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UNITED STATES
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, DC 20549
FORM 10-K
(Mark One)
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended December 28, 2019
or
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the transition period from              to             
Commission File Number: 001-38950
___________________________________
Grocery Outlet Holding Corp.
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
Delaware47-1874201
(State or other jurisdiction of
incorporation or organization)
(I.R.S. Employer
Identification No.)
5650 Hollis Street, Emeryville, California
94608
(Address of principal executive offices)(Zip Code)
(510845-1999
(Registrant’s telephone number, including area code)
___________________________________
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each classTrading SymbolName of each exchange on which registered
Common Stock, par value $0.001 per shareGONasdaq Global Select Market
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.    Yes  ☐    No  
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Act.    Yes  ☐    No  ☒
Indicate by check mark if the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.    Yes      No  ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).    Yes  ☒    No  ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer
Accelerated filer
Non-accelerated filer
Smaller reporting company
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).    Yes    No  ☒
The aggregate market value of the voting and non-voting stock of the registrant as of June 28, 2019 (based on a closing price of $32.88 per share) held by non-affiliates was approximately $808.9 million. As of March 20, 2020, the registrant had 89,900,566 shares of common stock outstanding.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
Information required in response to Part III of Form 10-K (Items 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14) is hereby incorporated by reference to portions of the registrant's Proxy Statement for the Annual Meeting of Stockholders to be held in 2020. The Proxy Statement will be filed by the registrant with the Securities and Exchange Commission no later than 120 days after the end of the registrant's fiscal year ended December 28, 2019.



GROCERY OUTLET HOLDING CORP.
FORM 10-K
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page

1

Table of Contents
CAUTIONARY NOTE ON FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
Certain statements contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K (“Form 10-K” or “report”) and the documents incorporated by reference herein constitute “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All statements contained in this report and the documents incorporated by reference herein other than statements of historical fact, including statements regarding our future operating results and financial position, our business strategy and plans, business trends, and our objectives for future operations, may constitute forward-looking statements. Words such as “anticipate,” “believe,” “estimate,” “expect,” “intend,” “may,” “outlook,” “plan,” “project,” “seek,” “will,” and similar expressions, are intended to identify such forward-looking statements. We have based these forward-looking statements on our current expectations and projections about future events and trends that we believe may affect our financial condition, operating results, business strategy, short-term and long-term business operations and objectives, and financial needs. These forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks, uncertainties and assumptions, including those described under the headings “Item 1A. Risk Factors,” and “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in this report or as described in the other documents and reports we file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”). We encourage you to read this report and our other filings with the SEC carefully. Moreover, we operate in a very competitive and rapidly changing environment. New risks emerge from time to time. It is not possible for our management to predict all risks, nor can we assess the impact of all factors on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements we may make. In light of these risks, uncertainties and assumptions, the future events and trends discussed in this report may not occur and actual results could differ materially and adversely from those anticipated or implied by the forward-looking statements.
You should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. The events and circumstances reflected in the forward-looking statements may not be achieved or occur. Although we believe that the expectations reflected in the forward-looking statements are reasonable, we cannot guarantee future results, levels of activities, performance or achievements. These forward-looking statements should not be relied upon as representing our views as of any date subsequent to the date of this report. We do not undertake any duty to update any of these forward-looking statements after the date of this report or to conform these statements to actual results or revised expectations.
As used in this report, references to “Grocery Outlet,”“the Company,”“registrant,”“we,”“us” and “our,” refer to Grocery Outlet Holding Corp. and its consolidated subsidiaries unless otherwise indicated or the context requires otherwise.
Our fiscal year ends on the Saturday closest to December 31st each year. References to fiscal 2019, fiscal 2018, and fiscal 2017 refer to the fiscal years ended December 28, 2019, December 29, 2018 and December 30, 2017, respectively.
Website Disclosure
We use our website, www.groceryoutlet.com, as a channel of distribution of Company information. Financial and other important information about us is routinely accessible through and posted on our website. Accordingly, investors should monitor our website, in addition to following our press releases, SEC filings and public conference calls and webcasts. The contents of our website and information accessible through our website is not, however, a part of this report.
2

Table of Contents
PART I
ITEM 1. BUSINESS
OUR COMPANY
We are a high-growth, extreme value retailer of quality, name-brand consumables and fresh products sold through a network of independently operated stores. Each of our stores offers a fun, treasure hunt shopping experience in an easy-to-navigate, small-box format. An ever-changing assortment of “WOW!” deals, complemented by everyday staple products, generates customer excitement and encourages frequent visits from bargain-minded shoppers. Our flexible buying model allows us to offer quality, name-brand opportunistic products at prices generally 40% to 70% below those of conventional retailers. Entrepreneurial independent operators (“IOs”) run our stores and create a neighborhood feel through personalized customer service and a localized product offering. This differentiated approach has driven 16 consecutive years of positive comparable store sales growth.
Our founder, Jim Read, pioneered our opportunistic buying model in 1946 and subsequently developed the IO selling approach, which harnesses individual entrepreneurship and local decision-making to better serve our customers. Underlying this differentiated model was a mission that still guides us today: “Touching Lives for the Better.” Since 2006, the third generation of Read family leadership has advanced this mission and accelerated growth by strengthening our supplier relationships, introducing new product categories and expanding the store base from 128 to 347 stores across the West Coast and Pennsylvania. As a result, sales have increased from approximately $640.0 million in fiscal 2006 to approximately $2.56 billion in fiscal 2019, representing an 11% compound annual growth rate (“CAGR”). Our passionate, founding family-led management team remains a driving force behind our growth-oriented culture.
Our differentiated model for buying and selling delivers a “WOW!” shopping experience, which generates customer excitement, inspires loyalty and supports profitable sales growth:
How we buy: We source quality, name-brand consumables and fresh products opportunistically through a large, centralized purchasing team that leverages long-standing and actively managed supplier relationships to acquire merchandise at significant discounts. Our speed and efficiency in responding to supplier needs, combined with our specialized supply chain capabilities and flexible merchandising strategy, enhance our access to discounted products and allow us to turn inventory quickly and profitably. Our buyers proactively source on-trend products based on changing consumer preferences, including a wide selection of Natural, Organic, Specialty and Healthy (“NOSH”) products. We also source everyday staple products to complement our opportunistic offerings. Each store offers a curated and ever-changing assortment of approximately 5,000 SKUs, creating a “buy now” sense of urgency that promotes return visits and fosters customer loyalty.
How we sell: Our stores are independently operated by entrepreneurial small business owners who have a relentless focus on selecting the best products for their communities, providing personalized customer service and driving improved store performance. Unlike a store manager of a traditional retailer, IOs are independent businesses and are responsible for store operations, including ordering, merchandising and managing inventory, marketing locally and directly hiring, training and employing their store workers. IOs initially contribute capital to establish their business and share store-level gross profits with us. These factors both align our interests and incentivize IOs to aggressively grow their business to realize substantial financial upside. This combination of local decision-making supported by our purchasing scale and corporate resources results in a “small business at scale” model that we believe is difficult for competitors to replicate.
Our value proposition has broad appeal with bargain-minded customers across all income levels, demographics and geographies. Customers visited our stores over 95 million times in fiscal 2019 spending over $25 per transaction. We believe that our sustained focus on delivering ever-changing “WOW!” deals within a fun, treasure hunt shopping environment has generated strong customer loyalty and brand affinity. This customer enthusiasm is evidenced by our 12 consecutive years of positive comparable store traffic growth. We believe that our broad customer appeal supports significant new store growth opportunities, and we plan to continue to expand our reach to additional customers and geographies across the United States.
Our stores have performed well across all economic cycles, as demonstrated by our 16 consecutive years of positive comparable store sales growth and consistent gross margins of between 30.1% and 30.8% since fiscal 2010. In fact, our value proposition attracts even more customers in periods of economic uncertainty as evidenced by our average 13.5% comparable store sales growth during the recessionary economic conditions experienced in 2008 and 2009. Our model is also insulated from store labor-related variability because IOs directly employ their store workers. The result is lower corporate fixed costs, providing further protection in the event of an economic downturn.
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OUR COMPETITIVE STRENGTHS
We believe that the following competitive strengths are key drivers of our current success and position us for continued growth:
Powerful Customer Value Proposition Supported by a “WOW!” Experience. Delivering thrilling “WOW!” deals to our customers is a cornerstone of our business. We offer customers quality, name-brand consumables and fresh products at deep discounts in a fun, treasure hunt shopping environment. Our product offering is ever-changing with a constant rotation of opportunistic products, complemented by an assortment of competitively priced everyday staples across grocery, produce, refrigerated and frozen foods, beer and wine, fresh meat and seafood, general merchandise and health and beauty care. A typical Grocery Outlet basket is priced approximately 40% lower than conventional grocers and approximately 20% lower than the leading discounters. Our stores are convenient, easy to navigate and require neither membership fees nor bulk purchases for customers to save money. Our stores have wide aisles, clear signage and a high level of customer service. Upon checkout, a cashier “circles the savings” on each customer’s receipt, which reinforces the compelling value that we provide.
Flexible Sourcing and Distribution Model That Is Difficult to Replicate. Our flexible sourcing and distribution model differentiates us from traditional retailers and allows us to provide customers quality, name-brand products at exceptional values. As strong stewards of our suppliers’ brands, we are a preferred partner with a reputation for making rapid decisions, purchasing significant volumes and creatively solving suppliers’ inventory challenges to arrive at “win-win” outcomes. We take advantage of opportunities to acquire merchandise at substantial discounts that regularly arise from order cancellations, manufacturer overruns, packaging changes and approaching “sell-by” dates. We supplement our “WOW!” deals with everyday staples in order to provide a convenient shopping experience. Our buying strategy is deliberately flexible, which allows us to react to constantly changing opportunities. With over 65 people, our centralized sourcing team has deep experience and decades-long relationships with leading consumer packaged goods (“CPG”) companies. Our team is highly selective when evaluating the growing number of opportunities available to us and maintains a disciplined yet solutions-oriented approach. Our specialized model is supported by a supply chain designed to quickly and efficiently deliver an ever-changing assortment of products to store shelves.
Independent Operators Who Are the Foundation of Our “Small Business at Scale” Model. Our stores are independent business entities operated by entrepreneurial small business owners who have a relentless focus on ordering and merchandising the best products for their communities, providing personalized customer service and driving improved store performance. We generally share 50% of store-level gross profits with IOs, thereby incentivizing them to aggressively grow their business and realize substantial financial upside. IOs leverage our extensive purchasing scale, sophisticated ordering and information systems and field support in order to operate more efficiently. This combination of local decision-making supported by our purchasing expertise and corporate resources results in a “small business at scale” model that we believe is difficult for competitors to replicate. The vast majority of the IOs operate a single store, with most working as two-person teams. We encourage the IOs to establish local roots and actively participate in their communities to foster strong personal connections with customers. The IOs select approximately 75% of their merchandise based on local preferences, providing a unique assortment tailored to their community. Our collaborative relationship with the IOs creates a powerful selling model allowing us to deliver customers exceptional value with a local touch.
Proven and Consistent New Store Economics. Our new stores have generated robust store-level financial results, strong cash flow and attractive returns. Our highly flexible, small-box format of 15,000 to 20,000 total square feet has been successful across geographic regions, population densities and demographic groups, and has proved resilient to competitive entries from discounters and conventional retailers alike. On average, our stores achieve profitability during the first year of operations, reach maturity in four to five years and realize a payback on investment within four years. We believe that our broad customer appeal, differentiated value proposition and the predictable financial performance of our stores across vintages provide a high degree of visibility into the embedded earnings growth from our recently opened stores.
Value-Oriented Brand Aligned with Favorable Consumer Trends. We believe that consumers’ search for value is the new normal in retail. The success of off-price retailers represents a secular consumer shift toward value as a leading factor in purchasing decisions. Moreover, as Millennials mature and Baby Boomers age, we believe that they are increasingly focused on value, driving shopper traffic towards the deep discount channel. We expect that even after the completion of recessionary cycles, value will remain a leading factor in consumers’ retail purchasing decisions despite the return of stronger economic conditions. We have spent decades building our IO and opportunistic purchasing models to offer deep discounts in a customer-friendly store environment, which enables us to take advantage of this ongoing preference for value.
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Collaborative Company Culture Provides the Foundation for Continued Success. One of our key competitive advantages is our culture of family and community values, grounded in integrity, entrepreneurship, performance and collaboration. We have been dedicated to our mission of “Touching Lives for the Better” since our inception. Our passion and commitment are shared by team members throughout the entire organization, from the IOs and their employees to our distribution centers and corporate offices. We are a third-generation, family-run business led by CEO Eric Lindberg. Mr. Lindberg has been with Grocery Outlet for over 20 years and has instilled a “servant leadership” mentality that empowers employees and IOs and forms the basis of our highly collaborative culture. Additionally, MacGregor Read, after over 20 years serving in various operational roles culminating with his time as our Vice Chairman, will transition to a new non-executive role as the Vice Chairman of our board of directors on April 1, 2020.
OUR GROWTH STRATEGIES
We plan to continue to drive sales growth and profitability by maintaining a relentless focus on our value proposition and executing on the following strategies:
Drive Comparable Sales Growth. We expect that our compelling value proposition will continue to attract new customers, drive repeat visits, increase basket sizes and, as a result, generate strong comparable store sales growth. We plan to:
Deliver More “WOW!” Deals and Expand Our Offerings. We intend to drive incremental traffic and increase our share of wallet by further leveraging our purchasing model. We continue to deepen existing and develop new supplier relationships to ensure that we are the preferred partner and the first call for opportunistic inventory. As a result, we believe there is a significant opportunity to source and offer more “WOW!” deals within existing and new product categories, thereby offering greater value and variety to customers. For example, in response to growing consumer preferences for fresh and healthy options, we have grown NOSH primarily through opportunistic purchasing to represent over 15% of our current product mix. More recently, we have expanded our offerings to include fresh seafood and grass-fed meat in order to increase sales to existing and new customers.
