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Friday
Sep122014

Cosi: This Turnarnaround is Fully Baked

 

 

We first wrote about $COSI back in June after the first quarter earnings call.  In that post, we described the situation, our small trading position, and our desire to investigate the situation further.

At that time we decided to go to Boston to meet the Cosi team. We wanted to feel how the Cosi experience in Boston differs from what we are experiencing in New York. We wanted to determine if the concept is exportable outside of Boston. In addition, we wanted to determine how much capital the company needs to be funded to success.

We had already determine that if we were satisfied with our investigation we would approach the company to invest $1M directly into the company if it raised an additional $4M.

Unfortunately, our visit was delayed because a member of our team broke her leg. We rescheduled the meeting to August 20th.

On August 19th, the company announced that Janus and a then current shareholder invested $4.5M in the company directly at a price of $1.15 a share. We are happy for the company but bummed out for not having a chance to invest on the same terms...Especially after getting more comfortable that the company meets our criteria for a situation worthy of an investment.

We met RJ Dourney, CEO of Cosi, and many members of his executive team at the Cosi office in Boston on August 20th. Overall we were very impressed with RJ, his team, and the Boston Cosi locations we visited.

RJ joined Cosi as CEO back in March of this year. Prior to that, he was the most successful Cosi franchisee. He owns the rights to the Boston area and approximately 15 locations.  It is now clear to us that RJ has a formula for success in the fast casual arena. His locations are clean, efficient, and profitable. A hedge fund manager told us that he met RJ a few years ago, when RJ was an independent Cosi franchise operator.  He was so impressed by RJ’s franchise business in Boston that he offered to invest directly into RJ's corporate entity, Heartstone. RJ declined. Now that RJ manages Cosi corporate, the opportunity to make an investment in his leadership is available to all of us.

In his few months as CEO of Cosi, RJ has taken aggressive action to move the company towards profitability. He replaced almost the entire executive team, and moved the corporate office from the suburbs of Chicago to downtown Boston.  

RJ’s formula for success in Cosi involves cleaning up the stores, increasing labor efficiency, and making the brand more current in line with the Boston model.  Making these improvements costs money, and the most recent financing round goes a long way toward meeting that goal.  In addition, the capital infusion from Janus made it clear to us that RJ and new CFO Scott Carlock can raise capital to fund this turnaround.  

Overall, Cosi is in a great space for two reasons.  First, fast casual is a growing area filling the void between low-quality fast food and higher quality restaurants that require a full hour for lunch.  At Cosi (and competitors Panera and Chipolte, to name a few), customers can get a delicious lunch in just a few minutes. Second, Americans are moving toward high-quality, healthy food. Cosi makes all its bread in-store, which means the bread contains simple ingredients and tastes fresh.  Most people could eat at Cosi almost 5 days a week due to the large variety of healthy menu options (I don’t think the same could be said for CMG).  Check out this video to see what we mean: youtu.be/-A0eG0s2x9Q

Anecdotally, Cosi recently rolled out a more high-quality chicken product along with with a price increase to cover the cost. RJ said that not one single customer complained about the higher price.  They noticed it, but are more than willing to pay for the uptick in quality.  So clearly there is a need for high quality, fast, healthy food.  

So, we establish that Cosi has a great brand with a great management team in place and a business model that is proven in Boston.  

Currently there are 113 restaurants.  66 of them are company-owned, or 58%.  The balance, 47 restaurants are franchises.  Here is a breakdown of revenues and costs for the company-owned stores during the first half of 2014:

COSI 1H2014:


$mm

% of revenues

Revenue

38


Food Costs

9.5

25.00%

Labor

14.5

38.16%

Occupancy

14

36.84%




Gross Profit

0.00

0.00%

Compare that to Chipotle and Panera 1H2014:


CMG



PNRA



$mm

% of revenues


$mm

% of revenues

Revenue

1954



1091


Food Costs

675

34.54%


302

27.68%

Labor

436

22.31%


298

27.31%

Occupancy

321

16.43%


227

20.81%







Gross Profit

522

26.71%


264

24.20%

A quick glance of the numbers shows you that Cosi's Labor and Occupancy costs are significantly above that of the competition, while food costs are significantly below.  RJ and team are focused on increasing labor efficiency as a critical piece of their turnaround strategy.  If they can get labor costs down to 35% (slightly below the current 38% but a bit closer to PNRA's 22% and CMG's 27%), the picture looks like this:

