Zumiez (ZUMZ) Q3 2018 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

Zumiez (NASDAQ: ZUMZ) Q3 2018 Earnings Conference CallDec. 6, 2018 5:00 p.m. ET


  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Zumiez Inc. third-quarter fiscal 2018 earnings conference call. [Operator instructions] Before we begin, I'd like to remind everyone of the company's safe harbor language. Today's conference call includes comments concerning Zumiez, Inc.

business outlook and contains forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements and all other statements that may be made on this call that are not based upon historical facts are subject to risks and uncertainties. Actual results may differ materially. Additional information concerning a number of factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from the information that will be discussed is available in Zumiez' filing with the SEC.

At this time, I'd like to turn the call over to Rick Brooks, our chief executive officer. Rick?

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

Hello, and thank you, everyone, for joining us on the call. With me today is Chris Work, our chief financial officer. I'll begin today's call with a few brief remarks regarding our third quarter performance and our start to the fourth quarter. Then I'll share some thoughts about the future before handing the call to Chris, who will take you through the numbers.

After that, we'll open the call to your questions. Our third quarter was highlighted by successful back-to-school season and solid full priced selling throughout the period. The combination of a mid-single-digit comparable sales gain and a 100-basis-point increase in gross margins helped us offset the loss of a high-volume week that moved out of third quarter and into the second quarter. On the earnings side, we ended the quarter at $0.55 per share, up from $0.48 a year ago, which was $0.04 ahead of the high end of our guidance range.

Our ongoing success continued to be driven by the strength of our diverse and differentiated assortments that are presented through a seamless shopping experience across all consumer touch points, accompanied by the world-class customer service that our teams continue to deliver globally. The third quarter marked our ninth consecutive quarter of comparable sales growth and transaction gains. And the fourth quarter is off to a solid start with November comparable sales of 2.3%, highlighted by the Black Friday weekend comp of 4.1%. We're pleased with our year-to-date results, and we remain confident in our outlook for fiscal 2018, which we're forecasting to consist of strong sales gains and operating profit growth and exceptional earnings growth, all the while growing cash and strengthening our balance sheet.

Chris will outline all these items for you later in the call. As you look out to next year and beyond, we continue to believe that Zumiez is well-positioned to expand market share, and equally important, mind share with our consumers. Our belief stems from our relentless focus on serving today's empowered consumer and our focus on enhancing our culture-driven lifestyle brand to serve them. In order to do this successfully, we've adjusted our operating model to reflect the changing world of retail and we'll continue to test, learn and adapt based on how we think the industry will evolve further.

We've talked about how we see the future unfolding during recent earnings calls and conference presentations, and our performance during back-to-school continue to reinforce those concepts. Let me again restate some of our views. With the increased rate blurred lines between retail channels, we've moved toward a channel-less world in which the empowered consumer isn't focused on going into a store or buying online, but rather transacting with a trusted retailer. With the barriers between the physical and digital worlds coming down and increasing speed at which individuals communicate, trend cycles are rotating faster than ever before.

The same holds true for the pace at which demand from emerging brands can go from local to global in nature. In this type of environment where consumers can access so much information, a new level of transparency in retail is being created that is driving out inefficiencies within the market and forcing consolidation in the industry. Throughout this consolidation, we believe that we are positioned to be the dominant global winner in our lifestyle segment of the market. While others struggle to keep up, we believe Zumiez will continue to benefit from the opportunities being created by the constant state of change in retail.

Let me touch on a few of the ways we are going about this. First, we continue to build on the process of identifying new brands and trends in the marketplace both locally and globally, enabling us to offer the product our consumers are looking for no matter when or where they choose to interact with us. Second, we've used our strong recruiting, training and sales culture to drive more personalized human-to-human connections, which is resonating with our customers. We continue enhancing the customer service aspect of our business across the physical and digital sales experience, optimizing the speed in which our customers get what they're looking for and learning more about the customer's life cycle.

From these learnings, we expect to further personalize communications with our customers through each of the message that they elect to interact with us. Third, we've established a strategic presence in seven countries across three continents, with a digital presence that allows us to reach even further. This scale allows us to work together with our brand partners to serve our customers globally. This includes assisting emerging local brands, both domestically and internationally in their evolution to global brands.

And fourth, we're continuously testing and learning from our customers, with emphasis on inventing and improving upon ideas to meet their rapidly changing expectations. This is included in our enhancements around localized fulfillment, Zumiez stash in the past that will transform in the future with a new phase in empowered consumer world, challenge us to think about new ways of measuring success and how we evaluate the optimal number of touch points within our ecosystem. We are confident that our approach to serving today's empowered consumer, combined with our commitment to maintaining our distinct culture and authentic brand positioning, will continue to drive sustained success as it has throughout Zumiez' 40-year history. With that, I'll hand the call over to Chris for the review of the financials.


Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Rick, and good afternoon, everyone. I'm going to start with a review of our third-quarter 2018 results. I'll then provide a brief update on November before discussing our fourth-quarter guidance and our current perspective on the full year. Third-quarter net sales increased 1.2% to $248.8 million from $245.8 million in the third quarter of 2017.

Contributing to this increase were positive comparable sales growth of 4.8% and the net addition of nine stores since the end of last year's third quarter. This was partially offset by the loss of approximately $9.6 million from the movement of the retail calendar, which shifted several days in early August, which are in the back-to-school season into Q2 this year versus Q3 last year. During the 2018 third quarter, our comparable sales were driven by an increase in transaction volume as well as an increase in dollars per transaction. The increase in dollars per transaction resulted from higher average unit retail, partially offset by lower units per transaction.

