have the adjacencies the way we would want them. We don't have the lighting or the flooring the way we would like them. But the initial reaction has been a wow. Initial reaction is that everything that we had thought that we'd be able to accomplish, we see directionally that those are all reasonable assumptions and so we're very excited about moving. How quickly we move is dependent upon the level of success that we see as we iterate.

Operator

Once again, if you have a question, please press *1 on your telephone keypad. From UBS, we have Michael Lasser. Please go ahead.

Michael Lasser -- UBS -- Analyst

Good evening, thanks a lot for taking my question. Your line of strategy seems like a lot of the elements of the strategy are similar to what you've been doing this far. What do you think is going to be different to drive that elusive combination of positive comps and stabilizing profitability that you expect over the next couple of years? Then I have one follow-up question.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Sure. I'm not sure -- I wouldn't want you to waste your follow-up if I misunderstood your original question. But the way I take your original question was that as you move more to the digital world, you're assuming that it's less profitable, so why are you comfortable that you'll do better? Is that [Crosstalk].

Michael Lasser -- UBS -- Analyst

I think that's a very fair piece of it. It's not only that, but also what are you doing different in store that you haven't done up until this point to drive a different outcome? But certainly, if you could comment on how you stabilize your profitability in light of the fact that your e-commerce business, which is less profitable, is becoming a bigger piece of the total?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Let's start there. We have spent the last few years driving the digital experience in terms of getting customers to understand us as a digital choice for them. In the world we compete, that's necessary to introduce customers to us as a digital choice. We've been doing that to some degree at the expense of profitability. Today, we've been growing that business well in excess of 20% for the last 15 quarters or thereabouts.

Today, when we look at the ability to pull on the number of levers that we've created to improve profitability, there are many. So, when we look at where merchandise is located for deliver to customer, what our supply chain looks like, the product that we carry online or how we show it to a customer, what we recommend to a customer, how coupons are used or what do we allow them to be used on, what do we do with shipping, what do we do with personalization to drive certain behavior patterns?

All those things are levers that we can now pull and to some degree, at the expense of the top line, but at this point, we're able to do that because we have the customer there. We have the deep knowledge about that customer. We have the analytic tools in place now to be able to understand and personalize that customer's experience. All that allows us, again, to turn those dials. As far as the store question, Michael, can you come again with that?

Michael Lasser -- UBS -- Analyst

Steve, you've been doing a lot of things over the last few years to try and generate some stability in the stores. It seems like focusing on the registries, focusing on services is not that dissimilar from what you've been trying. If you could answer what's different now, that would be very helpful.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Sure. Again, one thing that's obviously the B3 initiative. It's significantly and substantively different from a customer perspective. If you're going to come into the store and you're going to see treasure hunt merchandise, deep values seeded throughout the store, commodity product, you're going to see a seasonal department far better than we do today. That's significant. But obviously we're not rolling that out within the next quarter to the extent that it's having a big impact on the numbers.

But the things like we're having, I think it's almost 10% of the chain will be showing furniture for the first time. Real furniture, not utilitarian furniture, but furniture. Then when we look at the ability to show more and take things out of the bag in our bedding department, to show more within our tabletops department and carry less backstock, these are opportunities all intended to drive more foot traffic and to enhance the ability to sell more to our customer who comes into the store.

Again, we are fighting against the uphill battle that people are shopping more digitally and we're taking advantage of that, but as it relates to bricks-and-mortar, we want to optimize those shopping trips for our customer.

In addition, we are working to make our stores more efficient so that we can free up our associates to spend more time on customer service. We are rolling out the point-of-sale system to all the Bed Bath & Beyond stores this year. We're also rolling out a learning management system, a capital management system, and a workforce management system to make the stores easier to run, make it easier to get the training that they need and free them up to spend more time with the customers.

Right, which again goes, so it goes both ways. Those are also sales opportunities as we train our associates to free them up to spend more time with the customers, as well as operational efficiency opportunities.

Michael Lasser -- UBS -- Analyst

Thanks, that's helpful. My follow-up question is, your biggest competitor in the baby space has gone out of business. What have you assumed the contribution for the share gains will be in your 2018 guidance? Thank you.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

It's built into the numbers. But, you know, again, generally when you see, and we think that it's going to be beneficial for us and obviously as there continues to be contraction in retail. For the survivors, that's good. We've been through this before -- many times with the Bed Bath business. What we've learned generally when it comes to these bankruptcies is that initially, as people are liquidating inventory across the street from you or down the block and they're 70% off, that it has an impact on your business and over time it becomes more favorable.