Support IOs in Enhancing the “WOW!” Customer Experience. We continue to implement operational initiatives to support IOs in enhancing the customer experience. We develop and improve tools that provide IOs with actionable insights on sales, margin and customer behavior, enabling them to further grow their business. We seek to continuously improve our inventory planning tools to help IOs make better local assortment decisions while reducing out-of-stock items and losses related to product markdowns, throwaways and theft (“shrink”). We also regularly deploy updated fixtures, signage and enhanced in-store marketing to further improve the shopping experience, which we believe results in higher customer traffic and average basket sizes.
Increase Customer Awareness and Engagement. Our marketing strategy is focused on growing awareness, encouraging new customers to visit our stores and increasing engagement with all bargain-minded consumers. Our emphasis on digital marketing is enabling us to deliver specific and real-time information to our customers about the most compelling “WOW!” deals at their local store. We have over one million email subscribers in our database, most of whom receive daily and weekly “WOW! Alerts.” Along with the IOs, we utilize social media to increase our brand affinity and interact with customers more directly on a daily basis. Looking forward, we see an opportunity to further personalize our digital communications to both increase engagement with our existing customers and introduce new customers to our stores. We will continue to supplement our digital marketing with traditional print and broadcast advertising including through our marketing campaign, “Welcome to Bargain Bliss.”
Execute on Store Expansion Plans. We believe the success of our stores across a broad range of geographies, population densities and demographic groups creates a significant opportunity to profitably increase our store count. Our new stores typically require an average net cash investment of approximately $2.0 million and realize a payback on investment within four years. In fiscal 2019 we opened 34 new stores. Based on our experience, in addition to research conducted by eSite Analytics, we believe there is an opportunity to establish over 1,500 additional locations in the states in which we currently operate and in neighboring states. Our goal is to expand our store base by approximately 10% annually by penetrating existing and contiguous regions. Over the long term, we believe the market potential exists to establish 4,800 locations nationally.
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Implement Productivity Improvements to Reinvest in Our Value Proposition. Our seasoned management team has a proven track record of growing our business while maintaining a disciplined cost structure. Over the past five years, we have made significant investments that have laid a solid foundation for future growth. We have implemented and will continue to identify and implement productivity improvements through both operational initiatives and system enhancements, such as category assortment optimization, improved inventory management tools and greater purchasing specialization. We intend to reinforce our value proposition and drive further growth by reinvesting future productivity improvements into enhanced buying and selling capabilities.
COMPANY HISTORY
Our founder, Jim Read, pioneered our opportunistic buying model in 1946 and subsequently developed the IO selling approach beginning in Redmond, Oregon in 1973. Grocery Outlet Holding Corp. was incorporated in Delaware on September 11, 2014. In 2014, an investment fund affiliated with Hellman & Friedman LLC (the “H&F Investor”) acquired approximately 80% of our common stock (the “2014 H&F Acquisition”) with management and family retaining approximately 20%. Since the 2014 H&F Acquisition, we have made significant investments in our corporate and distribution infrastructure to support our growth, expand the store base and reinvest in existing stores. In June 2019, we completed the initial public offering of our common stock (the “IPO”). Our common stock trades on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbol “GO.” As of March 20, 2020, the H&F Investor owned approximately 30% of our outstanding common stock.
PROCUREMENT AND SUPPLY CHAIN
Procurement
Our flexible sourcing and supply chain model differentiates us from traditional retailers and allows us to provide customers quality, name-brand consumables and fresh products at exceptional values. We take advantage of opportunities to acquire merchandise at substantial discounts that regularly arise from order cancellations, manufacturer overruns, packaging changes and approaching “sell-by” dates. As strong stewards of our suppliers’ brands, we are a preferred partner of leading CPGs with a reputation for making rapid decisions, purchasing in significant volumes and creatively solving their inventory challenges. Our buying strategy is deliberately flexible to allow us to react to constantly changing opportunities.
Our centralized sourcing team, consisting of our purchasing and inventory planning groups represents nearly one-third of our non-field corporate staff and has deep experience and decades-long relationships with leading CPG companies. Our team is highly selective when evaluating the growing number of opportunities available to us and maintains a disciplined yet solutions-oriented approach. We are always seeking out and developing new supplier relationships to acquire desirable products at discounts that excite our customers. Our inventory planning group collaborates with and supports our buyers to ensure we purchase the appropriate type and quantity of products in order to maintain adequate inventory levels in key product categories.
We believe that we have a leading share of the large and growing excess inventory market. As we grow, we expect to have even greater access to quality merchandise due to our increased scale, broader supplier awareness and expanded geographic presence. We also expect the supply of opportunistic products to continue to expand as incumbent CPGs continue to invest in new products, brands and marketing. Additionally, we believe that changing consumer preferences will continue to support the proliferation of small and innovative CPG brands, and allow us to add new suppliers to our network.
Opportunistically sourced products represent approximately half of our purchasing mix. We refer to our best opportunistic purchases as “WOW!” deals, which generally represent deep discounts of 40% to 70% relative to conventional retailers. These products generate customer excitement and typically sell quickly due to their compelling value. The short duration and continually changing nature of our “WOW!” deals create a treasure hunt environment and a sense of urgency for customers to find and stock up on those heavily discounted items before they sell out. Furthermore, our “WOW!” items encourage repeat shopper visits as customers return to stores to discover what new deals are available.
We supplement our opportunistic purchases with competitively priced everyday staples in order to provide a convenient shopping experience. We typically source these staple products (e.g., milk, eggs, sugar) from multiple suppliers to lower our costs and we avoid long-term supply commitments to maintain the flexibility to pursue opportunistic buys as they arise.
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The average store offers 5,000 SKUs at any given time, providing customers with a curated and ever-changing assortment. Our perishable departments, including dairy and deli, produce and floral and fresh meat and seafood, represented approximately 34% of our fiscal 2019 sales. Our non-perishable departments including grocery, general merchandise, health and beauty care, frozen foods and beer and wine represented approximately 66% of our fiscal 2019 sales. We also offer a wide variety of NOSH products across most departments. Consumables represented approximately 90% of our product sales in fiscal 2019. Overall, on a typical Grocery Outlet basket, we offer savings of approximately 40% relative to conventional grocers and 20% relative to leading discounters.
Supply Chain
Over time, we have honed our supply chain operations to support our opportunistic buying approach and to quickly and efficiently deliver products to our stores. We believe our supply chain flexibility enables us to solve suppliers’ inventory challenges and, therefore, obtain significant discounts on purchases. After agreeing to purchase product from a supplier, we move quickly to receive, process and distribute the goods. Our systems allow IOs real-time visibility to our inventory, significantly reducing time to shelf. IOs typically order multiple deliveries per week resulting in higher inventory turns, lower shrink and a frequent assortment of new products on shelf.
As further evidence of the flexibility of our supply chain and the value we provide suppliers, we have dedicated teams to handle unique situations in which products need to be reconditioned or relabeled for sale. These items may include products without a UPC label, goods labeled for another geography, or inventory with damaged packaging.
We distribute inventory through eight primary distribution centers. We operate three distribution centers and use five distribution centers operated by third parties. We have an in-house transportation fleet as well as strong transportation partner relationships that provide consistent performance and timely deliveries to our stores. These capabilities allow us to offer an ever-changing assortment of products, with store-level inventory turning approximately 13 times per year.
We intend to continue to invest in our distribution and logistics infrastructure in order to support our anticipated store growth over the long term.
INDEPENDENT OPERATORS
IOs are independent business entities owned by one or more entrepreneurially minded individuals who typically live in the same community as their store and demonstrate a relentless focus on ordering and merchandising the best products for their communities, providing personalized customer service and driving improved store performance. The vast majority of the IOs operate a single store with most working as a two-person team, and on average have been operating their stores for over five years. We encourage the IOs to establish local roots and actively participate in their communities to foster strong personal connections with customers.
We generally share 50% of store-level gross profits with IOs, thereby incentivizing them to aggressively grow their business and realize substantial financial upside. The independent operator agreement (the “Operator Agreement”) that we sign with each IO gives the IO broad responsibility over store-level decision-making. This decision-making includes merchandising, selecting approximately 75% of products, managing inventory, marketing locally, directly hiring, training and employing their store workers and supervising store operations to carry out our brand’s commitment to superior customer service. As a result, our IO model reduces our fixed costs, corporate overhead and exposure to wage inflation pressures and centralized labor negotiations.
IOs leverage our national purchasing network, sophisticated ordering and information systems and field support in order to operate more efficiently. We facilitate collaboration among IOs to share best practices through company-wide and regional meetings, our IO intranet and other online and informal communications.
This combination of local decision-making supported by our purchasing expertise and corporate resources results in a “small business at scale” model that we believe is difficult for competitors to replicate. Our collaborative relationship with the IOs creates a powerful selling model allowing us to deliver customers exceptional value with a local touch.
As of December 28, 2019, 342 of our 347 stores were operated by IOs. We have entered into an Operator Agreement with each IO, which grants that IO a license to operate a particular Grocery Outlet Bargain Market retail store and to use our trademarks, service marks, trade names, brand names and logos under our brand standards. The Operator Agreement, along with our Best Business Practice Manual, defines our brand standards and sets forth the terms of the license granted to that IO. IOs have discretion to determine the manner and means for accomplishing their duties and implementing our brand standards. The success of this licensing arrangement depends upon mutual commitments by us and the IO to cooperate with each other and engage in practices that protect our brand standards and the reputation of our brand and enhance the sales, business and profit potential of the IO’s store.
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The vast majority of the IOs operate a single store with most working as a two-person family team. We believe this team approach leverages complementary operator skill sets resulting in a greater connection with customers along with improved store operations and service levels. The Operator Agreement provides that either the IO or we may terminate the Operator Agreement for any reason on 75 days’ written notice, or may terminate the Operator Agreement immediately for cause.
IOs are responsible for operational decision-making for their store, including hiring, training and employing their own workers as well as ordering and merchandising products. The IO orders merchandise solely from us, which we, in turn, deliver to IOs on consignment. As a result, we retain ownership of all merchandise until the point in time that merchandise is sold to a customer. Under the Operator Agreement, IOs are given the right to select a majority of merchandise that is sold in their store. IOs choose merchandise from our order guide according to their knowledge and experience with local customer purchasing trends, preferences, historical sales and other related factors.
IOs are able to uniquely display and merchandise product in order to appeal to their local customer base. IOs also have discretion to adjust pricing in response to local competition or product turns, provided that the overall outcome based on an average basket of items comports with our reputation for selling quality name-brand consumables and fresh products and other merchandise at significant discounts. IOs are expected to engage in local marketing efforts to promote their store and enhance the reputation and goodwill of the Grocery Outlet brand. To protect our brand and reputation, the Operator Agreement requires IOs to adhere to brand standards, including cleanliness, customer service, store appearance, conducting their business in compliance with all laws and observing requirements for storing, handling and selling merchandise.
As consignor of all merchandise, the aggregate sales proceeds belong to us. We, in turn, pay IOs a commission which is generally 50% of the store’s gross profit in exchange for the IO’s services in staffing and operating the store. Any spoiled, damaged or stolen merchandise, markdowns or price changes impact gross margin and therefore the IO’s commission. We generally split these losses equally with IOs. As a result, IOs are exposed to the risk of loss of such merchandise and are incentivized to minimize any such losses.
We lease and build out each Grocery Outlet location. Under the Operator Agreement, we provide IOs with the right to occupy the store premises solely to operate the retail store on the terms set forth in the Operator Agreement. The Operator Agreement specifies the retail store that the IO is entitled to operate, but it does not grant the IO an exclusive territory, restrict us from opening stores nearby, or give the IO preference to relocate to another store as opportunities arise. As the store tenant, we fund the build-out of the store including racking, refrigeration and other equipment and pay rent, common area maintenance and other lease charges. IOs must cover their own initial working capital requirements and acquire certain store and safety assets. IOs may fund their initial store investment from their existing capital, a third-party loan or, most commonly, through a loan from us. The IOs are required to hire, train and employ a properly trained workforce sufficient in number to enable the IO to fulfill its obligations under the Operator Agreement. IOs are responsible for expenses required for business operations, including all labor costs, utilities, credit card processing fees, supplies, taxes (i.e., withholding, contributions and payroll taxes and income taxes on commissions paid to them), fines, levies and other expenses attributable to their operations.
We field over 20,000 leads for prospective new IOs annually in pursuit of smart and entrepreneurially minded retail leaders to support our continued growth. After a robust screening and interview process, we select fewer than one out of every 300 leads to enter a rigorous Aspiring Operator in Training (“AOT”) program with the goal of potentially becoming an IO. AOTs receive on-the-job training as an employee of an experienced IO that applies to serve as a training store for us and teach the skills that they learned and now rely on to drive their own financial success. This gives AOTs the chance to experience first-hand what running a Grocery Outlet and managing employees will require. We supplement on-the-job training with classes at our headquarters and through online tutorials so that AOTs gain a thorough appreciation for an IO’s responsibilities and opportunities. Upon successful completion of the training program, AOTs submit business plans to apply for new stores as they become available. Those business plans generally include a competitive analysis of the local market, operational strategy, marketing plan and projected financial performance. Based on the strength of that business plan, including an AOT’s familiarity with the local market, we ultimately select an IO as new store opportunities open and facilitate the transition.
OUR STORES
Delivering thrilling deals to our customers is a cornerstone of our business. We offer customers quality, name-brand products at deep discounts in a fun, treasure hunt shopping environment. Our stores are convenient, easy to navigate and require no membership fee or bulk purchases, which provides all customers with the ability to realize significant savings in an enjoyable shopping environment. Our IO model is another key point of differentiation and facilitates personalized customer service and enhances connections with the local communities that we serve.