During the quarter, our footwear category was the largest positive comping category, followed by men's, women's and accessories. Hardgoods was our only negative comping category. From a regional perspective, North America net sales increased 1.5% to $226.5 million. Other international net sales, which consist of Europe and Australia, decreased 1.8% to $22.3 million.

Excluding the impact of foreign currency translation, North America net sales grew 1.9% and other international net sales grew 1.1% for the quarter. Third-quarter gross profit was $86.9 million, an increase of $3.5 million or 4.2% compared to the third quarter of 2017. Gross margin was 34.9% in the quarter, an increase of 100 basis points compared to 33.9% a year ago. This increase was primarily driven by 70 basis points improvement in product margin and 70-basis-point improvement in inventory shrinkage, offset by 30 basis points in higher shipping and fulfillment costs.

SG&A expense was $68.5 million in the third quarter compared to $64.6 million a year ago. SG&A as a percentage of net sales was 27.5% compared to 26.2% in the prior year. The 130-basis-point increase was primarily driven by the movement of $9.6 million in revenue out of Q3 2018 and into Q2 2018, related to the retail calendar shift, previously discussed. This result was 60 basis points in deleverage -- this resulted with 60 basis points in deleverage in our store operating costs, 40 basis points of increase in our corporate costs and 20 basis points increase in the accrual of annual incentive compensation.

Operating income in the third quarter of 2018 was $18.4 million or 7.4% of net sales compared with operating income of $18.8 million or 7.7% of net sales for the third quarter of 2017. Net income for the third quarter was $13.8 million or $0.55 per share, which included an approximately $0.10 per share headwind from the aforementioned calendar shift, compared to net income of $11.9 million or $0.48 per share for the third quarter of 2017. Our effective tax rate for the third quarter of 2018 was 26.5% compared to 35.9% in the year-ago period. The decrease was due to a reduction in the U.S.

federal tax rate, following the passage of tax reform late last year, partially offset by an exclusion of net losses in Europe. Turning to the balance sheet. Cash and current marketable securities increased 49% to $127.9 million as of November 3, 2018, up from $85.8 million as of October 28, 2017. This increase was driven by $68.8 million in cash flow from operations, partially offset by $20.7 million of capital expenditures primarily related to new store growth and remodels.

We ended the third quarter of 2018 with $186.9 million in inventory, up 19.1% from last year. Excluding the year-over-year impact of foreign currency translation, inventory grew 19.7% from the prior year, driven primarily by the planned timing of inventory receipts as we brought in product from certain vendors ahead of the fourth quarter in anticipation of the holiday season. We expect that inventory growth in our fiscal 2018 year-end will be at or below the growth in our sales for the year and have already seen a significant decrease in year-over-year growth at the end of November. Now to our November sales results.

Our comparable sales increased 2.3% during the four-week period ended December 1, 2018, compared to a comparable sales increase of 7.8% for the four-week period ended November 25, 2017. Total net sales for the four-week period ended December 1, 2018, increased 9.4% to $84.4 million compared to $77.1 million for the four-week period ended November 25, 2017. The comparable sales increase was driven by an increase in transactions, offset by a decrease in dollars per transaction. Dollars per transaction decreased for the four-week period due to a decrease in units per transaction, partially offset by an increase in average unit retail.

During the four-week period, the footwear category was our highest positive comping category, followed by men's, accessories and women. Hardgoods was our only negative comping category for the period. Looking at the guidance for 2018, once again, I'll start off by reminding everyone that formulating our guidance involves some inherent uncertainty and complexity in estimating sales, product margin and earnings growth given the variety of internal and external factors that impact our performance. With that in mind, we currently expect that comparable sales will increase between 0% and 2% for the fourth quarter of 2018, with total sales in the range of $295 million to $301 million.

Consolidated operating margins are expected to be between 11.3% and 11.6% of net sales compared with operating margins of 12% in the prior-year fourth quarter. We anticipate our diluted earnings per share to be between $1.02 and $1.08 compared to $0.80 in the prior-year fourth quarter. This guidance anticipates an effective tax rate of approximately 23% for the quarter. In comparison to the prior year, it is important to note that last year's fourth quarter included a few meaningful adjustments.

Last year included the 53rd week in fiscal 2017 that will be a detriment to sales and earnings growth rates in the fourth quarter this year and full fiscal 2018. This extra week in 2017 was worth approximately $9.1 million in sales, $1.9 million in operating profit and $0.05 per share when comparing to 2018. Last year included a $3.8 million adjustment to deferred revenue related to our STASH loyalty program that was also worth $3.8 million in operating profit and $0.10 per share when comparing to 2018. Last year, we recorded a $3.4 million valuation allowance, booked against certain deferred tax assets in Europe, worth $3.4 million or $0.14 per share.

Before I wrap up, let me touch on just a few thoughts on the full fiscal year. Consistent with our previous guidance, for the full-year 2018, we continue to believe that we will achieve mid-single-digit comparable sales growth operating profit growth in the mid- to high teens and earnings between $1.64 and $1.70 per share. We are very pleased with the year we are putting together, which shows solid sales gains, significant operating profit growth and implied annual growth in earnings per share, inclusive of our Q4 guidance of between 52% and 57%. We are planning our business, assuming an annual effective tax rate of approximately 28%.