What's unique about the baby business, which is nice, is that to some degree people aren't going to be registering at a company that they know will be defunct. So that's an immediate pickup in registry business, but the registry business with people shopping off the registry might not be as immediate. That might be days, weeks, or even months down the road.

Operator

Thank you. From Jefferies, we have Dan Binder. Please go ahead.

Dan Binder -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Hi, thanks. I'm going to add on to Michael's question there about the benefit from the baby business. It would seem like given your store overlap, you could probably pick up at a minimum 10%, if not 15% of that business, which would give you roughly a 1.5 to 2.5% comp lift at total company. I guess my question is, is your entire comp assumption based on the buybuy BABY business comping and the other pieces not?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

No, Dan, like I said, is that there's timing involved with that. First of all, they're remaining in business in Canada. Or at least we'll see what they do in Canada. The business here in the States, if you go through their stores now, they're first liquidating these stores. There's different sequences of that, but if somebody buys just about anything in that baby category that's hard goods, they're not coming back and buying something else. For a period of time, there's an impact when people file for bankruptcy and they liquidate merchandise. Again, especially if it's not commodity product. Again, you have to take a look at the timing of it. Over time, like we said, we believe that it will, like you said, a very good benefit for us. But again, there's timing involved in that.

Dan Binder -- Jefferies -- Analyst

My follow-up question was around the Beyond Plus program. Just curious if you can give us a little bit more color in terms of the rollout of that loyalty program? How many members do you have today? You've had it out there long enough, you probably can see some trends, I would think, around the economics, the frequency of shopping, etc. Is there any additional color you can give on those topics?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

I think that we just did. I think that, as we said, of course, in a variety of metrics, frequency, sales, overall profitability, each of them are trending positive. The lifetime value of the customer, of course, remains to be seen because it's too early. You have to take into account the shipping costs. There's other costs involved. To date, very good. We're not happy with where the program and what the offering is to the customer. We want it to be and it needs to be just more than a 20% off your purchase and free standard shipping. Those other additional offers that we want to give a Beyond Plus member, that are things that we're learning about what they value and what those things should be. So, again, to date, very early.

Until those things are developed, it's not like we're rushing to invite people to the party. We want it to be a very good experience because a lot of it is also dependent upon the renewals and right now we'd have to make assumptions about those renewals as well. As we're building the program, we're learning what the members want. We'll build a more comprehensive program. But again, to answer specifically to date, across all those metrics we're seeing very favorable numbers.

Operator

From Morgan Stanley, we have Simeon Gutman. Please go ahead.

Simeon Gutman -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thanks. Just a quick housekeeping before my first question. The comp for the fourth quarter, that was 14 weeks against 14 weeks?

Sue Lattmann -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

That's correct.

Simeon Gutman -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Okay. Then my first question, Steve, you've always been pretty candid that with all these investments, you're not sure where the margin of the business lands. You're now pointing to some inflection, right? Less erosion in margin and then EPS inflecting in a couple years. Do you have any better sense, given that you understand what online and fulfillment looks like and where the stores are going? Do you have a better sense where that margins eventually settles?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

I think you get better educated as we move forward. Again, we're more comfortable giving directional information. So, again, when we talk about the moderating of the decline and operating profit, that's because we're able to see. There's greater predictability. As we do dynamic pricing, we have a better idea of what other people are doing and what their bottom is. As we now take that dynamic pricing into our stores, once we start to do particular categories and we start to see what are, maybe, items that customers identify pricing with, where does gross margin dollars move as you move pricing, all those things become more visible to us as we move forward.

So, again, that gave us the comfort directionally. But again, to predict specifics at this point, we'll do what we've been doing and as each quarter passes as we get better information, we'll give better guidance as we share our models with you. But we try to, as we do have more comfort now, try to lay out the next few years for you globally.

Simeon Gutman -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

I know directionally you don't tell us what percentage of your business is registry, but I was wondering, if you can share it, how that business is trending? Is it performing in line with the company's comp? Is it performing better or worse?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Yeah, I don't think we disclose what the registry percentage of the business is. It's definitely between Bed Bath and BABY. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I believe it's not performing to dissimilar from the overall company at Bed Bath. And BABY, we're expecting it to obviously increase with the absence of our most similar competitor.

Operator

From Guggenheim, we have Steve Forbes. Please go ahead.