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As of December 28, 2019, we had 347 stores that average approximately 14,000 square feet on the sales floor. Upon entering a store, customers are greeted by signage introducing the IOs, a tailored selection of fresh produce and other perishables, followed by a “Power Wall” displaying some of our most compelling “WOW!” offerings.
Our stores are neatly organized and well maintained with clear signage to guide the customer through our various departments such as produce, beer and wine and fresh meat and seafood. Specialized item price tags call attention to our “WOW!” deals and highlight our robust NOSH offerings. Upon checkout, a cashier “circles the savings” on each customer’s receipt, which reinforces the compelling value that we provide.
Stores are assorted and merchandised uniquely by IOs providing a “WOW!” treasure hunt shopping experience. On average, approximately 75% of the assortment in each Grocery Outlet store is selected by IOs based on local preference and shopping history while the remaining assortment is delivered to stores to support marketing circulars and manage “sell-by” dates. We have several customized systems and tools in place, including our ordering system that allows IOs to see our real-time inventory and provides ordering suggestions based on local store characteristics. IOs have broad autonomy to create unique merchandising displays highlighting their “WOW!” offerings which strengthens the local feel of each store.
EXPANSION OPPORTUNITIES
We believe the success of our stores across a broad range of geographies, population densities and demographic groups creates a significant opportunity to profitably increase our store count. In fiscal 2019 we opened 34 new stores. We have a dedicated real estate team that utilizes a rigorous site selection process in order to source new store locations that generate strong overall returns. Those sites are reviewed by our real estate committee, which includes our Chief Executive Officer, President, and Chief Financial Officer, among others.
We deploy a store model that generates robust store-level financial results, strong cash flow and powerful returns. We target new stores of between 15,000 and 20,000 total square feet with an average of 4,000 square feet of non-selling space at an average net cash investment of approximately $2.0 million including store buildout (net of contributions from landlords), inventory (net of payables) and cash pre-opening expenses. Based on our historical performance, we target sales of $5.5 million during the first year with sales increasing 25% to 30% cumulatively until reaching maturity in four to five years. Our underwriting criteria target an average year-four cash-on-cash return of approximately 35% and an average payback on investment within four years.
In the near term, we plan to grow our store base to capture whitespace in existing markets as well as contiguous regions. Based on our experience, in addition to research conducted by eSite Analytics, we believe there is an opportunity to establish over 1,500 additional locations in the states in which we currently operate and in neighboring states. Our goal is to expand our store base by approximately 10% annually by penetrating existing and contiguous regions. Over the long term, we believe the market potential exists to establish 4,800 locations nationally.
MARKETING
Our ability to consistently deliver “WOW!” deals that generate customer excitement is our strongest marketing tool. Our value proposition has broad appeal, with bargain-minded customers spanning all income levels and demographics. We promote brand awareness and drive customers to shop through centralized marketing initiatives along with local IO marketing efforts. As a result of this approach and local marketing campaigns funded by IOs, our marketing expense as a percent of sales is relatively low.
We focus our centralized marketing efforts primarily on digital ads, emailed “WOW! Alerts,” social media, television and radio commercials, print circulars and in-store and outdoor signage. Our cost-effective marketing approach is designed to build brand awareness and communicate specific in-store “WOW!” deals to drive customer traffic. Over time, we have increased the utilization of digital advertising, allowing us to more quickly develop, deploy and target marketing communications based on our changing inventories and store- specific deals. We have over one million email subscribers in our database, most of whom receive daily and weekly “WOW! Alerts” customized to the shopper’s local store. In addition to our digital ads, we distribute print circulars to align with major holidays and other key promotional events, such as our semi-annual wine sale. We also market via television, streaming television platforms and radio to specific markets to build brand awareness and highlight the value we provide. We reinforce these efforts with in-store price and item signage as well as outdoor marketing via billboards and truck wraps.
To better communicate our value proposition and drive increased customer traffic, in fiscal 2019 we refreshed our brand image via an updated website, modernized logo and new marketing campaign entitled “Welcome to Bargain Bliss.” In addition to a new advertising campaign, this brand refresh includes updated customer messaging to highlight the price, quality and service advantage we provide. Recently we began updating in-store signage and marketing collateral in support of the new campaign and anticipate refreshing all stores over the next several years.
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IOs develop and fund their local marketing plan to drive customer engagement. IO efforts include community outreach such as partnering with food banks, sponsoring youth athletic programs and offering discounts to veterans. In addition, IOs develop and manage their own social media marketing platforms, posting creative and compelling content to reinforce our fun and value-oriented image.
COMPETITION
We compete for consumer spend with a diverse group of retailers, including mass, discount, conventional grocery, department, drug, convenience, hardware, variety, online and other specialty stores. The competitive landscape is highly fragmented and localized; however, our customers most often cite Safeway as the retailer where they also shop for consumables. We see discount retailers of consumable products, which include Walmart, WinCo, Aldi and Lidl, as competitors given their broad product offerings at low prices relative to conventional grocery stores. We compete with both conventional grocery stores and discounters by offering an ever-changing selection of name-brand products in a fun, treasure hunt shopping environment at a significant discount.
Many competitors are attempting to attract customers by offering various forms of e-commerce. While we have embraced online and digital marketing, we have thus far not pursued e-commerce. Based on our extreme value pricing and lower average ticket, we do not believe that our model lends itself to e-commerce which we think emphasizes convenience over value and fun. We have prioritized our capital and organizational investments to deliver the deepest and most compelling in-store values and experience for customers. Furthermore, we have seen no perceptible impact on sales of stores that are close to competitors that offer e-commerce solutions in the past few years.
Beyond competition for consumers, we compete against a fragmented landscape of opportunistic purchasers, including retailers (e.g., Big Lots and 99 Cents Only) and wholesalers to acquire excess merchandise for sale in our stores. Our established relationships with our suppliers along with our distribution scale, buying power, financial credibility and responsiveness often makes us the first call for available deals. Our direct relationships with suppliers have increased as we have grown, and we continuously strive to broaden our supplier network.
BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY
Our information systems provide a broad range of business process assistance and real-time data to support our purchasing and planning approach, merchandising team and strategy, multiple distribution center management, store and operational insight and financial reporting. We selected and developed these technologies to provide the flexibility and functionality to support our unique buying and selling model as well as to identify and respond to merchandising and operating trends in our business.
Over the last five years, we have modernized and added several systems that provide us additional functionality and scalability in order to better support operational decision-making. These investments include enhanced point of sale, warehouse management, human resource planning, business intelligence, vendor tracking and lead management, store communications, real estate lease management and financial planning and analysis systems. We believe the ongoing modernization, enhancement and maintenance of our systems have allowed us to support the growth in our business and store base.
We modify, update and replace our systems and infrastructure from time to time, including by adding new hardware, software and applications; maintaining, updating or replacing legacy programs, converting to best-in-class systems; integrating new service providers; and adding enhanced new functionality, such as cloud computing technologies. In addition, we have a customized enterprise resource planning system, components of which have been replaced and components of which we anticipate will be replaced this year and over the next several years.
We have also built a series of tools that empower IOs to make intelligent decisions to grow their business from improving product ordering, reducing shrink, and gaining intelligence into their store performance and profitability. We believe these investments have resulted in valuable business insights and operational improvements. We anticipate making ongoing technology investments in order to drive further productivity and functionality improvements.
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TRADEMARKS AND OTHER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
We own federally registered trademarks related to our brand, including “GROCERY OUTLET BARGAIN MARKET”, “WOW!”, “NOSH” and “BARGAINS ON BRANDS YOU TRUST!” In addition, we maintain trademarks for the images of certain logos that we use, including the “GROCERY OUTLET BARGAIN MARKET” logo, the “NOSH” logo and the “WOW!” logo. We are also in the process of pursuing several other trademarks to further identify our services such as “BARGAIN BLISS”, “FEELS LIKE FALLING IN LOVE IN EVERY AISLE”, “THE SAVINGS ARE REAL, THE FEELING IS PURE BLISS” and “HIP HIP SYRAH.” We have disclaimed the terms “GROCERY OUTLET” and “MARKET” with respect to our “GROCERY OUTLET BARGAIN MARKET” trademarks, among other disclaimed terms with respect to our registered trademarks and trademark applications.
Our trademark registrations have various expiration dates; however, assuming that the trademark registrations are properly renewed, they have a perpetual duration. We also own several domain names, including www.groceryoutlet.com and www.ownagroceryoutlet.com, and registered and unregistered copyrights in our website content. Our Operator Agreement grants the IOs a limited, non-exclusive license to use our trademarks solely in connection with the operation and promotion of their store and not in connection with other activities. IOs are not permitted to sublicense our trademarks to others. We attempt to obtain registration of our trademarks as practical and pursue infringement of those marks when appropriate. We rely on trademark and copyright laws, trade-secret protection and confidentiality, license and other agreements with the IOs, suppliers, employees and others to protect our intellectual property.
REGULATION
We and the IOs are subject to regulation by various federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”), the Federal Trade Commission (the “FTC”), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the “USDA”) the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency. We and the IOs are subject to various laws and regulations, including those governing labor and employment, including minimum wage requirements, advertising, privacy, safety and environmental protection and consumer protection regulations, including those that regulate retailers and/or govern product standards, the promotion and sale of merchandise and the operation of stores and warehouse facilities. In addition, we and the IOs must comply with provisions regulating health and sanitation standards, food labeling, licensing for the sale of food and alcoholic beverages. We actively monitor changes in these laws. In addition, we and the IOs are subject to environmental laws pursuant to which we and the IOs could be strictly and jointly and severally liable for any contamination at our current or former locations, or at third-party waste disposal sites, regardless of our knowledge or responsibility for such contamination.
Food and Dietary SupplementsThe FDA regulates the safety of certain food and food ingredients, as well as dietary supplements under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the “FDCA”). Similarly, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service ensures that the country’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, catfish and certain egg products is safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (the “FSMA”) amended the FDCA in 2011 and expanded the FDA’s regulatory oversight of all supply chain participants. Most of the FDA’s promulgating regulations are now in effect and mandate that risk-based preventive controls be observed by the majority of food producers. This authority applies to all domestic food facilities and, by way of imported food supplier verification requirements, to all foreign facilities that supply food products.
The FDA also exercises broad jurisdiction over the labeling and promotion of food. Under certain circumstances, this jurisdiction extends even to product-related claims and representations made on a company’s website or similar printed or graphic media. All foods, including dietary supplements, must bear labeling that provides consumers with essential information with respect to standards of identity, net quantity, nutrition facts, ingredient statements and allergen disclosures. The FDA also regulates the use of structure/function claims, health claims, nutrient content claims and the disclosure of calories and other nutrient information for frequently sold items. In addition, compliance dates on various nutrition initiatives that will impact many supply chain participants, such as in relation to partially hydrogenated oils, are scheduled to go into effect through 2021.
The FDA has comprehensive authority to regulate the safety, ingredients, labeling and good manufacturing practices for dietary supplements. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (the “DSHEA”) amended the FDCA in 1994 and expanded the FDA’s regulatory authority over dietary supplements. Through DSHEA, dietary supplements became a regulated commodity while also allowing structure/function claims on products. However, no statement on a dietary supplement may expressly or implicitly represent that it will diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat or prevent a disease.
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Food and Dietary Supplement AdvertisingThe FTC exercises jurisdiction over the advertising of foods and dietary supplements. The FTC has the power to impose monetary sanctions, consent decrees and/or other penalties that can severely limit a company’s business practices. In recent years, the FTC has instituted numerous enforcement actions against companies carrying dietary supplements for failure to have adequate substantiation for claims made in advertising or for the use of false or misleading advertising claims.
ComplianceAs is common in the retail industry, we rely on our suppliers and manufacturers to ensure that the products they manufacture and sell to us comply with all applicable regulatory and legislative requirements. In general, our purchase orders require that suppliers be compliant and represent and warrant to compliance with laws and require indemnification and/or insurance from our suppliers and manufacturers.
However, even with adequate insurance and indemnification, any claims of non-compliance could significantly damage our reputation and consumer confidence in products we sell. In addition, the failure of such products to comply with applicable regulatory and legislative requirements could prevent us from marketing the products or require us to recall or remove such products from our stores. In order to comply with applicable statutes and regulations, our suppliers and manufacturers have from time to time reformulated, eliminated or relabeled certain of their products.
We also source a portion of our products from outside the United States. The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other similar anti-bribery and anti-kickback laws and regulations generally prohibit companies and their intermediaries from making improper payments to non-U.S. officials for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business. Our policies and our supplier compliance agreements mandate compliance with applicable law, including these laws and regulations.
INSURANCE
We maintain third-party insurance for a number of risk management activities, including workers’ compensation, general liability, commercial property, ocean marine, crime, director and officer and employee, property and cargo and stock related insurance policies. We evaluate our insurance requirements on an ongoing basis to ensure we maintain adequate levels of coverage. The Operator Agreement requires IOs to maintain general liability and workers’ compensation insurance coverage for their operations.
EMPLOYEES
As of December 28, 2019, we had 847 employees, 682 of whom were full-time and 165 of whom were part-time. As of December 28, 2019, 326 of our employees were based at our corporate headquarters in Emeryville, California, and our Leola, Pennsylvania office, 105 of which were classified as field employees. Our distribution centers employed 314 persons. The remaining employees were employees in our Company-operated stores. As of December 28, 2019, 114 of our employees were union employees, all of whom were employees at two Company-operated stores. We have not experienced any material interruptions of operations due to disputes with our employees and consider our relations with our employees to be very good.