This compares to an effective tax rate of 44.6% for fiscal 2017. Through December 1, 2018, we have opened 12 new stores, including five in North America and seven in Europe. This brings our total store count as of December 1, 2018, to 708, including 660 in North America, 41 in Europe and seven in Australia. We plan to open one more new store for the balance of fiscal 2018.

We expect capital expenditure for the full 2018 fiscal year to be approximately $20 million compared to $24 million in 2017. The majority of this capital spend will be dedicated to new store openings and planned remodels. We expect the depreciation and amortization will be approximately $28 million, in line with the prior year. And lastly, we are currently projecting our share count for the full year to be approximately 25.3 million shares.

And with that, operator, we would like to open the call up for questions.

Questions and Answers:


Thank you. [Operator instructions] Thank you. And our first question comes from the line of Mitch Kummetz with Pivotal Research. Your line is now open.

Mitch Kummetz -- Robert W. Baird

Excuse me. Yes, thanks for taking my questions. I guess I've got a few. I think I'll start with you, Chris.

On the Q3 comp, could you -- is it possible to break that out stores versus digital?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

We certainly can. We've talked about this in the past. This is not only the way we look at it, but as we look at kind of the web penetration overall, the web did grow ahead of the stores but not by much. And I think some of that relates to our strategy coming into the third quarter.

And we talked about that part of the second quarter. In the prior year, our situation, specifically in Europe, was that we had some aged inventory. And we were pretty promotional in moving through that. And a lot of it, we were able to do online.

And so we did see the web online sales go down in Europe, but we saw more product margin dollars overall. So it's much better quality sales and definitely the way that we would like to have it. If we exclude the Blue Tomato web, our web is growing at approximately twice the store comp. But I would say, the store comp is very much in line with the overall comp for the quarter.

So we feel good about how both channels are working. And more importantly, we feel really good about how both channels are working together to serve the customer. Because I think all of our data and all of our analysis, whether we're looking in North America or internationally, is showing how closely aligned these two channels are. And for us, our focus is not pushing one channel or the other.

Our focus is growing overall sales.

Mitch Kummetz -- Robert W. Baird

OK. Actually, Chris, a follow-up to that and I've got one for Rick. But you've mentioned Blue Tomato and Europe, and obviously, the product margins were very strong in the quarter. Is there any way you can say how much of that product margin improvement was attributable to Europe? I know that there were some promotions there a year ago that you were lapping.

And is there much product margin opportunity there going into the fourth quarter?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

I think what I would say is, as we -- we're not a company that falls in love with our inventory. So when we have challenges with inventory, we try to move through it pretty quickly. So we have -- we were able to push a lot of that product margin through in Q3 2017. There will be some opportunity in the fourth quarter as it relates to Europe, but the majority of it was utilized in the third quarter.

I will say that North America product margins were also very strong in the third quarter. And as Rick pointed out in his prepared comments, the full-priced selling we had across all entities throughout the third quarter. So it wasn't just Europe, but Europe was a pretty meaningful impact.

Mitch Kummetz -- Robert W. Baird

Got it. And then, Rick, correct me if I'm wrong, but in the past, I think you've talked about looking at the business more on a kind of a trade area basis and maximizing your share opportunity across trade areas. Can you talk about kind of where you are on the process of doing that? I mean is there a pilot program that you've started or are there any trade areas where you're further along than others? Anything -- and examples that you can give? Any specifics in terms of kind of what you've done, what you've seen in order to maximize that opportunity?

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Glad to talk about that topic, Mitch. It's a -- trade area is, I will tell you, I believe that we've actually been working on it for quite a while, but I believe we are still very early in the process. So trade area, the most obvious one that we've talked about previously is localized fulfillment and that's the idea that we can assert total demand in a geographic area, trade area.

And we can start total demand in the marketplace to serve local customers. So that's probably one of the simplest ideas, right, that we've been working on for a long time. But simple, but not simple because it requires a lot of investment. This is about, kind of, Mitch, about the infrastructure investment we made in technology, about order management, order routing algorithms.

Orders don't just randomly go some place, they go to the right location based in -- and that's been planned based upon the product assortments, right? And the tools we have to do that, right, when looking at total demand in the marketplace, so we can choose where we put the digital demand in terms of where we think fulfillment should happen. So this is probably the most simple idea. One of -- there all -- they don't sound hard or -- they sound simple but they're actually really hard to do. And -- but it's been very successful for us.

So what we do, Mitch, just like we did on all the omnichannel efforts, we are laying out and have laid out a road map on trade areas on a whole series of initiatives that we intend to make a lot of progress on -- we're making progress on and we intend to make a lot of more progress on in 2019. So this is one of the areas where we intend to innovate and our North American marketplace as we do innovation here. We -- our goal would be to then export those learnings in those technology platforms to the other parts of the world where we do business. So we have a lot of work to do in this area, Mitch, from specifically defining -- we're going to spend a lot of time defining what trade areas are, what the role of different elements of different locations, how people -- how we incent people around these concepts, all these things are in the works.

Chris' team is working on measurement of profitability. He's going to require all sorts of new thinking around assortment planning, yet, in the process. And again, the road map just keeps going on and on and on. I think it's a really big idea, Mitch, and one that I think can be really transformative for the business.