COSI Target Labor Costs:

$mm

% of revenues

Revenue

38

Food Costs

9.5

25.00%

Labor

11.4

35.00%

Occupancy

14

36.84%

Gross Profit

1.2

3.16%

Now let's talk about Occupancy costs.  COSI is spending 35% of revenues on occupancy costs, this should be closer to 25%.  Now, occupancy costs are at least partially a fixed cost, so the problem can be broken out into (a) revenues per restaurant are too low, and (b) lease costs are too high.  RJ and team are clearly aware of both issues.  Let's start with revenues.  Each company-owned store is currently generating about $1.1mm to $1.25mm per year in revenues.  RJ’s Boston franchise stores are doing about twice that, closer to $2.25 or 2.5mm.  If company-owned store revenues can increase by around 30% to about $1.5mm / store (so a significant increase but still pretty far away from the Boston stores), we get to $100mm annualized in top-line revenues.

Now, to address (b), they hired a real estate workout company to help them terminate and / or renegotiate some leases and there is likely some wiggle room.  Between increasing revenues per store and renegotiating leases, management believes a long-term run rate for occupancy cost should be closer to 25% of revenues:

COSI Target Occupancy Costs

$mm

% of revenues

Revenue

100

Food Costs

25

25.00%

Labor

35

35.00%

Occupancy

25

25.00%

Gross Profit

15.00

15.00%

 

That puts gross profits a little closer to the competition, with about 10% additional room to improve even from there.

Given that the current market cap is $25mm, It seems like a tremendous opportunity to invest in a company with potential gross profit of $15mm from company stores + another $3mm of franchise revenues = $18mm.  And that is on the same store count, before we even consider growing store count.

Now let’s talk about growing store count.  Now, the first priority for RJ and team is to get the current store base in order.  But in the long-term, there is huge potential for growth.  Cosi has 113 stores currently with a mix of 60% company-owned / 40% franchise.  Panera has 1810 locations with a mix of 50% company-owned stores and 50% franchise locations as of July 2014.  RJ believes there are about 2000 potential locations nationwide.  So long-term, with a profitable operating model at the store level, Cosi could expand to rival Panera’s size in terms of number of locations.  Even with 10 x = 1130 total stores and the current 60/40 split between company-owned and franchise, the potential is huge:

$mm

% of revenues

Revenue

1000

Food Costs

250

25.00%

Labor

350

35.00%

Occupancy

250

25.00%

Gross Profit

150.00

15.00%

$150mm in gross profit from company-owned stores + $30mm in franchise revenues (10x current $3mm) is $180mm in total gross profit.  Even if net profit is half that, so $90mm, at a P/E of 10x (PNRA is at 20x), the company could be worth $900mm in the long-term.  That is about 30x the current market cap.  It is going to take time and reinvestment capital to get there, but the team is already laying the groundwork for this type of success. We think the Cosi team will focus on implementing the Boston processes throughout the organization over the next year. Once all of Cosi is ready to serve an amazing experience, we believe RJ will press the pedal to the metal from a public relations standpoint. It might take a year or two to bring revenues closer to its potential. At that point, we think Cosi will start expanding aggressively. This is a five years story at a minimum before the full bloom.

As you can see, we believe there is tremendous opportunity in COSI if RJ and team can right the ship and get it headed in the correct direction.  Based on our meetings, we feel confident in their ability to do so. Unfortunately, we are not the only ones confident in RJ and team based on the >100% run-up in the stock from $1.12 when we first started buying to above $1.80.  We plan to build our position over time at the right prices through open-market acquisitions and / or participation in a secondary offering if the opportunity arises.

Do you think Cosi's turnaround is fully baked?

Disclaimer: Bigger Capital and related entities own a small trading position in COSI which we plan to build. COSI is a highly distressed situation and a microcap stock, and therefore it is not suitable for the majority of investors. The likely outcome of this type of investment is a loss of principal. In other words, the probability of losing your entire investment in this situation is very high.

Written by Jennifer Galperin.  Follow me on Twitter and Stocktwits.

 

 

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