EXECUTIVE OFFICERS OF THE REGISTRANT
The following table sets forth information about our executive officers as of March 25, 2020:
NameAgePosition
Eric J. Lindberg, Jr49Chief Executive Officer and Director
S. MacGregor Read, Jr49Vice Chairman and Director*
Robert Joseph Sheedy, Jr45President
Andrea R. Bortner58Chief Human Resources Officer
Charles C. Bracher47Chief Financial Officer
Pamela B. Burke52Chief Administrative Officer, General Counsel and Secretary
Heather L. Mayo56Executive Vice President, Sales and Merchandising
Brian T. McAndrews59Senior Vice President, Store Development
Thomas H. McMahon58Executive Vice President, Sales and Merchandising
Steven K. Wilson56Senior Vice President, Purchasing
*Mr. Read has served as our Vice Chairman since January 2019. On January 6, 2020, he informed us of his decision to transition to the newly created non-executive role of Vice Chairman of our board of directors, effective April 1, 2020.
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Set forth below is a brief description of the business experience of our executive officers. All of our officers serve at the discretion of our board of directors.
Eric J. Lindberg, Jr. has served as our Chief Executive Officer since January 2019 and as a director since January 2006. Previously, from January 2006 to December 2018, Mr. Lindberg served as our Co-Chief Executive Officer. Prior to being appointed Co-Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Lindberg served in various positions with us since 1996. As our Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Lindberg brings to our board of directors significant senior leadership, and his detailed knowledge of our operations, finances, strategies and industry garnered over his 23-year tenure with us makes him well qualified to serve as our Chief Executive Officer and as a member of the board of directors. Mr. Lindberg and Mr. Read are cousins by marriage.
S. MacGregor Read, Jr. has served as our Vice Chairman since January 2019 and as a director since January 2006. Previously, from January 2006 to December 2018, Mr. Read served as our Co-Chief Executive Officer. Prior to being appointed Co-Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Read served in various positions with us since 1996. As a member of the board of directors, Mr. Read contributes his knowledge of our operations, finances, strategies and industry garnered over his 23-year tenure with us. Mr. Read and Mr. Lindberg are cousins by marriage.
Robert Joseph Sheedy, Jr. has served as our President since January 2019. Mr. Sheedy previously served as our Chief Merchandise, Marketing & Strategy Officer from April 2017 to December 2018, our Chief Merchandise & Strategy Officer from March 2014 to April 2017 and our Vice President, Strategy from April 2012 to February 2014. Before joining us, Mr. Sheedy served in various roles at Staples Inc., an office supply company, from 2005 to 2012, most recently as their Vice President, Strategy.
Andrea R. Bortner has served as our Chief Human Resources officer since March 2020. Before joining us, Ms. Bortner served as Chief Human Resources Officer at Maxar Technologies, Inc., a space technology company, from August 2016 to October 2019 and as Chief Human Resources Officer at Catalina, an advertising and marketing company, from August 2012 to June 2016.
Charles C. Bracher has served as our Chief Financial Officer since August 2012. Before joining us, Mr. Bracher served in various roles at Bare Escentuals, Inc., a mineral cosmetics company, from 2005 to 2012, most recently as Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Bracher began his career in the Investment Banking Division of Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Pamela B. Burke has served as our Chief Administrative Officer, General Counsel and Secretary since January 2019 and previously served as our General Counsel and Secretary from June 2015 to December 2018. Before joining us, Ms. Burke served in various management positions at CRC Health Group, Inc., a provider of specialized behavioral health services, most recently as Senior Vice President of Legal, HR and Risk from April 2010 to February 2015.
Heather L. Mayo has served as our Executive Vice President of Sales and Merchandising, East since October 2019. Before joining us, Ms. Mayo served as Chief Merchandising Officer of Boxed from November 2016 to September 2017. Ms. Mayo served in various roles in merchandising and operations at Sam’s Club, a division of Walmart, from 2004 to 2016, most recently as their Senior Vice President, Operations for the West Division from February 2015 to March 2016 and as Senior Vice President, Operations for the South Division from August 2014 to February 2015.
Brian T. McAndrews has served as our Senior Vice President of Store Development overseeing all company real estate functions since July of 2018. Before joining us, Mr. McAndrews served as Chief Real estate Officer at Conn’s Home Plus from June 2017 to June 2018 and as Senior Vice President, Global Real Estate & Construction at Dollar Financial Corporation from February 2010 to June 2017.
Thomas H. McMahon has served as our Executive Vice President of Sales and Merchandising since January 2017 and served as our Vice President of Sales and Merchandising from December 2008 to December 2016. Before joining us in 2008, Mr. McMahon was the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of T Street Incorporated, a retail specialty company.
Steven K. Wilson has served as our Senior Vice President of Purchasing since February 2018 and previously served as our Vice President of Purchasing from July 2006 to January 2018. Prior to being appointed Vice President of Purchasing, Mr. Wilson served in various positions with us since 1994.
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ITEM 1A. RISK FACTORS
Investing in our common stock involves a high degree of risk. You should carefully consider the following risk factors together with all of the other information in this report, including the consolidated financial statements and related notes included elsewhere in this report, before deciding whether to invest in shares of our common stock. Additional risks and uncertainties that we are unaware of, or that we currently believe are not material, may also become important factors that materially and adversely affect our business. The occurrence of any of the events described below could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations and growth prospects. In such an event, the trading price of our common stock may decline and you may lose all or part of your investment.
Risks Related to Our Business
We depend on suppliers to consistently supply us with opportunistic products at attractive pricing, and any failure to procure such products could result in material adverse effects on our business, product inventories, sales and profit margins.
Our business is dependent on our ability to strategically source a sufficient volume and variety of opportunistic products at attractive pricing. While opportunistic buying, operating with appropriate inventory levels and frequent inventory turns are key elements of our business strategy, they subject us to risks related to the pricing, quantity, mix, quality and timing of inventory flowing to our stores. We do not have significant control over the supply, cost or availability of many of the products offered for sale in our stores. Shortages or disruptions in the availability of quality products that excite our customers could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
All of our inventory is acquired through purchase orders and we generally do not have long-term contractual agreements with our suppliers that obligate them to provide us with products exclusively or at specified quantities or prices, or at all. As a result, any of our current suppliers may decide to sell products to our competitors and may not continue selling products to us. In order to retain our competitive advantage, we need to continue to develop and maintain relationships with qualified suppliers that can satisfy our standards for quality and our requirements for delivery of products in a timely and efficient manner at attractive prices. The need to develop new relationships will be particularly important as we seek to expand our operations and enhance our product offerings in the future.
While we have not experienced any difficulty in obtaining sufficient quantities of product to date, manufacturers and distributors of name-brand products have become increasingly consolidated. Further consolidation of manufacturers or distributors could reduce our supply options and detrimentally impact the terms under which we purchase products. If one or more of our existing significant suppliers were to be unable or unwilling to continue providing products to us on attractive terms, we may have difficulty obtaining alternative sources. We cannot assure you that we would be able to find replacement suppliers on commercially reasonable terms, which would have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. The loss of one or more of our existing significant suppliers or our inability to develop relationships with new suppliers could reduce our competitiveness, slow our plans for further expansion and cause our sales and operating results to be materially adversely affected.
Our suppliers (and those they depend upon for materials and services) are subject to risks, including labor disputes or constraints, union organizing activities, financial liquidity, inclement weather, natural disasters, significant public health and safety events, supply constraints and general economic and political conditions that could limit their ability to provide us with quality products. These risks may delay or preclude delivery of product to us on a timely basis or at all.
We may not be able to successfully identify trends and maintain a consistent level of opportunistic products which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Consumer preferences often change rapidly and without warning. We may not successfully address consumer trends or be able to acquire desirable products at discounts that excite our customers, which could add difficulty in attracting new customers and retaining existing customers and encouraging frequent visits. We generally make individual purchase decisions for products that become available, and these purchases may be for large quantities that we may not be able to sell on a timely or cost-effective basis. Some of our products are sourced from suppliers at significantly reduced prices for specific reasons, and we are not always able to purchase specific products on a recurring basis. To the extent that some of our suppliers are better able to manage their inventory levels and reduce the amount of their excess inventory, the amount of over-stock and short-dated products available to us could also be materially reduced, making it difficult to deliver products to our customers at attractive prices. Maintaining adequate inventory of quality, name-brand products requires significant attention and monitoring of market trends, local markets and developments with suppliers and our distribution network, and it is not certain that we or the IOs will be effective in inventory management.
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We base our purchases of inventory, in part, on our sales forecasts. If our sales forecasts overestimate customer demand, we may experience higher inventory levels and need to take markdowns on excess or slow-moving inventory, leading to decreased profit margins. Conversely, if our sales forecasts underestimate customer demand, we may have insufficient inventory to meet demand, leading to lost sales, either of which could materially adversely affect our financial performance.
Our success depends on our ability and the ability of the IOs to maintain or increase comparable store sales, and if we are unable to achieve comparable store growth, our profitability and performance could be materially adversely impacted.
The IOs are responsible for store operations. Our success depends on increasing comparable store sales through our opportunistic purchasing strategy and the ability of the IOs to increase sales and profits. To increase sales and profits, and therefore comparable store sales growth, we and the IOs focus on delivering value and generating customer excitement by strengthening opportunistic purchasing, optimizing inventory management, maintaining strong store conditions and effectively marketing current products and new product offerings. We may not be able to maintain or improve the levels of comparable store sales that we have experienced in the past, and our comparable store sales growth is a significant driver of our profitability and overall business results. In addition, competition and pricing pressures from competitors may also materially adversely impact our operating margins. Our comparable store sales growth could be lower than our historical average or our future target for many reasons, including general economic conditions, operational performance, including by the IOs, price inflation or deflation, industry competition, new competitive entrants near our stores, price changes in response to competitive factors, the impact of new stores entering the comparable store base, cycling against any year or quarter of above-average sales results, possible supply shortages or other operational disruptions, the number and dollar amount of customer transactions in our stores, our ability to provide product or service offerings that generate new and repeat visits to our stores and the level of customer engagement that we and the IOs provide in our stores. In addition, we may not accurately model cannibalization for our new stores. Opening new stores in our established markets may result in inadvertent oversaturation, temporarily or permanently diverting customers and sales from our existing stores to new stores and reduce comparable store sales, thus adversely affecting our overall financial performance. These factors may cause our comparable store sales results to be materially lower than in recent periods, which could harm our profitability and business.
Because we compete to a substantial degree on price, changes affecting the market prices of the products we sell, including due to inflation or deflation or worsening economic conditions, could materially adversely affect our financial condition and operating results.
A critical differentiator of our business is our ability to offer value to our customers, including offering prices that are substantially below those offered by some of our competitors. We carefully monitor the market prices of our products in order to maintain our price advantage and reputation. If prices of goods increase and our suppliers seek price increases from us, we may not be able to mitigate such increases and would consider setting a higher price, which could deter customers. If our competitors substantially lower their prices, we may lose customers and mark down prices. Our profitability may be impacted by lower prices, which may impact gross margins. We may also experience reduced sales as a result of a decline in the number and average basket size of customer transactions.
In addition, the market price of the products we sell can be influenced by general economic conditions. For example, general deflation in the prices of the products we sell could cause us and the IOs to mark down prices and thereby reduce our gross profits and gross margins. Adverse general economic conditions could also increase costs to us, such as shipping rates, freight costs and store occupancy costs and further reduce our sales or increase our cost of goods sold or selling, general and administrative expenses. Our low-price model and competitive pressures may inhibit our ability to reflect these increased costs in the prices of our products, and therefore reduce our profitability and materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If we cannot open, relocate or remodel stores on schedule, it could have a material adverse impact on our business, future growth and financial condition.
Our growth strategy largely depends on our ability to identify and open future store locations and relocate or remodel existing store locations in new and existing markets. We opened 34 new stores in fiscal 2019. Our ability to open stores in a timely manner depends in part on the following factors: the ability to attract and develop potential IOs; the availability of attractive store locations and rent prices; the absence of entitlement processes or occupancy delays; the ability to negotiate acceptable lease and development terms; our relationships with current and prospective landlords; the ability to secure and manage the inventory necessary for the launch and operation of new stores; general economic conditions; and the availability of capital funding for expansion. Any or all of these factors and conditions could materially adversely affect our growth and profitability.
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Our goal is to expand our store base by approximately 10% annually over the next several years. However, we cannot assure you that we will achieve this level of new store growth. We may not have the level of cash flow or financing necessary to support our growth strategy. Additionally, our proposed expansion will place increased demands on our operational, managerial and administrative resources. These increased demands could cause us to operate our existing business less efficiently, which in turn could cause deterioration in the financial performance of our existing stores. If we experience a decline in performance, we may slow or discontinue store openings, or we may decide to close stores that are unable to operate in a profitable manner. If we fail to successfully implement our growth strategy, including by opening new stores, our financial condition and operating results may be adversely affected.
Delays or failures in opening new stores or completing relocations or remodels could materially adversely affect our growth and/or profitability. Additionally, new stores might not always align with our expectations in terms of sales or capital expenditures and we may not achieve projected results.
Our newly opened stores may negatively impact our financial results in the short-term and may not achieve sales and operating levels consistent with our more mature stores on a timely basis or at all.
We have actively pursued new store growth, including in new markets, and plan to continue doing so in the future. Our new store openings may not be successful or reach the sales and profitability levels of our existing stores. Some new stores may be located in areas with different competitive and market conditions as well as different customer discretionary spending patterns than our existing markets. Some new stores and future new store opportunities may be located in new geographic areas where we have limited or no meaningful experience or brand recognition. We may experience a higher cost of entry in those markets as we build brand awareness and drive customers to incorporate us into their shopping habits. For example, in Southern California the IOs have experienced slower growth and profitability than our existing stores as they continue to build brand awareness in the market.