And we have a couple other big ideas, I think, over the next three to five years. You're going to see us really go out hard, trader being I think one of the most important ones because it is fundamentally about serving customers in the local market, making sure they -- no matter how they want to interact with us, we have the product in that market form. And I think it's really important. The customer is in charge.

They're empowered. Our job is to make sure that we have the product in the channel, in the local market no matter how they want to get it. So this is one of the reasons these concepts is so important. And you might imagine a lot of the other big ideas we are going to tie into this in this broad idea of reinventing ecosystems within -- all the way extending through our vendor partner base.

These are all though focused on service of customers, meeting their needs, fast, efficiently in local markets.

Mitch Kummetz -- Robert W. Baird

Got it. Thanks, Rick. Good luck.

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mitch.


Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Jonathan Komp with Baird. Your line is open.

Jonathan Komp -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

Hi, thank you. I want to maybe ask a little more about the comps and maybe just get a little bit more color about what you've seen across the business more recently, including in November. And then to follow up on the guidance for the quarter, flat to up 2% would be one of the lower ratings in a while. So I'm just wondering, as you diagnose the trends and some of the drivers, if you've seen any big changes or how we should be reading the guidance you put out.

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Sure. Well, let me start with the guidance piece and I'll see if I can kind of try to answer some of your November and the overall comps as we go through this. And I think before I jump to the guidance, I'll start with looking back at Q3. And the reason I would look back in Q3 is because, as you know, we had a phenomenal August and then as we moved down to back-to-school things slowed a little bit.

This is definitely the trend we've seen over time where the piece has gotten bigger and the troughs have gotten a little lighter. So as we think to Q4, I think we certainly have that component again here. We also have the fact that we've had some pretty good Q4s here for the last couple of years, with both last year being a 7.5 comp, and the year before that being a 5.1 comp. So as we think about how Q4 is planned, obviously, we ran positive November and we're happy about that.

We did see, as Rick mentioned in his section, that the important kind of Thursday through Monday of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday weekend was up 4.1% ahead of the November comp, obviously, as you'd expect during that peak period. But we came in at 2.3%. So as we thought about the quarter, our expectation is that we will continue to have some trough here between now and important Christmas weeks, driven largely by the online business. And then as we transition and get closer to Christmas, we expect, as we've seen the last few years, that the stores will light up.

So our assumption around the metrics that are driven to get to zero to two assume a similar path to that. And that's kind of where we came in, where we're at. So to the extent that we significantly exceed our estimates around the important holiday week, we'll obviously come back. But at this point in time, I think we have a reasonable estimate set for the fourth quarter.

We have a reasonable estimate set for that important week, and it's going to generate pretty positive returns we think for our shareholders in light of both the Q4 results as well as the annual results, is how we planned it.

Jonathan Komp -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

OK. And maybe just a follow-up. I'm wondering the phenomenon of seeing some lower troughs during the non-peak periods. Do you think there's been any change in the consumer patterns maybe versus if you go back four, six quarters ago? Or is there not enough in terms of emerging brands to kind of drive the trend forward despite kind of a natural traffic pattern? I'm just trying to think about if there's any change in behavior that's caused that pattern?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes, I think, I mean I think we have been on this multi-year run. And we've seen periods of this before. I mean June of this year was a good example, where things got pretty soft within the second quarter before it kind of lit back up in July as we headed into back-to-school. So I think we've seen periods of this.

I mean we've also -- as you know, I think we'd performed pretty well here now over the last nine quarters. And we've had some pretty unique product within the marketplace. And so I think there were periods of time within the last nine quarters where we even performed -- we performed well in the trough just based on the uniqueness of product that we've had. Now that we've done that from quarters on quarters and Q4 will be a planned third quarter in a row of positive comps on a stacked basis.

So there is those factors to play in. But I think that this is the normal cycle that we have. And our goal will always be to drive comps throughout the year but I think in a normal -- more normalized cycle, this is what we would expect to see.

Jonathan Komp -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

OK. Great. And maybe last one from me. It looks like making all the adjustments to the year-ago fourth quarter that you're implying some operating margin expansion even on plus 0 to 2% comps.

And I'm just wondering, thinking about some of the various moving parts, looking ahead, if that's a relationship that can continue or kind of what type of comps you need for all the various puts and takes looking forward.

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. So your analysis is correct. We are planning excluding all those adjustments to grow operating profit and obviously overall income as well in light of the tax reform that's been a help with that from an EPS perspective. I think as we go forward, I'll try to stay away from specific comments around 2019 and leave that more for our time we'll spend together here in March of '19 when we do our Q4 call.

However, I'll tell you, this will be -- this is our goal over the long-term plan, is that we can grow comps and sales in our mature companies here in North America and at a reasonable clip and still grow earnings. So that means you have to have really focused investments really centered around driving that customer experience and high-return projects. And you need to manage cost outside of that. And so that's our focus in what we refer to as our mature entities here in North America.

And as we look internationally, these are still growth concepts. Both Europe and Australia have a lot of room ahead of them. And so we feel good about the base that we've built, specifically in Europe, and our ability to leverage that going forward. And I think we're building a really good base in Australia as well.

So we -- our plan will be in those growth entities is that we can still grow the top line at a higher rate, but we'll also be seeing earnings growth in those entities as well as we leverage the concept and have high return units and web growth driving value over the long-term plan.