Steve Forbes -- Guggenheim -- Analyst

Good afternoon. Maybe given the ongoing furniture initiatives, can you discuss what furniture sales are as a percent of the total here, maybe at year end, for '17? Then how does advertising play into this initiative? Are you satisfied with the pace of new customer acquisition and general customer adoption of the product category or should we expect ad spend to rise next year at an accelerated rate? Then really any comment on advertising in general.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Sure, Steve. Again, I think we ended last year the number was about $800 to $900 million in the parent company of what we call decorative furnishings. That's not really furniture, per se, but furniture is in that number. Again, at the Bed Bath concept, I would say that we're not recognized for furniture at all. As far as marketing it, there's still a lot that's going on. We have a dedicated team of people that are working it. We're not really marketing, I would say, today.

That is, we get the pieces in place so that the customers experience the digital shoppability, that we expressed that we're in the business to some degree in the stores, that we're able to really track orders from third-party providers, that we're able to do assembly and installation, that we could have the furniture doctored so the return numbers are right, so that we'd be doing the inspirational room-setting shots that we should be doing, so the content around it is accurate.

At that point, we'll be ramping up the marketing spend. But similar to what I said before about inviting people to the party when you're not really read to have it is that this is something that is very much a work in progress. We will start to derive the benefits this year. We will be, over the course of the year, engaging in more marketing specifically to drive this business. But at this point in time, I don't think the customer is really seeing it.

Steve Forbes -- Guggenheim -- Analyst

Maybe a quick follow-up on that same topic. I think you mentioned as an answer to another question, that 10% of the chain will showcase furniture this year. Where is that space coming from? If you can comment on category-wise, where is it coming from? How much space will you be dedicating to it? How big of a change is it?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

It's not a big change in the sense that it's really to express to the customer in the furniture business. We're doing that not with the intention of selling a lot of furniture out of the store. From that perspective, people seeing and seeing the vignettes I think will be impactful to let the people know that we're in the business, and our associates will be equipped to educate a customer about it and even to complete a sale, but we believe most of the business will be done digitally for us. So not a whole lot of space, but it ranges.

Where the space is coming out of again is the ability to show more and carry less frees up space in the store. So, just like what we call the B3 initiative, the new format, the store format, we're able to bring in commodity products, the health and beverage, health and beauty care, we're able to bring in to change over the seasonal department, bring in the decorative furnishings, being able to bring in more deep value. Those things are because we can shrink the core assortment, free up the space, and we believe and what we've seen, without negatively impacting the sales of any of the product in the core assortment.

So, we're able to free up space to do that and free up space to show furniture. In some cases, the vignettes are as small as under 50 square feet. In some cases, they'll be significantly more. But again, it's really for the purpose of showing and not selling out of the store, except with the help of an associate who will have the tools to sell out of the store, but it's not as if we're going to have the inventory there to sell.

Operator

From Credit Suisse, we have Seth Sigmund. Please go ahead.

Seth Sigman -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Thanks. Hey, Steve, so you outlined a number of initiatives, both in the store and online. As you think about the outlook that calls for comps to go back to positive territory, your store comps did take a step down in 2017. I'm just wondering, the return to positive comps, is that a function of improving the decline in store comps or accelerating further? How do you think about the balance there?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

There's a couple things that we spoke about today that I think goes to the answer. We're doing a lot of things in the stores to improve the store traffic and to drive what we believe should be beneficial comp in the stores. The overall comp, like we said over the past couple quarters, has been fractionally negative. So to take it to positive is not a whole lot of movement. At the same time, what we spoke about before, the digital business, the opportunities that we have to turn the dial to make that a more profitable business, that could come at the expense of driving the top line in our digital business. That's your answer.

Seth Sigman -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Okay, I got it. Then, as you think about the earnings growth guidance, I think you talked about earnings growth resuming in 2020, so it implies '19 could actually be down again? I realize it's far out, but I want to clarify, you're actually planning 2019 to be an investment year as well? Is that the right way to think about it?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

When you say an investment year, what do you mean by that terminology?

Seth Sigman -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Well, that earnings could be down again in 2019. That's what the guidance seems to imply.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Yeah, no. Again, I think that's what we're saying is that basically when we talk about moderating the decline in the operating profit and the earnings per share, we're talking about '18 and '19. Again, not that we're saying that we're going to be satisfied, but when we look at the projects we're working on and the investments we're making, and when we see the rolling in of the returns on them and the degree we're willing to walk away from growing top line business in the digital world to drive more profitability, the combination of those factor would result in what you just said, which is that the decline in '18, moderating further in '19 but declining, growing in '20.

Operator

From Goldman Sachs, we have Matt Fassler. Please go ahead.