New store openings may negatively impact our financial results in the short-term due to the effect of store opening costs and lower sales and contribution to overall profitability during the initial period following opening. New stores, particularly those in new markets, build their sales volume, brand recognition and customer base over time and, as a result, generally have lower margins and higher operating expenses as a percentage of sales than our more mature stores. New stores may not achieve sustained sales and operating levels consistent with our more mature store base on a timely basis or at all. This lack of performance may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and operating results.
We may not anticipate all of the challenges imposed by the expansion of our operations into new geographic markets. We may not manage our expansion effectively, and our failure to achieve or properly execute our expansion plans could limit our growth or have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Further, we have experienced in the past, and expect to experience in the future, some sales cannibalization of our existing stores to our new stores. As some of our existing customers switch to new, closer locations within markets, our financial condition and operating results may be materially adversely affected.
Economic conditions and other economic factors may materially adversely affect our financial performance and other aspects of our business by negatively impacting our customers’ disposable income or discretionary spending, increasing our costs and expenses, affecting our ability to plan and execute our strategic initiatives, and materially adversely affecting our sales, results of operations and performance.
General conditions in the United States and global economy that are beyond our control may materially adversely affect our business and financial performance. While we have not previously been materially adversely affected by periods of decreased consumer spending, any factor that could materially adversely affect the disposable income of our customers could decrease our customers’ spending and number of trips to our stores, which could result in lower sales, increased markdowns on products, a reduction in profitability due to lower margins and may require increased selling and promotional expenses. These factors include but are not limited to unemployment, minimum wages, significant public health and safety events, inflation and deflation, trade wars and interest and tax rates.
Many of the factors identified above also affect commodity rates, transportation costs, costs of labor, insurance and healthcare, the strength of the U.S. dollar, lease costs, measures that create barriers to or increase the costs associated with international trade, changes in laws, regulations and policies and other economic factors, all of which may impact our cost of goods sold and our selling, general and administrative expenses, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. These factors could also materially adversely affect our ability to plan and execute our strategic initiatives, invest in and open new stores, prevent current stores from closing, and may have other material adverse consequences which we are unable to fully anticipate or control, all of which may materially adversely affect our sales, cash flow, results of operations and performance. We have limited or no ability to control many of these factors.
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Food retailers provide alternative options for consumers and compete aggressively to win those consumers; our failure to offer a compelling value proposition to consumers could limit our growth opportunities and materially adversely impact our financial performance.
The retail food industry includes mass and discount retailers, warehouse membership clubs, online retailers, conventional grocery stores and specialty stores. These businesses provide alternative options for the consumers whom we aim to serve. Our success relative to these retailers is driven by a combination of factors, primarily product selection and quality, price, location, customer engagement and store format. Our success depends on our ability to differentiate ourselves and provide value to our customers, and our failure to do so may negatively impact our sales. To the extent that other food retailers lower prices or run promotions, our ability to maintain profit margins and sales levels may be negatively impacted. We and the IOs may have to increase marketing expense to attract customers, and may have to mark down prices to be competitive and not lose market share. This limitation may materially adversely affect our margins and financial performance.
Competition for customers has intensified as other discount food retailers, such as Aldi, Lidl and WinCo have moved into, or increased their presence in, our geographic and product markets. We expect this competition to continue to increase. In addition, we experience high levels of competition when we enter new markets. Some of the other food retailers may have been in the region longer and may benefit from enhanced brand recognition in such regions. For example, we recently expanded in Southern California and, as of December 28, 2019, had 75 stores in that area. Our new stores in this market are competing against more established retailers. Some food retailers may have greater financial or marketing resources than the IOs do and may be able to devote greater resources to sourcing, promoting and selling their products than the IOs. As competition in certain regions intensifies, or we move into new regions or other food retailers open stores in close proximity to our stores, our results of operations and cash flows may be negatively impacted through a loss of sales, decrease in market share, reduction in margin from competitive price changes or greater operating costs.
We may not be able to retain the loyalty of our customers, the failure of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We depend on repeat visits by our customer base to drive our consistent sales and sales growth. Competition for customers has also intensified from the use of mobile and web-based technology that facilitates online shopping and real-time product and price comparisons. We expect this competition to continue to increase. We do not maintain a loyalty program for customers, and our competitors may be able to offer their customers promotions or loyalty program incentives that could result in fewer shopping trips to or purchases from our stores. If we are unable to retain the loyalty of our customers, our sales could decrease and we may not be able to grow our store base as planned, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our success depends upon our marketing, advertising and promotional efforts. If costs associated with these efforts increase, or if we are unable to implement them successfully, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We use marketing and promotional programs to attract customers into our stores and to encourage purchases. If we are unable to develop and implement effective marketing, advertising and promotional strategies, we may be unable to achieve and maintain brand awareness and repeat store visits. We may not be able to advertise cost effectively in new or smaller markets in which we have fewer stores, which could slow growth at such stores. Changes in the amount and degree of promotional intensity or merchandising strategies by our competitors could cause us to have difficulties in retaining existing customers and attracting new customers. If the efficacy of our marketing or promotional activities declines or if such activities of our competitors are more effective than ours, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If we fail to maintain our reputation and the value of our brand, including protection of our intellectual property, our sales and operating results may decline.
We believe our continued success depends on our ability to maintain and grow the value of our brand. Brand value is based in large part on perceptions of subjective qualities. Even isolated incidents involving our company, the IOs and their employees, suppliers, agents or third-party service providers, or the products we sell can erode trust and confidence. This is particularly the case if they result in adverse publicity, governmental investigations or litigation. The reputation of our company and our brand may be damaged in all, one or some of the markets in which we do business, by adverse events at the corporate level or by an IO acting outside of Grocery Outlet’s brand standards. Similarly, challenges or reactions to action (or inaction) or perceived action (or inaction), by us on issues like social policies, merchandising, compliance related to social, product, labor and environmental standards or other sensitive topics, and any perceived lack of transparency about such matters, could harm our reputation, particularly as expectations of companies and of companies’ corporate responsibility may continue to change.
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The increasing use of social media platforms and online forums may increase the chance that an adverse event could negatively affect the reputation of our brand. The online dissemination of negative information about our brand, including inaccurate information, could harm our reputation, business, competitive advantage and goodwill. Damage to our reputation could result in declines in customer loyalty and sales, affect our supplier relationships, business development opportunities and IO retention, divert attention and resources from management, including by requiring responses to inquiries or additional regulatory scrutiny, and otherwise materially adversely affect our results. Our brand could be materially adversely affected if our public image or reputation were to be tarnished by negative publicity.
We regard our intellectual property, including trademarks and service marks, as having significant value, and our brand is an important factor in the marketing of our stores. We monitor and protect against activities that might infringe, dilute or otherwise violate our trademarks and other intellectual property and rely on trademark and other laws of the United States, but we may not be able or willing to successfully enforce our trademarks or intellectual property rights against competitors or challenges by others. For example, we are aware of certain companies in jurisdictions where we do not currently operate using the term “GROCERY OUTLET.” Moreover, we have disclaimed the terms “GROCERY OUTLET” and “MARKET” with respect to our “GROCERY OUTLET BARGAIN MARKET” trademarks, among other disclaimed terms with respect to our registered trademarks and trademark applications. If a third party uses such disclaimed terms in its trademarks, we cannot object to such use. If we fail to protect our trademarks or other intellectual property rights, others may copy or use our trademarks or intellectual property without authorization, which may harm the value of our brand, reputation, competitive advantages and goodwill and adversely affect our financial condition, cash flows or results of operations. The value of our intellectual property could diminish if others assert rights in or ownership of our trademarks and other intellectual property rights, or trademarks that are similar to our trademarks. We may be unable to successfully resolve these types of conflicts to our satisfaction. Additionally, adequate remedies may not be available in the event of an unauthorized use or disclosure of our trade secrets or other intellectual property. We are susceptible to others infringing, misappropriating or otherwise violating our intellectual property rights. Actions we have taken to establish and protect our intellectual property rights may not be adequate to prevent copying of our intellectual property by others or to prevent others from seeking to invalidate our trademarks as a violation of the trademarks and intellectual property rights of others. In addition, unilateral actions in the U.S. or other countries, including changes to or the repeal of laws recognizing trademark or other intellectual property rights, could have an impact on our ability to enforce those rights.
There may in the future be opposition and cancellation proceedings from time to time with respect to some of our intellectual property rights. In some cases, litigation may be necessary to protect or enforce our trademarks and other intellectual property rights. Furthermore, third parties may assert intellectual property claims against us, and we may be subject to liability, required to enter into costly license agreements, if available at all, required to rebrand our products and/or prevented from selling some of our products if third parties successfully oppose or challenge our trademarks or successfully claim that we infringe, misappropriate or otherwise violate their trademarks, copyrights, patents or other intellectual property rights. Bringing or defending any such claim, regardless of merit, and whether successful or unsuccessful, could be expensive and time-consuming and have a negative effect on our business, reputation, results of operations and financial condition.
Any significant disruption to our distribution network, the operations of our distribution centers and our timely receipt of inventory could materially adversely impact our operating performance.
We rely on our distribution and transportation network, including by means of truck, ocean and rail to provide goods to our distribution centers and stores in a timely and cost-effective manner. We use three primary leased distribution centers that we operate and five primary distribution centers operated by third-parties. Deliveries to our stores occur from our distribution centers or directly from our suppliers. Any disruption, unanticipated or unusual expense or operational failure related to this process could affect store operations negatively. For example, delivery delays or increases in transportation costs (including through increased fuel costs, increased carrier rates or driver wages as a result of driver shortages, a decrease in transportation capacity, or work stoppages or slowdowns) could significantly decrease our ability to generate sales and earn profits. In addition, events beyond our control, such as disruptions in operations due to fire or other catastrophic events or labor disagreements, may result in delays in the delivery of merchandise to our stores. While we maintain business interruption insurance, in the event our distribution centers are shut down for any reason, such insurance may not be sufficient, and any related insurance proceeds may not be timely paid to us. Furthermore, there can be no guarantee that we will be able to renew the leases or third-party distribution and transportation contracts, as applicable, on our distribution centers on attractive terms or at all, which may increase our expenses and cause temporary disruptions in our distribution network.
As we expand, effectively managing our distribution network and distribution centers becomes more complex. Our new store locations receiving shipments may be further away from our distribution centers, which may increase transportation costs and may create transportation scheduling strains, or may require us to add additional facilities to the network.
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If consumer trends move toward private label and away from name-brand products, our competitive position in the market may weaken and our sales may be materially adversely affected.
Our business model has traditionally relied on the sale of name-brand products at meaningful discounts. Consumer acceptance of, and even preference for, private label products has been increasing, however, and a trend away from name-brand products could weaken our competitive position in the market. Private label products tend to be lower priced than name-brand products and, as a result, we may have more difficulty competing against private label products on the basis of price. While we may invest more in the future in developing our own private labels, there can be no assurance that the performance of any such private label products would be sufficient to offset the potential decreased sales of name-brand products. In addition, if we invest in expanding our private label products, we will need to make significant investments in developing effective quality control procedures. Any failure to appropriately address some or all of these risks could have a material adverse effect on our sales, business, results of operations and financial condition.
We will require significant capital to fund our expanding business. If we are unable to maintain sufficient levels of cash flow from our operations, we may not be able to execute or sustain our growth strategy or we may require additional financing, which may not be available to us on satisfactory terms or at all.
To support our expanding business and execute our growth strategy, we will need significant amounts of capital, including funds to pay our lease obligations, build out new stores and distribution centers, remodel our stores, purchase opportunistic inventory, pay employees and further invest in the business. Further, our plans to grow our store base may create cash flow pressure if new locations do not perform as projected.
We expect to primarily depend on cash flow from operations to fund our business and growth plans. We cannot assure you that cash generated by our operations will be sufficient to allow us to fund our growth plans. If we do not generate sufficient cash flow from operations, we may need to obtain additional funds through public or private financings, collaborative relationships or other arrangements. We cannot assure you that this additional funding, if needed, will be available on terms attractive to us, if at all. Any equity financing or debt financing that is convertible into equity that we may pursue could result in additional dilution to our existing stockholders. Tightening in the credit markets, low liquidity and volatility in the capital markets could result in diminished availability of credit, higher cost of borrowing and lack of confidence in the equity market, making it more difficult to obtain additional financing on terms that are favorable to us. Furthermore, any additional debt financing, if available, will increase our leverage and may involve restrictive covenants that could affect our ability to raise additional capital or operate our business. If such financing is not available to us, or is not available on satisfactory terms, our competitive position, business, financial condition and results of operations could be impeded and we may need to delay, limit or eliminate planned store openings or operations or other elements of our growth strategy. Such actions could harm our competitive position, business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are subject to risks associated with leasing substantial amounts of space, including future increases in occupancy costs.
We currently lease substantially all of our store locations, primary distribution centers and administrative offices (including our headquarters in Emeryville, California), and a number of these leases expire or are up for renewal each year. Our operating leases typically have initial lease terms of ten years with renewal options for two or three successive five-year periods at our discretion.
Typically, the largest portion of a store’s operating expense that we bear is the cost associated with leasing the location. Our total lease payment obligations for all operating leases in existence as of December 28, 2019 is $98.3 million for fiscal year 2020 and $1.14 billion in aggregate for fiscal years 2021 through 2038. We are also generally responsible for property taxes, insurance and common area maintenance for our leased properties. We expect that many of the new stores we open will also be leased to us under operating leases, which will further increase our operating lease expenditures. If we are unable to make the required payments under our leases, the lenders or owners of the relevant stores, distribution centers or administrative offices may, among other things, repossess those assets, which could adversely affect our ability to conduct our operations. In addition, our failure to make payments under our operating leases could trigger defaults under other leases or under our First Lien Credit Agreement (as defined elsewhere in this report), which could cause the counterparties under those agreements to accelerate the obligations due thereunder.