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

And Jonathan, I just want to add a little bit to that, too, from our side. I mean, we've always been really good planners and I think five-year planners and then how we turn our five-year plan objectives into annual budgets that move the plans forward. And so I think we have a real advantage over a lot of other retailers in this world, particularly when we look at what I really think are some business -- structural business model issues in consumer retail day, which is rising wages and rising shipping cost. So I just wanted to give you a sense of how we've been addressing our view.

So I think it's one of the reasons we can do some of the things that you're seeing in the results and that Chris has talked about here as we think about the longer term. So we have made, I think, a number of really important investments. And the new commerce engine, new order management systems, order routing out of the new investments and assortment planning and how we think about localized fulfillment strategies. And our theory behind all that was building toward was really restructuring the business to think of the business in a new way.

And that new way is that we only have one cost structure to leverage. That's our store cost structure. We don't care if it's a digital sale, we don't care if it's a physical sale. All that cost fulfilled and serve those consumers goes to our store cost structure.

It's a real advantage, I think, we have structurally over a lot of the other retailers that allows us to address some of the challenges around wages and shipping cost because we're shipping close to consumer, for example. Our order argument is about really play with how we can control and manage down splits in the process and still be really faster to consumer. On the wages side, in the last two holiday seasons, we have levered store labor in our model where we've moved more digital sales into the physical -- fulfilled in our physical store system. We'll see if we can do that again this year.

I think that's to be proven yet as we come through this cycle. But it gives you a sense, I think, that what we've been trying to do is rethink what the business model is, the winning business model is in this world and execute against that. Now we have all sorts of other ideas, Jonathan, about what we can do going forward toward levering our one cost structure as we think about serving this -- new ways of service empowered consumers. So I think that's one of the reasons you're seeing us do and grow earnings so significantly in over the last couple of years in ways other retailers may not have been able to achieve is we're levering one structure and our model is really channel.

It's really viewed around however the consumer wants to interact, we're going to be there for them. We're going to localize those products, have it fast and efficiently for them and lever the one cost structure we own.

Jonathan Komp -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

OK, great. That's really helpful to hear. Thank you.


Thank you. And our next question comes from the line of Jeff Van Sinderen with B. Riley FBR. Your line is open.

Jeff Van Sinderen -- B. Riley & Co. -- Analyst

Good afternoon. And let me just say this is kind of a multipart question. So if you can bear with me a little bit, I'd appreciate it. Can you give us a sense of what you're Q4 guidance bakes in for gross margin.

And then if you speak to the comp guidance for Q4, should we think that the U.S. digital comp is expected to be similar to the store comp, brick-and-mortar store comp? Or is there a shift in growth there that you may be thinking about? And then how should we think about, I guess, the digital versus store comps going into next year with the comps moderating a bit? And what do you -- I guess, what do you think are the main drivers for revenue and comp growth next year? And then finally, with wages and shipping cost and other expenses rising, what comp would you need to get operating leverage next year?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

OK. Well, let me start with the Q4 question, which will probably give the most color on. So as it relates to Q4 guidance, we are planning gross margin down roughly 50 to 80 basis points. And that is a function of a few different things.

First, I'll remind you that the adjustments we had in the prior year, both the 53rd week as well as the STASH deferred loyalty program adjustment, both had sales in the prior year. So those were a benefit to gross margin in the prior year and will obviously be a detriment as we measure against this year. So I think that's how we're thinking about gross margin in the fourth quarter. From a 2019 perspective of kind of what are those continued drivers and what is our leverage point, we're going to hold, again, I'm giving detailed color on 2019.

What I hope that you took out of our prior answer to Jon's question is that our goal is to grow and lever at all times. And so when I talk about the mature entities, we have to build a model that's over a five-year window and maybe longer, that we can grow on potential low single-digit comps. Now our plan would be to try to grow comps ahead of that, but I think it's prudent to build a business plan that levers on -- for maturity that's not growing units that levers on a low single digit. In regards to web or store, I don't think it matters, to Rick's point.

And it doesn't matter because, again, it comes back to that trade area component. I think this is something that we continue to stress. We are building something that is so integrated and so put together that it just doesn't matter in our world. And when we look at a trade area, this is an A mall and a C mall working together to serve that consumer and that they -- both of them are having an impact on the consumer.

Maybe the A small is the weekend and where all of the major volume is around back-to-school and holiday, but the C mall has a place because it's Monday through Thursday and I need to go grab something quick. And guess what, they're both having a customer experience and the C mall can do a lot of fulfillment to help that A mall. So that's just one of example. It works lots of different ways within our ecosystem but that's how we see it.

So I think for the long term, we would expect that the web demand will grow at a higher cliff, but I think this all works together on how we service the customer. And our data would tell us too. When we have stores that are underperforming or not creating a great brand experience, we typically see it on the web and vice versa. when we see stores that have a great store team and it's engaging great experience, we see our web comps in those areas to be stronger.

So it all works together in how we're looking at it. And globally, which is where the majority of our unit growth ahead of us is, we still continue to see the same thing we saw here in the U.S. And when we open stores, we see massive web growth. Now one of the benefits for us in the model that we built with Europe is that Europe already had a pretty strong web presence.

And so it's creating a framework like we haven't had domestically to help us point to where our customer is. And we continue to see the same thing we saw in the U.S. When we go into those markets, we see them magnified. So I think we're feeling better than ever about how the models working and how those two things are working together.

And all these concepts we've discussed on the call around trade area and assortment planning and those things are all filling in to help us able to drive a strong bottom line over the long term.