Matt Fassler -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Thanks so much and good afternoon. As you think about your move to more dynamic pricing, it seems like you're more focused on price competitiveness in general. The coupon and the impact of the coupon remains, this quarter, the most significant drag on gross margin. Obviously, you have the 20% discount embedded in the membership plan. How are you thinking about the relationship between first price or advertised price and then the actual price be it from coupons or the member program and is there any thought to perhaps changing the role of the coupon within the business, particularly as the membership rolls out?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

I think that the outcome will be the outcome. The intention of the coupon was to provide great value to our customer. The intention of the customer wasn't to get us back to other people's prices. It's critically important to us to be at the right price and that way, the coupon takes on additional value to the customer. Theoretically, if that's the case and the customer perceives it that way, the usage of the coupon gets driven, the conversion rate goes up, the amount of coupons you may have to send or how you view the coupon, the necessity for the coupon to drive sales changes.

Again, that's that whole cycle which you correctly identified. As far as the membership program, again, at the right price, that membership program becomes a great value to the customer because that truly is a great value to be a part of a membership program.

Matt Fassler -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Understood. Then my follow-up relates to comments you made earlier about the impact of the Toys 'R Us liquidation, or at least that element of the liquidation that we're certain is likely to transpire and the sales forecast that you gave. It sounds like there is an element of favorable impact to you from the bankruptcy, but that early on, your past experience would suggest that the liquidation likely could be a drag or at least prevent you from benefiting on a net basis, with all the nuances for the registry business that you talked about. Does that mean that the Q1 comp expectation would be at all different from the comp expectation for the full year?

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

We didn't break the comp expectation out by quarter, right?

Sue Lattmann -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

No, it's by year.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

It's by year. But if you're asking if the contribution from Babies 'R Us going out of business could foreseeably grow over the course of the year, I think that's a reasonable assumption if one wants to make that.

Operator

Finally, from Wolfe Research, we have Doug Drummond. Please go ahead.

Doug Drummond -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Hey, guys. Thanks for all the color on your new initiatives. Embedded in your investments for 2018, are you also expecting a need for accelerated wage investments as well, as other retailers are growing average hourly wages?

Sue Lattmann -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

We continue to have wage pressers. We're not immune to that. So, that's all considered into our models.

Doug Drummond -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Okay. Then, Steven, when you are able to achieve all of these plans for 2020, what do you perceive the store base looking like for the Bed Bath & Beyond concepts? Thank you.

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Great question, Doug. We don't have any religion around it. We're fortunate that we have, I think, just under 400 stores that leases expire within the next two years. We've been, for years now, looking at and modeling declining foot traffic in the stores, wage rate increases, and modeling that. One of the reasons we have so many stores coming due in such a short period of time is we've been taking shorter term extensions. We might take 1 year, 2 years, 3 years on a lease extension, so that we would have greater visibility.

So, all these things will be determined by things like are we able to generate additional foot traffic? What are the margins going to be ultimately? How does dynamic pricing affect the stores? How does furniture affect the business? What's the benefit of the stores to our ad sales spend ratio for our digital business? All these things will be the factors that we look at as we go forward. But we're not locked into an answer, so we can turn left or right. It's funny because when you look at the scenarios, there's many ways to driving profitability. But the real world will dictate the answers if it's with how many stores, how much in your digital business, what you're showing in your digital business, where you're spending your marketing dollars.

Again, we've positioned ourselves like we've always said that we like to do, that we intend to do, is to give ourselves these choices on the decision tree so that we could come out on the other end of this growing the company, tremendously successful, and that's the intention. It's a great question. The answer is it remains to be seen but the facts will dictate it. We're putting ourselves in a position to turn left or to turn right.

Operator

Thank you. We will now turn it back to Janet Barth for closing remarks.

Janet Barth -- Vice President of Investor Relations

Thank you, Brandon. Thank you all for joining us today. We look forward to speaking with you again on June 27, when we report our Fiscal 2018 first quarter results. Have a good night.

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's conference. Thank you for joining. You may now disconnect.

Duration: 67 minutes

Call participants:

Janet Barth -- Vice President of Investor Relations

Steven Temares -- Chief Executive Officer and Board Member

Sue Lattmann -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer

Kate McShane -- Citigroup Global Markets -- Analyst

Curtis Nagle -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Matt McClintock -- Barclays -- Analyst

Michael Lasser -- UBS -- Analyst

Dan Binder -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Simeon Gutman -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Steve Forbes -- Guggenheim -- Analyst

Seth Sigman -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Matt Fassler -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Doug Drummond -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

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