The operating leases for our store locations, distribution centers and administrative offices expire at various dates through 2038. When the lease term for our stores expire, we may be unable to negotiate renewals, either on commercially reasonable terms or at all, which could cause us to close stores or to relocate stores within a market on less favorable terms. Any of these factors could cause us to close stores in desirable locations, which could have a material adverse impact on our results of operations.
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Over time, current store locations may not continue to be desirable because of changes in demographics within the surrounding area or a decline in shopping traffic. While we have the right to terminate some of our leases under specified conditions, we may not be able to terminate a particular lease if or when we would like to do so. If we decide to close stores, we are generally required to continue to perform obligations under the applicable leases, which generally include paying rent and operating expenses for the balance of the lease term. When we assign leases or sublease space to third parties, we can remain liable on the lease obligations if the assignee or sublessee does not perform.
Any failure to maintain the security of information we hold relating to personal information or payment card data of our customers, employees and suppliers, whether as a result of cybersecurity attacks or otherwise, could subject us to litigation, government enforcement actions and costly response measures, and could materially disrupt our operations and harm our reputation and sales.
In the ordinary course of business, we and the IOs collect, store, process, use and transmit confidential business information and certain personal information relating to customers, employees and suppliers. All customer payment data is encrypted, and we do not store such data in our systems. We rely in part on commercially available systems, software, hardware, services, tools and monitoring to provide security for collection, storage, processing and transmission of personal and/or confidential information. It is possible that cyber attackers might compromise our security measures and obtain the personal and/or confidential information of the customers, employees and suppliers that we hold or our business information. Cyber attacks are rapidly evolving and those threats and the means for obtaining access to information in digital and other storage media are becoming increasingly sophisticated and may not immediately produce signs of intrusion.
Moreover, an employee, contractor or third party with whom we work or to whom we outsource business operations may fail to monitor their or our systems effectively, may fail to maintain appropriate safeguards, may misuse the personal and/or confidential information to which they have access, may attempt to circumvent our security measures, may purposefully or inadvertently allow unauthorized access to our or their systems or to personal and/or confidential information or may otherwise disrupt our business operations. We and our customers could suffer harm if valuable business data or employee, customer and other proprietary information were corrupted, lost or accessed or misappropriated by third parties due to a security failure in our systems or those of our suppliers or service providers. It could require significant expenditures to remediate any such failure or breach, severely damage our reputation and our relationships with customers, result in unwanted media attention and lost sales and expose us to risks of litigation and liability. In addition, as a result of recent security breaches at a number of prominent retailers, the media and public scrutiny of information security and privacy has become more intense and the regulatory environment has become increasingly uncertain, rigorous and complex. As a result, we may incur significant costs to comply with laws regarding the protection and unauthorized disclosure of personal information and we may not be able to comply with new regulations.
In addition, various federal, state and foreign legislative and regulatory bodies, or self-regulatory organizations, may expand current laws or regulations, enact new laws or regulations or issue revised rules or guidance regarding privacy, data protection, information security and consumer protection. For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”), which became effective on January 1, 2020, establishes a new privacy framework for covered businesses such as ours, and requires us to modify our data processing practices and policies and incur compliance related costs and expenses. The CCPA provides new and enhanced data privacy rights to California residents, such as affording consumers the right to opt out of certain sales of personal information and prohibiting covered businesses from discriminating against consumers (e.g., charging more for services) for exercising any of their CCPA rights. The CCPA imposes a severe statutory damages framework and private rights of action for CCPA violations and failure to implement reasonable security procedures and practices that results in a data breach. Any failure to comply with the laws and regulations surrounding the protection of personal information, privacy and data security could subject us to legal and reputational risks and costs, including significant fines for non-compliance, any of which could have a negative impact on revenues and profits.
Because we and the IOs accept payments using a variety of methods, including cash and checks, credit and debit cards, Electronic Benefit Transfer (“EBT”) cards and gift cards, we may be subject to additional rules, regulations, compliance requirements and higher fraud losses. For certain payment methods, we or the IOs pay interchange and other related card acceptance fees, along with additional transaction processing fees. We and the IOs rely on third parties to provide payment transaction processing services, including the processing of credit cards, debit cards, EBT cards and gift cards, and it could disrupt our business if these companies become unwilling or unable to provide these services to us, experience a data security incident or fail to comply with applicable laws, rules and industry standards.
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We are also subject to payment card association operating rules, including data security rules, certification requirements and rules governing electronic funds transfers, which could change over time. For example, we and the IOs are subject to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, which contain compliance guidelines and standards with regard to our security surrounding the physical and electronic storage, processing and transmission of individual cardholder data. In addition, if our internal systems are breached or compromised, we and the IOs may be liable for card re-issuance costs, subject to fines and higher transaction fees and lose our ability to accept credit and/or debit card payments from our customers, and our business and operating results could be materially adversely affected.
We do not currently compete in the growing online retail marketplace and any online retail services or e-commerce activities that we may launch in the future may require substantial investment and may not be successful.
We do not currently provide online services or e-commerce. To the extent that we implement e-commerce selling operations, we would incur substantial expenses related to such activities, be exposed to additional cybersecurity risks and potentially be subject to additional data privacy regulations. Further, any development of an online retail marketplace is a complex undertaking, and there is no guarantee that any resources we apply to this effort will result in increased sales or operating performance. Our failure to successfully respond to these risks and uncertainties might materially adversely affect sales in any e-commerce business that we establish in the future and could damage our reputation and brand. Additionally, certain of our competitors and a number of pure online retailers have established robust online operations. Increased competition from online grocery retailers and our lack of an online retail presence may reduce our customers’ desire to purchase products from us and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Any material disruption to our information technology systems as a result of external factors or challenges or difficulties in maintaining or updating our existing technology or developing or implementing new technology could have a material adverse effect on our business or results of operations.
We rely on a variety of information technology systems for the efficient functioning of our business, including point of sale, inventory management, purchasing, financials, logistics, accounts payable and human resources information systems. We are dependent on the integrity, security and consistent operation of these systems and related back-up systems. Such systems are subject to damage or interruption from power outages, facility damage, computer and telecommunications failures, computer viruses, cybersecurity breaches, cyber attacks (including malicious codes, worms, phishing and denial of service attacks and ransomware), software upgrade failures or code defects, natural disasters and human error. Damage or interruption to, or defects of design related to, these systems or the integration of such systems may require a significant investment to fix or replace, and we may suffer interruptions or disruptions in our operations in the interim, may experience loss or corruption of critical data and may receive negative publicity, all of which could have a material adverse effect on our business or results of operations. Although we have taken steps designed to reduce the risk of these events occurring, there can be no guarantee that we or a third party on which we rely will not suffer one of these events.
We modify, update and replace our systems and infrastructure from time to time, including by adding new hardware, software and applications; maintaining, updating or replacing legacy programs; converting to global systems; integrating new service providers; and adding enhanced or new functionality, such as cloud computing technologies. In addition, we have a customized ERP system, components of which have been replaced and components of which we anticipate will be replaced this year and over the next several years. There is a risk of business disruption, liability and reputational damage associated with these actions, including from not accurately capturing and maintaining data, efficiently testing and implementing changes, realizing the expected benefit of the change and managing the potential disruption of the actions and diversion of internal teams’ attention as the changes are implemented.
Further, potential issues associated with implementing technology initiatives and the time and resources required in seeking to optimize the benefits of new elements of our systems and its infrastructure could reduce the efficiency of our operations in the short term. The efficient operation and successful growth of our business depends upon our information systems, including our ability to operate, maintain and develop them effectively. A failure of those systems could disrupt our business, subject us to liability, damage our reputation, or otherwise impact our financial results.
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Real or perceived concerns that products we and the IOs sell could cause unexpected side effects, illness, injury or death could expose us to lawsuits and harm our reputation, which could result in unexpected costs.
If our products do not meet applicable safety standards or our customers’ expectations regarding safety, we could experience lost sales, increased costs, litigation or reputational harm. Any lost confidence on the part of our customers would be difficult and costly to reestablish. Issues regarding the quality or safety of any food items sold by us, regardless of the cause, could have a substantial and adverse effect on our sales and operating results.
There is increasing governmental scrutiny and regulation of and public awareness regarding food safety. Unexpected side effects, illness, injury or death caused by products we and the IOs sell or involving suppliers that supply us with products could result in the discontinuance of sales of these products or our relationship with such suppliers or prevent us from achieving market acceptance of the affected products. We cannot be sure that consumption or use of our products will not cause side effects, illness, injury or death in the future, as product deficiencies might not be identified before we sell such products to our customers.
We also may be subject to claims, lawsuits or government investigations relating to such matters resulting in costly product recalls and other liabilities that could materially adversely affect our business and results of operations. Even if a product liability claim is unsuccessful or is not fully pursued, negative publicity could materially adversely affect our reputation with existing and potential customers and our corporate and brand image, and these effects could persist over the long term. Any claims brought against us may exceed our existing or future insurance policy coverage or limits. Any judgment against us that is in excess of our policy limits would have to be paid from our cash reserves, which would reduce our capital resources. Further, we may not have sufficient capital resources to pay a judgment, in which case our creditors could levy against our assets.
We are subject to laws and regulations generally applicable to retailers. Compliance with, failure to comply with, or changes to such laws and regulations could have a material adverse effect on our business and financial performance.
Our business is subject to numerous and frequently changing federal, state and local laws and regulations. We routinely incur significant costs in complying with these regulations. The complexity of the regulatory environment in which we and the IOs operate and the related cost of compliance are increasing due to additional legal and regulatory requirements, our expanding operation and increased enforcement efforts. Further, uncertainties exist regarding the future application of certain of these legal requirements to our business. New or existing laws, regulations and policies, liabilities arising thereunder and the related interpretations and enforcement practices, particularly those dealing with environmental protection and compliance, taxation, zoning and land use, workplace safety, public health, community right-to-know, product safety or labeling, food safety, alcohol and beverage sales, vitamin and supplements, information security and privacy and labor and employment, among others, or changes in existing laws, regulations, policies and the related interpretations and enforcement practices, particularly those governing the sale of products, may result in significant added expenses or may require extensive system and operating changes that may be difficult to implement and/or could materially increase our cost of doing business. For example, we or the IOs have had to comply with recent new laws in many of the states or counties in which we operate regarding recycling, waste, minimum wages, sick time, vacation, plastic bag and straw bans and sugar taxes. In addition, we and the IOs are subject to environmental laws pursuant to which we and the IOs could be strictly and jointly and severally liable for any contamination at our current or former locations, or at third-party waste disposal sites, regardless of our knowledge of or responsibility for such contamination.
Approximately 8% of sales are in the form of EBT payments and a substantial portion of these payments may be related to benefits associated with the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (“SNAP”). Accordingly, changes in EBT regulations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or in SNAP benefits by Congress could adversely affect our financial performance.
We cannot assure you that we or the IOs will comply promptly and fully with all laws, regulations, policies and the related interpretations that apply to our stores. Untimely compliance or noncompliance with applicable regulations or untimely or incomplete execution of a required product recall, can result in the imposition of penalties (including loss of licenses, eligibility to accept certain government benefits such as SNAP or significant fines or monetary penalties), civil or criminal liability, damages, class action litigation or other litigation, in addition to reputational damage, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
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Legal proceedings from customers, suppliers, employees, governments or competitors could materially impact our business, reputation, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
From time to time, we are subject to allegations, and may be party to legal claims and regulatory proceedings, relating to our business operations. Such allegations, claims and proceedings may be brought by third parties, including our customers, suppliers, employees, governmental or regulatory bodies or competitors, and may include class actions. The outcome of litigation, particularly class action lawsuits, is difficult to assess or quantify. Plaintiffs in these types of lawsuits may seek recovery of very large or indeterminate amounts, and the magnitude of the potential loss relating to such lawsuits may remain unknown for substantial periods of time. While the IOs and suppliers will typically indemnify us for certain adverse outcomes, we may still bear significant expenses related to such proceedings. While we maintain insurance, insurance coverage may not be adequate, and the cost to defend against future litigation may be significant.
From time to time, our employees may bring lawsuits against us regarding discrimination, creating a hostile workplace, sexual harassment and other employment issues. The IOs may also experience similar lawsuits from their own employees. In recent years, companies have experienced an increase in the number of discrimination and harassment and wage and hour claims generally. Coupled with the expansion of social media platforms that allow individuals with access to a broad audience, these claims have had a significant negative impact on some businesses. Some companies that have faced employment- or harassment-related lawsuits have had to terminate management or other key personnel, and have suffered reputational harm. If we were to face any employment-related or other claims, our reputation and business could be negatively affected. In addition, such lawsuits brought against the IOs, even if we are not named or are ultimately not found liable, could adversely impact our reputation and business.
Our current insurance program may expose us to unexpected costs and negatively affect our financial performance, particularly if we incur losses not covered by our insurance or if claims differ from our estimates.
Our insurance coverage reflects deductibles, self-insured retentions, limits of liability and similar provisions that we believe are reasonable based on our operations. However, there are types of losses we may incur but against which we cannot be insured or which we believe are not economically reasonable to insure, such as losses due to acts of war, employee and certain other crime, certain wage and hour and other employment-related claims, including class actions, actions based on certain consumer protection laws, certain cyber events and some natural and other disasters or similar events. If we incur these losses and they are material, our business could suffer. Certain material events, such as earthquakes or the recent California wildfires, may result in sizable losses for the insurance industry and adversely impact the availability of adequate insurance coverage or result in excessive premium increases. Our retail stores located in California, and the inventory in those stores, are not currently insured against losses due to earthquakes. We have experienced significant challenges in renewing the insurance policies for our stores as insurers have incurred substantial losses related to property claims from fires, floods and other catastrophic events and are significantly increasing policy premiums, increasing their requirements around building engineering standards or cutting back capacity for coverage offerings to layered/quota share. To offset negative insurance market trends, we may elect to increase our self-insurance coverage, accept higher deductibles or reduce the amount of coverage.