Jeff Van Sinderen -- B. Riley & Co. -- Analyst

OK. That's a great answer to a really complex bunch of questions. Just a follow-up if I may on the brand topic. Is there anything notable in terms of the shift happening in your, say, I don't know, your top three brands, something changing there.

And also, is there anything we should be thinking about in terms of The Street trend? Or I guess, how are you thinking about The Street trend? Is that, I don't know, maybe starting to slow? Or I guess, how do you think about The Street trend as an influence on your business going forward, if at all?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. I think, as it relates to brands, and as you know, we typically do try to give some color in how we're thinking about the top 10 and top 20 brands as part of these calls. Just like we said for the last few quarters, we continue to see some concentration in those brands. Meaning that the top 20 brands, as a percent of our overall sales, have been growing in relation to as we look at it quarter to quarter, first nine months to first nine months.

So we are seeing more concentration on those brands, right, as they continue to grow. We talked about the big three being these kind of unique brands that Zumiez has had. We've talking about them since, really, June of 2016. They did continue to grow as a percent of the mix in the third quarter.

And so they're just over 10% of sales at this point, the three of them together, which again, we talked about our largest brands being kind of that 6% to 9%. So we are seeing some concentration there. And I think overall, still seeing some growth, too. From a streetwear perspective, I mean, this is just a piece of what we do.

As you know, we represent art and music and action sports, and I think I would even classify some fun in our stores. Some brands that are -- just kind of have a fun message. So all of that plays into what we're doing. I mean we've seen streetwear brands kind of come and go here, and I would say that's pretty consistent with what we see in that total brand portfolio.

There has been no change in the last quarter or the first nine months of this year in relation to the turnover of brands. We still see 20% to 30% turnover in our brand. And I think all of those different types of brands that I laid out are an important parts of our mix and we sell streetwear brands that I think are important to what we're doing.

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

And Jeff, I'd just just add to Chris' answer just as another data point that we keep a close eye on here is our pipeline of new brands and our launch of our new brands. So we continue to, I think, have that good pipeline and we do expect to hit our target number of launching new brands for this year. So we're not seeing any weakness in the market in terms of new brands coming in the market. And that's, of course, is really important about the two years from now and three years from now when one of these young brands are launching this year are going to become important to us in those years as they emerge out -- move out of that pack of competing young brands into -- and move from emerging to grow.

So we're seeing a strong pipeline in terms of emerging brands, and I think that is always an encouraging sign for us.

Jeff Van Sinderen -- B. Riley & Co. -- Analyst

OK. Good to hear. Thanks for taking all my questions and best of luck for the rest of holiday.

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jeff.


Thank you. And our next question comes from the line of Janine Stichter with Jefferies. Your line is open.

Janine Stichter -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Hi. I just would like to ask a little bit about the inventory. I know you said it was mostly due to a plan timing and the shift of inventory receipts. Was there any inventory in there that maybe was because the sales slowed a little bit at the end of quarter and that kind of caught you off guard? And then as I think about the gross margin guidance for this, gross margin to be down 50, 80 basis points, is there an expectation in there embedded that you had to take some markdowns to move through that inventory?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Great. Yes, I can take that. I mean, as we did call out, inventory was up 19.1% for the quarter. This was really not being caught off guard by the sales.

In fact, I would tell you, if you would have asked us in March, if we can run 4.8% comp in the third quarter, we would have said that was probably a little bit ahead of our plans. So I don't think we were caught off guard there. We did talk about -- at the end of August, in our September call, the fact that we were a little light as we exited August in a certain brand and a couple of categories, as we move through, because we didn't anticipate the strength of back-to-school at the level that it was. We were obviously ready and chased quite a bit.

But even at a plus nine comp, it was pretty substantial for where we were at. So we made some strategic planned adjustments as we move through the third quarter. We're working with some of our important vendors and really saying, "Hey, we'd like to bring this in ahead of time. We'd like to have it set and ready for the fourth quarter." And that was part of our strategy and part of the reasons the inventory was up.

So I think overall, as we mentioned in my -- or I mentioned in my prepared remarks, as we move through November, that inventory growth compared to the prior year is significantly down from the 19% it was at the end of October. We are planning to end the year at or below our growth rate in sales. And overall, feel really good with the quality of inventory. The age is about where you'd expect.

It's very current for bringing that in. As we think about Q4 and the guidance I gave around gross margin, there is some product margin expected to be down in the fourth quarter, but not meaningfully. I think this is really a function more of how strong we've been over the last few years in product margin. Each of the last two years have represented peak product margins.

We've run up in product margins here through the first nine months. And so I think overall, we feel like the inventory's in a really good position. There's nothing to be alarmed. We do recognize, obviously, it's a large growth rate in light of where sales have been but try to have some assurance that this is planned and we expect to be in a really good spot to exit the year.

Janine Stichter -- Jefferies -- Analyst

OK, great. And then just lastly on the gross margin can you just remind us what shrink looks like last year. I think you had a pretty big headwind from shrink. And since like in the third quarter, you are able to make a lot of progress against that.

So how are you thinking about the shrink recovery in the fourth quarter this year compared to last year?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. We -- really glad you asked. I think the shrink was certainly not something we were proud to be talking about. In 2017, we had quite a few challenges working through that.

The teams came together as we move through 2017 and really put together a good action plan to move through that. And that is not an easy action plan because when you get to shrink of the levels we were talking about, there definitely is some internal components of it and that was something we had to work through. So really proud of the teams and the work they've done in putting together that plan, executing against that plan. It's taken some time, but we've seen now this is our third quarter of positive results as we called out in the call, we got about 70 basis points of leverage out of that in the third quarter.

And then plan within our fourth quarter guidance is some leverage as well. This is an area where we think we can continue to make traction and we'll be working on here through the remainder of this year and into 2019 as something that we still have some initiatives against. So again, really, proud of the teams coming together and working through this and I think we're seeing some good leverage and results because of it.

Janine Stichter -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Great. Thank you.


Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of John Morris with D.A. Davidson. Your line is open.

John Morris -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Hi, guys. Let me offer my congratulations on good results from the quarter. Just -- I mean most of my questions were asked, but maybe two that I want to ask. One, I kind of think about this, I mean, the way that you pulled forward the inventory, and I understand why.

I'm just wondering if there's any the puts and takes now that we've got this supposed 90-day delay, any puts and takes as far as consideration on the P&L is concerned? So that's one question. And then second is with the categories, footwear coming, women's and men's doing really well. I'm wondering about hardlines kind of what your initiatives are there? Is it something that you just need to wait for some of that business to come back? Or are you doing more there proactively to help the hardline business? I'm kind of wondering whether or not you had actually planned it down. I don't know, Rick, if you'll speak to that, but a little bit more color on thoughts about the hardline scope forward.


Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

Just to make sure I'm clear, John. Your first part of the question is relative to your thoughts on us planning forward as it related to the tariffs and the 90-day -- what's now the 90-day push forward, is that right?

John Morris -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Yes, yes. I'm thinking that, that was one of the primary reasons why you thought to do that. And clearly, you've explain -- you guys have explained really well why it impacts the inventory levels, exiting the quarter, beginning the quarter and so forth. I'm just wondering whether or not does that actually -- is there a silver lining advantage now that, that's changed? Or perhaps alternatively, I mean, could there be any additional costs that are being baked in here and just in terms of inventory carrying costs and things like that? But I'm actually really wondering whether or not there's actually kind of an advantage to you that you could actually be in a quicker position to replenish the stores and whatnot.

I'm just wondering how you think about it.

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Well, let me take that question and then I'll have Rick answer kind of the hardgoods thought process here. I mean, from an overall pull forward, while we're always looking for ways to minimize the risk there as it relates to tariffs, this was less about that and really more about making sure we have the right product when we wanted ahead into Q4. From an overall-expense perspective, this was helpful in the standpoint of a lot of inventory work through the front end of our systems and customer-facing as we ended -- as we exited the quarter. So the distribution cost some of the shipping costs and things like were worked through within the quarter.

So there's probably a minimal P&L benefit there. In regards to tariffs overall, it's not an item that hit us super hard at this point. We continue to monitor it and stay on top of it as you would expect. It hasn't had a material impact to date, but it represents a big portion of our product that's imported from China, that we're watching and we're also managing the nonproduct-related side of it and have made some adjustments there, really contemplating what future changes could look like as we relate to fixtures and supplies and things like that.

So managing it very closely. This was not as big of an impact related to tariffs in our inventory strategy here. But definitely something we're monitoring.

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

And on the hardgoods question, John, it's not that we are constantly -- trust me, we don't like departments to run down. So we're constantly trying new things as the product team works through a difficult cycle but hardgoods has been a difficult cycle particularly -- for a number -- for a couple of years now. So yes, we're off to get a managed inventor relative to sales in the cycle and will keep inventory within line with what we're planning the business. Again, the goal of the team would be to the push forward, try new things, then with new brands on the skate side but fundamentally, this particular case, consumers have to brace the cycle again and now it's skate, this isn't new.

We've been through cycles like this and with skate many, many times over my 25-plus years of -- we're used to cycles like this. And again, our whole business model is built on the premise of great brand diversity -- category diversity, and we can run gains as long as we're pushing forward and uniqueness in the assortments, which we're following the right trends relative to category, to their lifestyle -- the key lifestyle things that are trending. And we usually always have a department that's usually not in cycle. So I hope you were at today as unusual-- yes, we're pushing hard to find and experiment on the edge is what we can do to drive result there.

But ultimately, the customer has come back to us.

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

And I'd add, John. I think this is actually just the strength of the model, right? I mean, if they're looking something footwear, which is our largest driver, it was down from 2012 to 2018. It's now been up for four quarters. I mean watched it go from 22% of our overall sales down to mid-teens.

So I think this is the cycle that we run through and if you look at the history of our business, we've seen it over and over in different departments and I -- were really focused on is running that overall comp.

John Morris -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Very helpful. Good luck for holiday. Thanks.

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, John.


Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Sharon Zackfia with William Blair. Your line is open.

Sharon Zackfia -- William Blair and Company -- Analyst

So I apologize I got on a little bit late, but I wanted to ask about Europe and if Europe is impacting the fourth quarter or comp expectation at all. I think Europe is a larger impact in the fourth quarter, given there's no business there. And then secondarily, just given that I suspect Europe will be a bigger part of growth going forward, can you talk about the profitability in that business or the path to profitability and how that's scaling?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Sure. OK, great. Let me start with the fourth quarter. We are planning Europe, as you would expect, being a younger concept with a lot more stores that are in their early stages and still kind of in the early frame of that maturity curve to comp pretty strongly here in the fourth quarter ahead of where our guidance is planned.