In addition, we self-insure, or insure through captive insurance companies, a significant portion of expected losses under our workers’ compensation, automobile liability and general liability insurance programs. Unanticipated changes in any applicable actuarial assumptions and management estimates underlying our recorded liabilities for these losses, including expected increases in medical and indemnity costs, could result in materially different expenses than expected under these programs, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition. If we experience a greater number of these losses than we anticipate, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. IOs are required to maintain certain types and amounts of insurance coverage. If they fail to secure adequate insurance, injured parties may bring actions against us.
If we or the IOs are unable to attract, train and retain highly qualified employees, our financial performance may be negatively affected.
Our future growth, performance and positive customer experience depends on our and the IOs’ ability to attract, train, retain and motivate qualified employees who understand and appreciate our culture and are able to represent our brand effectively and establish credibility with our business partners and customers. We and the IOs face intense competition for employees. If we and the IOs are unable to attract and retain adequate numbers of qualified employees, our operations, customer service levels and support functions could suffer. There is no assurance that we and the IOs will be able to attract or retain highly qualified employees to operate our business.
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Labor relation difficulties could materially adversely affect our business.
Employees at two Company-operated stores are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Our employees and those of the IOs have the right at any time to form or affiliate with a union. As we continue to grow, enter different regions and operate distribution centers, unions may attempt to organize the employees of our different IOs or our distribution centers within certain regions. We cannot predict the adverse effects that any future organizational activities will have on our business, financial condition and operating results. If we or the IOs were to become subject to work stoppages, we could experience disruption in our operations and increases in our labor costs, either of which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and operating results.
Our success depends in part on our executive officers and other key personnel. If we lose key personnel or are unable to hire additional qualified personnel, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We believe that our success depends to a significant extent on the skills, experience and efforts of our executive officers and other key personnel. The unexpected loss of services of any of our executive officers or other key personnel could have a material adverse effect on our business and operations. In addition, any such departure could be viewed in a negative light by investors and analysts, which may cause our stock price to decline. We do not maintain key person insurance on any of our key personnel. There can be no assurance that our executive succession planning, retention or hiring efforts will be successful. Competition for skilled and experienced management in our industry is intense, and we may not be successful in attracting and retaining qualified personnel. Failure to attract and retain qualified personnel could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Changes in accounting standards and subjective assumptions, estimates and judgments by management related to complex accounting matters may materially impact reporting of our financial condition and results of operations.
Accounting principles generally accepted in the United States and related accounting pronouncements, implementation guidelines, and interpretations we apply to a wide range of matters that are relevant to our business, such as accounting for long-lived asset impairment, goodwill, variable interest entities and share-based compensation, are complex and involve subjective assumptions, estimates and judgments by our management. Changes in these rules or their interpretation or changes in underlying assumptions, estimates or judgments by our management could significantly change or add significant volatility to our reported or expected financial performance. For example, our adoption of Accounting Standards Codification Topic 842, Leases had a material impact on our financial statements. For more information see “Recently Adopted Accounting Standards” and “Recently Issued Accounting Standards” in NOTE 1—Organization and Summary of Significant Accounting Policies to our audited consolidated financial statements.
Goodwill, other intangible assets and long-lived assets represent a significant portion of our total assets, and any impairment of these assets could materially adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
We monitor the recoverability of our long-lived assets, such as our store investments, and evaluate them annually to determine if impairment has occurred. Accounting rules require us to review the carrying value of our goodwill and other intangible assets for impairment annually or whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying value of such assets may not be fully recoverable. Such indicators are based on market conditions and the operational performance of our business. If the testing performed indicates that impairment has occurred, we are required to record a non-cash impairment charge for the difference between the carrying value of the intangible assets or goodwill and the fair value of the intangible assets and the implied fair value of the goodwill, respectively, in the period the determination is made. The testing of long-lived assets, intangible assets and goodwill for impairment requires us to make estimates that are subject to significant assumptions about our future sales, profitability, cash flow, fair value of assets and liabilities, weighted average cost of capital, as well as other assumptions. Changes in these estimates, or changes in actual performance compared with these estimates, may affect the fair value of intangible assets or goodwill, which may result in an impairment charge.
We may take impairment charges in the future based on such assumptions. We cannot accurately predict the amount or timing of any impairment of assets. If a significant amount of our goodwill and other intangible assets were deemed to be impaired, our financial condition and results of operations could be materially adversely affected.
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A significant decline in our operating profit and taxable income may impair our ability to realize the value of our deferred tax assets.
We are required by accounting rules to periodically assess our deferred tax assets for a valuation allowance, if necessary. In performing these assessments, we use our historical financial performance to determine whether we have potential valuation allowance concerns and as evidence to support our assumptions about future financial performance. A significant decline in our financial performance could negatively affect the results of our assessments of the recoverability of our deferred tax assets. A valuation allowance against our deferred tax assets could be material and could have a material adverse impact on our financial condition and results of operations.
Tax matters could materially adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We are subject to federal and state income and other taxes in the United States. We compute our income tax provision based on enacted federal and state tax rates. Additionally, changes in the enacted tax rates, adverse outcomes in tax audits, or any change in the pronouncements relating to accounting for income taxes could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
In December 2017, the U.S. Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 (the “Tax Act”) significantly revised the current federal income tax code with significant changes to corporate taxation, including reducing the corporate tax rate, limiting certain tax deductions and modifying or repealing many business deductions and credits. While the Tax Act reduced the federal income tax rate for corporations, it created certain limits and potentially changes the timing of certain deductions which could reduce our cash flow in certain periods. Many aspects of the new law are uncertain and are subject to further guidance from U.S. regulators and significant judgments will need to be made in the interpretation of various provisions. In addition, it is uncertain if and to what extent various states will conform to the newly enacted federal tax law, which could also impact our tax obligations.
As of December 28, 2019, we had a tax-effected deferred tax asset of $268.2 million. Our ability to use our deferred tax asset is dependent on our ability to generate future earnings within the operating loss carry-forward periods, which are generally 20 years. Some or all of our deferred tax asset could expire unused if we are unable to generate taxable income in the future sufficient to utilize the deferred tax asset, or we enter into transactions that limit our right to use it. If a material portion of our deferred tax asset expires unused, it could have a material adverse effect on our future business, results of operations, financial condition and the value of our common stock. Our ability to realize the deferred tax asset is periodically reviewed and any necessary valuation allowance is recorded or adjusted accordingly.
In addition, certain states and local jurisdictions have recently approved or proposed gross receipt tax measures. For example, effective January 1, 2020, Oregon enacted a gross receipts tax which establishes a new 0.57% gross receipts tax. Should these gross receipt tax measures succeed in other jurisdictions in which we operate, we anticipate an increase in our operating expenses.
Natural disasters and unusual weather conditions (whether or not caused by climate change), power outages, pandemic outbreaks, terrorist acts, global political events and other serious catastrophic events could disrupt business and result in lower sales and otherwise materially adversely affect our financial performance.
Natural disasters, such as fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, unusual weather conditions, power outages, pandemic outbreaks, terrorist acts or disruptive global political events, or similar disruptions could materially adversely affect our business and financial performance. For example, our store in Paradise, California was lost due to the fires in that area in November 2018. Uncharacteristic or significant weather conditions can affect consumer shopping patterns, which could lead to lost sales or greater than expected markdowns and materially adversely affect our short-term results of operations. To the extent these events result in the closure of one or more of our distribution centers, a significant number of stores, or our administrative offices or impact one or more of our key suppliers, our operations and financial performance could be materially adversely affected through an inability to make deliveries or provide other support functions to our stores and through lost sales. In addition, these events could result in increases in fuel (or other energy) prices or a fuel shortage, delays in opening new stores, the temporary lack of an adequate work force in a market, the temporary or long-term disruption in the supply of products from some domestic and overseas suppliers, the temporary disruption in the transport of goods from overseas, delay or increased transportation costs in the delivery of goods to our distribution centers or stores, the inability of customers to reach or have transportation to our stores directly affected by such events, the temporary reduction in the availability of products in our stores and disruption of our utility services or to our information systems. These events also can have indirect consequences such as increases in the costs of insurance if they result in significant loss of property or other insurable damage.
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Major health epidemics, such as the outbreak caused by a coronavirus (COVID-19), and other outbreaks could disrupt and adversely affect our operations, financial condition and business.
The United States and other countries have experienced, and may experience in the future, major health epidemics related to viruses or other pathogens. For example, there was an outbreak of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus, in China in December 2019, which by March 2020 had spread to the United States and other countries and declared a global pandemic. As a result, many states, including California, Washington and Oregon, where we have a significant number of stores, have declared a state of emergency, closed schools and non-essential businesses and enacted limitations on the number of people allowed to gather at one time in the same space. We expect that our IOs may face staffing challenges so long as school closures and COVID-19-related concerns exist. In addition, certain inventory items such as water, beans and bread as well as key cleaning supplies and protective equipment have been, and may continue to be, in short supply. Supply for inventory, including opportunistic inventory, may be negatively impacted as overall demand for inventory has increased. These factors could impact the ability of stores to operate normal hours of operation or have sufficient inventory at all times which may disrupt our business and negatively impact our financial results. Our planned construction and opening of new stores may be negatively impacted due to state or county requirements that residents leave their homes only for essential business and the closure of government offices in certain areas which could negatively impact our financial results. We have transitioned a significant subset of our employee population to a remote work environment in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which may exacerbate certain risks to our business, including an increased risk of phishing and other cybersecurity attacks. In the event that an employee, IO, or IO employee tests positive for COVID-19, we may have to temporarily close a store, office or distribution center for cleaning and/or quarantine one or more employees which could negatively impact our financial results. The rapid development and fluidity of this situation precludes any prediction as to the ultimate adverse impact to us of COVID-19. We are continuing to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and related risks. The magnitude and duration of the pandemic and its impact on our business, results of operations, financial position, and cash flows is uncertain as this continues to evolve globally.
These epidemics, or the perception that such epidemics may occur, may cause people to avoid gathering in public places, which may adversely affect our customer traffic, our ability and that of our IOs to adequately staff our stores and operations, and our ability to transport product on a timely basis. Further, outbreaks of pathogens, such as COVID-19, may also impact our ability to access and ship product from impacted locations. To the extent that a pathogen is food-borne, or perceived to be food-borne, future outbreaks may adversely affect the price and availability of certain food products and cause our customers to eat less of such product. Additionally, a prolonged widespread epidemic, or the perception that such an epidemic may occur, could adversely impact global economies and financial markets resulting in an economic downturn that may impact demand for our products. For example, during March 2020, the United States saw a significant increase in unemployment claims and other indications of a significant economic slowdown believed to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such impacts could adversely affect our operations, profitability, cash flows and financial results.
The current geographic concentration of our stores creates an exposure to local or regional downturns, natural or man-made disasters or other catastrophic occurrences.
As of December 28, 2019, we operated 197 stores and distributed product from four distribution centers in California, making California our largest market, representing 57% of our total stores. As a result, our business is currently more susceptible to regional conditions than the operations of more geographically diversified competitors, and we are vulnerable to economic downturns in those regions. Any unforeseen events or circumstances that negatively affect these areas could materially adversely affect our sales and profitability. These factors include, among other things, changes in demographics, population and employee bases, wage increases, changes in economic conditions, severe weather conditions and climate change, property tax increases and other catastrophic occurrences, such as wildfires and flooding. Such conditions may result in reduced customer traffic and spending in our stores, physical damage to our stores, loss of inventory, closure of one or more of our stores, inadequate workforce in our markets, temporary disruption in the supply of products, delays in the delivery of goods to our stores, increased expenses and a reduction in the availability of products in our stores. Any of these factors may disrupt our business and materially adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
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We may be required to devote substantial time to complying with public company regulations, which could negatively impact our financial performance and cause our results of operations or financial condition to suffer.
As a newly public company, we have incurred and will incur additional legal, accounting, insurance, investor relations and other expenses that we did not incur as a private company, including costs associated with public company reporting requirements. We have incurred and will incur costs associated with the rules of Nasdaq, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (the “Sarbanes-Oxley Act”) and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and related rules implemented by the SEC. The expenses incurred by public companies generally for director and officer liability insurance and reporting and corporate governance purposes have been increasing and may continue to increase. The Exchange Act requires us to file annual, quarterly and current reports with respect to our business and financial condition within specified time periods and to prepare a proxy statement with respect to our annual meeting of stockholders. Our management and other personnel will need to devote substantial amounts of time to ensure that we comply with all of the reporting requirements, limiting time spent focused on revenue-producing activities. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires that we maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures and internal controls over financial reporting. Nasdaq requires that we comply with various corporate governance requirements. These rules and regulations, and applicable case law, may increase our legal and financial compliance costs and make some activities more time-consuming and costly, although we are currently unable to estimate these costs with any degree of certainty. These laws and regulations can also make it more difficult or costly for us to obtain certain types of insurance, including director and officer liability insurance, and we may be forced to accept reduced policy limits and coverage or incur substantially higher costs to obtain the same or similar coverage. For example, the cost of director and officer liability insurance for California-based companies has recently increased significantly. These laws and regulations can also make it more difficult for us to attract and retain qualified persons to serve on our board, our board committees or as our executive officers. Furthermore, if we are unable to satisfy our obligations as a public company, we could be subject to delisting of our common stock, fines, sanctions and other regulatory actions and potentially civil litigation.
Our management has limited experience managing a public company, and our current resources may not be sufficient to fulfill our public company obligations.