So Europe has been comping positively throughout the first nine months it had. We did talk about kind of in Q3, there was some pullback but that pullback in comp was really led to better product margin dollars. So the margin increased more than offset the loss of sales, which I think is an important factor and definitely where we want to be for the long term. In regards to how Europe growth plays out and its profit, it is a path to profitability.

We are forecasting at this point that the loss will be less for 2018 than it was for 2017, and I think we have a pretty good path to that. And we're continually to push to get this profitable in the next few years. I think what that comes down to is a few different items. First of all, we really have put the infrastructure in place there.

We feel like we have the right leadership team, the right level of investment, department by department across the entity that this is something that we can scale and grow from. We're going to end the year at 41 -- 42 stores here. And what that means is I think the infrastructure is built to go well beyond that. So the incremental stores are not going to need the corporate investment.

As we think about the road map from a store perspective, we are past the testing stage in Europe. And I think the first few years we tried a lot of different formats. We looked at different types of stores, mall stores, High Street stores, off High Street stores. And I think we've got some pretty good framework for different markets.

I mentioned earlier, the road map that we're using with the online piece in Europe. And I think that's a part of what we're doing in picking with the right locations. And I think really continually to work with great brand partners over Europe on how do we bring the right product to our customers. So there's a lot of initiatives, a lot of learnings they're having over there that we have had over the last six years here that we've been involved with those guys.

And I think a lot of those things are coming to fruition here over the next few years. So we're very focused on that path to profitability. We think it's something we can execute against here in the short term to get it profitable and then really grow the profit to a level that we would expect here, commensurate with our North America entities absent some challenges we do, we do expect the Europe entity to operate at slightly lower operating profit as a percentage of sales, just based on the margin challenges there with many more brands being through a distributor network. So that's something that we'll have to continue to work on.

And there are some other things with the cost of real estate and labor and things like that, but predominantly higher volume on the top side. So kind of working through that and I think we've got a good plan to bring it profitable.

Sharon Zackfia -- William Blair and Company -- Analyst

And maybe if I can sneak in one more question. Could you update us on what your thoughts are for the cash on the balance sheet?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Sure. As you know, we've grown cash pretty meaningfully. As I laid out in my comments here for the third quarter, and that's been a real focus of ours. We were pretty intentional about buying back shares for a period of time, and I think utilized that in a pretty good way to get shares down.

When we think about cash, we really run through our investment decision tree, which really starts with working with our board every quarter to look through and say what are the right investments in the current business? What type of investments do we have outside the current business and to the extent there is cash beyond that. We look at how we return that cash to the shareholders. And thus far, we bought back our stocks. We will continue to meet with our board and use them as the sounding board of where they think we should go.

Our focus for the last 12 months has really been to grow cash. And obviously, I think we've done a good job of that and we expect to continue to grow cash here through the fourth quarter and will continue to evaluate against all three of those options with our board and obviously update the investment community as we make different decisions there.

Sharon Zackfia -- William Blair and Company -- Analyst

OK. Thank you.


Thank you. And we have a follow-up question from the line of Jonathan Komp with Baird. Your line is open.

Jonathan Komp -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

Yes. Hey, Chris, sorry if I missed this in your response to the tariff question. I just wanted to ask in more of a worst-case scenario after the 90-day period for the truce currently, could you just update us on the -- I want you to estimate kind of indirect exposure to China imports would be if you include your vendor base?

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. I mean, obviously, we are just over 20% in third-party vendors. So we are kind of at their discretion of where they choose to make their product. But if we look -- and if we look at our overall sourcing out of China, it's right around 60%.

So that is a combination of both where our vendors produce as well as our own private label. So we do have a good portion of our product that's coming out of China and obviously that's why we continue to watch it.

Jonathan Komp -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

And have you gone down the path of any kind of contingency or discussions about the different scenarios that are out there? And I know it's hard to talk about hypotheticals, but just curious if you've given any thought about the ability to shift production over different timetables? Or just any broad thoughts about.

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

I mean the short answer is yes. We have put quite a bit of thought around that. This is not new for us. I think looking at concentration risks and where the product is made in balancing that with the best quality and pricing and things like that was, as I speak to our own private label product and speed, are all things that we have thought about, not just in the last 12 months, but for the decades we've been doing private label.

So the answer is yes. We have lots of factories outside of China that we work with directly within our own private label. And we have active discussions going on with them. And we will continue to monitor the situation and try to determine what's best for our consumer and our shareholders.

Jonathan Komp -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

Understood. I appreciate the perspective.


Thank you, and I'm showing no further questions at this time. I'd now like to turn the call back to Rick Brooks for closing remarks.

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Chelsea. Again, I just want to thank everyone for their interest in Zumiez and wish everyone a happy holidays, and we look forward to talking to all of you again in March for our year-end results. Thanks, everybody.


[Operator signoff]

Duration: 60 minutes

Call Participants:

Rick Brooks -- Chief Executive Officer

Chris Work -- Chief Financial Officer

Mitch Kummetz -- Robert W. Baird

Jonathan Komp -- Pivotal Research -- Analyst

Jeff Van Sinderen -- B. Riley & Co. -- Analyst

Janine Stichter -- Jefferies -- Analyst

John Morris -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Sharon Zackfia -- William Blair and Company -- Analyst

More ZUMZ analysis

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