Following the completion of our initial public offering on June 24, 2019, we became subject to various regulatory requirements, including those of the SEC and Nasdaq. These requirements include record keeping, financial reporting and corporate governance rules and regulations. Our management team has limited experience in managing a public company. Our internal infrastructure may not be adequate to support our increased reporting obligations, and we may be unable to hire, train or retain necessary staff and may initially be reliant on engaging outside consultants or professionals to overcome our lack of experience. Our business could be adversely affected if our internal infrastructure is inadequate, we are unable to engage outside consultants, or are otherwise unable to fulfill our public company obligations.
Changes in accounting rules or interpretations thereof, changes to underlying legal agreements as well as other factors applicable to our analysis of the IO entities as variable interest entities could significantly impact our ability to issue our financial statements on a timely basis.
In accordance with the variable interest entities sub-section of Accounting Standards Codification Topic 810, Consolidation, we assess during each of our reporting periods whether we are considered the primary beneficiary of a variable interest entity (“VIE”) and therefore are required to consolidate the VIE in our financial statements. We have concluded that the IO entities represent VIEs. However, we have concluded we are not such VIE’s primary beneficiary and, accordingly, we do not consolidate the IO entities’ financial information. Changes in accounting rules or interpretations thereof, changes to the underlying Operator Agreements (as defined elsewhere in this report) as well as other factors that may impact the economic performance of the IO entities which may be relevant to our analysis of whether to consolidate the IO entities as VIEs could significantly impact our ability to issue our financial statements on a timely basis if, as a result, we are determined to be the primary beneficiary of the IO entities and should consolidate such entities. For example, collecting the requisite accounting data from certain of our IO entities in order to consolidate their financial information would involve substantial time, effort and cost. For more information see “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates.”
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Risks Related to Our IO Model
If the IOs are not successful in managing their business, our financial results and brand image could be negatively affected.
The financial health of the IOs is critical to their and our success. The IOs are business entities owned by entrepreneurs who generally live in the same community as the store that they operate as our independent contractor. IOs are responsible for operating their store consistent with our brand standards, hiring and supervising store-level employees, merchandising and selling products and managing and paying the expenses associated with their business. Although we select IOs through a rigorous vetting and training process, and continue to help IOs develop their business skills after they enter into an Operator Agreement with us, it is difficult to predict in advance whether a particular IO will be successful. If an IO is unable to successfully establish, manage and operate the store, their store’s performance and quality of service could be materially adversely affected. In addition, any poor performance could negatively affect our financial results and our brand reputation.
Failure of the IOs to repay notes outstanding to us may materially adversely affect our financial performance.
We extend financing to IOs for their initial startup costs in the form of notes payable to us that bear interest at a rate of 9.95%. We lower the interest rate and delay repayment obligations on the notes outstanding for certain of the IOs participating in our Temporary Commission Adjustment Program (“TCAP”). The TCAP allows us to provide a greater commission to participating IOs who are struggling to meet their working capital needs for various reasons, such as entry into a new market or new competition. There can be no assurance that any IO, particularly those participating in TCAP, will achieve long-term store volumes or profitability that will allow them to repay any amounts due nor is there any assurance that any IO will be able to repay amounts due through other means.
The outstanding aggregate balance of notes receivable from IOs has increased over time as we have accelerated new store growth and initial IO capital and working capital requirements have increased. This balance may continue to increase as we open new stores. There were $32.0 million and $23.5 million of notes to IOs outstanding as of December 28, 2019 and December 29, 2018, respectively, and $9.8 million and $8.5 million reserved as of December 28, 2019 and December 29, 2018, respectively.
If we are unable to attract and retain qualified IOs, our financial performance may be negatively affected.
Our future growth and performance depend on our ability to attract, develop and retain qualified IOs who understand and appreciate our culture and are able to represent our brand effectively. A material decrease in profitability of the IOs may make it more difficult for us to attract and retain qualified IOs. While we use a variety of methods to attract and develop the IOs, including through our Aspiring Operators in Training (“AOT”) program, there can be no assurance that we will continue to be able to recruit and retain a sufficient number of qualified AOTs and other candidates to open successful new locations in order to meet our growth targets. Our ability to maintain our current performance and achieve future growth additionally depends on the IOs’ ability to meet their labor needs while controlling wage and labor-related costs.
If the IOs are unable to avoid excess inventory shrink, our business and results of operations may be adversely affected.
The IOs order merchandise solely from us, which we, in turn, deliver to IOs on a consignment basis. As a result, we retain ownership of all merchandise until the point in time that merchandise is sold to a customer. The IOs, however, are responsible for inventory management at their stores. Any spoiled, damaged or stolen merchandise, markdowns or price changes impact gross margin and, therefore, IO commission. We generally split these losses equally with IOs, however, excessive levels of shrink are deducted from commissions paid to IOs. Excessive shrink generally indicates poor inventory management and the IO’s failure to use due care to secure their store against theft. If IOs were to not effectively control or manage inventory in their stores, they could experience higher rates of inventory shrink which could have a material adverse effect on their financial health, which in turn, may materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
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Our Operator Agreements may be terminated, and any loss or changeover of an IO may cause material business disruptions.
Each Operator Agreement is subject to termination by either party without cause upon 75 days’ notice. We may also terminate immediately “for cause.” The “for cause” termination triggers include, among other things, a failure to meet our brand standards, misuse of our trademarks and actions that in our reasonable business judgment threaten to harm our business reputation.
If we or an IO terminates the Operator Agreement then we must approve a new IO for that store. Any IO changeover consumes substantial time and resources. Often, a changeover will involve more than one transition, as an IO may move from an existing store, thereby creating an opening at the IO’s previous store. A failure to transition a store successfully to another IO can negatively impact the customer experience or compromise our brand standards. Termination of an Operator Agreement could therefore result in the reduction of our sales and operating cash flow, and may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Legal proceedings initiated against the IOs could materially impact our business, reputation, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
We and the IOs are subject to a variety of litigation risks, including, but not limited to, individual personal injury, product liability, intellectual property, employment-related actions, litigation with or involving our relationship with IOs and property disputes and other legal actions in the ordinary course of our respective businesses. If the IOs are unable to provide an adequate remedy in a legal action, the plaintiffs may attempt to hold us liable. We maintain that under current applicable laws and regulations we are not joint employers with the IOs, and should not be held liable for their actions. However, these types of claims may increase costs and affect the scope and terms of insurance or indemnifications we and the IOs may have.
Our Operator Agreements require each IO to maintain certain insurance types and levels. Losses arising from certain extraordinary hazards, employment matters or other matters, however, may not be covered, and insurance may not be available (or may be available only at prohibitively expensive rates) with respect to many other risks, or IOs may fail to procure the required insurance. Moreover, any loss incurred could exceed policy limits and policy payments made to IOs may not be made on a timely basis.
Any legal actions against the IOs may negatively affect the reputation of our brand, which could result in a reduction of our sales and operating cash flow, which could be material and which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In the past, certain business models that use independent contractors to sell directly to customers have been subject to challenge under various laws, including laws relating to franchising, misclassification and joint employment. If our business model is determined to be a franchise, if IOs are found not to be independent contractors, but our employees, or if we are found to be a joint employer of an IO’s employees, our business and operations could be materially adversely affected.
The IOs are independent contractors. Independent contractors and the companies that engage their services have come under increased legal and regulatory scrutiny in recent years as courts have adopted new standards for these classifications and federal legislators continue to introduce legislation concerning the classification of independent contractors as employees, including legislation that proposes to increase the tax and labor penalties against employers who intentionally or unintentionally misclassify employees as independent contractors and are found to have violated employees’ overtime or wage requirements. Federal and state tax and other regulatory authorities and courts apply a variety of standards in their determination of independent contractor status. For example, the California state legislature recently enacted AB-5, which became effective in California on January 1, 2020. AB-5 codifies a new test for determining worker classification that is much narrower than the traditional standard in defining the scope of who is classified as an independent contractor. Given AB-5’s recent enactment, there has been limited guidance to date regarding interpretation or enforcement, and there is a significant degree of uncertainty regarding its application. In addition, AB-5 has been the subject of widespread national discussion and it is possible that other jurisdictions may enact similar laws. There is a risk that a governmental agency or court could disagree with our assessment that IOs are independent contractors or that other laws and regulations could change. If any IOs were determined to be our employees, we would incur additional exposure under federal and state tax, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, labor, employment, environmental and tort laws, which could potentially include prior periods, as well as potential liability for employee benefits and tax withholdings.
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Even if IOs are properly classified as independent contractors, there is a risk that a governmental agency or court might disagree with our assessment that each IO is the sole employer of its workers and seek to hold us jointly and separately responsible as a co-employer of an IO’s workers. In this case, we would incur additional exposure under federal and state tax, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, labor, employment and tort laws, which could potentially include prior periods, as well as potential liability for employee benefits and tax withholdings since joint employers are each separately responsible for their co-employees’ benefits. A misclassification ruling would mean that both IOs and IOs’ employees are our employees, it would also mean that an IOs’ employees are also our employees.
We continue to observe and monitor our compliance with current applicable laws and regulations, but we cannot predict whether laws and regulations adopted in the future, or standards adopted by the courts, regarding the classification of independent contractors will materially adversely affect our business or operations. Further, if we were to become subject to franchise laws or regulations, it would require us to provide additional disclosures, register with state franchise agencies, impact our ability to terminate our Operator Agreements and may increase the expense of, or adversely impact our recruitment of new IOs.
Our success depends on our ability to maintain positive relationships with the IOs and any failure to maintain our relationships on positive terms could materially adversely affect our business, reputation, financial condition and results of operations.
The IOs develop and operate their stores under terms set forth in our Operator Agreements. These agreements give rise to relationships that involve a complex set of mutual obligations and depends on mutual cooperation and trust. We have a standard Operator Agreement that we use with the IOs, which contributes to uniformity of brand standards. We generally have positive relationships with the IOs, based in part on our common understanding of our mutual rights and obligations under the Operator Agreement. However, we and the IOs may not always maintain a positive relationship or always interpret the Operator Agreement in the same way. Our failure to maintain positive relationships with the IOs could individually or in the aggregate cause us to change or limit our business practices, which may make our business model less attractive to the IOs or stockholders or more costly to operate. Active and/or potential disputes with IOs could damage our brand image and reputation.
The success of our business depends in large part on our ability to maintain IOs in profitable stores. If we fail to maintain our IO relationships on acceptable terms, or if one or more of the more profitable IOs were to terminate their Operator Agreements, become insolvent or otherwise fail to comply with brand standards, our business, reputation, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
The IOs could take actions that could harm our business.
The IOs are contractually obligated to operate their stores in accordance with the brand standards set forth in the Operator Agreements. However, IOs are independent contractors whom we do not control. The IOs operate and oversee the daily operations of their stores and have sole control over all of their employees and other workforce decisions. As a result, IOs make decisions independent of us that bear directly on the ultimate success and performance of their store. Nevertheless, the nature of the brand license creates a symbiotic relationship between our outcome and each IO. Indeed, because we and each of the IOs associate our separate businesses with the Grocery Outlet name and brand reputation, the failure of any IO to comply with our brand standards could potentially have repercussions that extend beyond that IO’s own market area and materially adversely affect not only our business, but the business of other IOs and the general brand image and reputation of the Grocery Outlet name. This, in turn, could materially and adversely affect our business and operating results. If any particular IO operates a store in a manner inconsistent with our brand standards, we cannot assure you that we will be able to terminate the Operator Agreement of that IO without disruptions to the operations and sales of that IO’s store or other stores.
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Risks Associated with Our Indebtedness
Our substantial indebtedness could materially adversely affect our financial condition and our ability to operate our business, react to changes in the economy or industry or pay our debts and meet our obligations under our debt and could divert our cash flow from operations for debt payments.
As of December 28, 2019, we had a significant amount of indebtedness comprised of total borrowings under our First Lien Credit Agreement of $460.2 million. In June 2019, we used substantially all of the proceeds from our initial public offering to repay a portion of our indebtedness and we made an additional principal repayment of indebtedness in October 2019. We have liquidity through a largely undrawn $100.0 million revolving credit facility under our First Lien Credit Agreement, under which we had $96.4 million of availability after giving effect to outstanding letters of credit. See “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Liquidity and Capital Resources.” In addition, subject to restrictions in our First Lien Credit Agreement, we may incur additional debt.
Our substantial debt could have important consequences to you, including the following:
it may be difficult for us to satisfy our obligations, including debt service requirements under our outstanding debt, resulting in possible defaults on and acceleration of such indebtedness;
our ability to obtain additional financing for working capital, capital expenditures, debt service requirements or other general corporate purposes may be impaired;
a substantial portion of cash flow from operations may be dedicated to the payment of principal and interest on our debt, therefore reducing our ability to use our cash flow to fund our operations, capital expenditures, future business opportunities, acquisitions and other purposes;
we are more vulnerable to economic downturns and adverse industry conditions and our flexibility to plan for, or react to, changes in our business or industry is more limited;
our ability to capitalize on business opportunities and to react to competitive pressures, as compared to our competitors, may be compromised due to our high level of debt; and
our ability to borrow additional funds or to refinance debt may be limited.
Furthermore, all of our debt under our First Lien Credit Agreement bears interest at variable rates. If these rates were to increase significantly, whether because of an increase in market interest rates or a decrease in our creditworthiness, our ability to borrow additional funds may be reduced and the risks related to our substantial debt would intensify.
Servicing our debt requires a significant amount of cash. Our ability to generate sufficient cash depends on numerous factors beyond our control, and we may be unable to generate sufficient cash flow to service our debt obligations.
Our business may not generate sufficient cash flow from operating activities to service our debt obligations. Our ability to make payments on and to refinance our debt and to fund planned capital expenditures depends on our ability to generate cash in the future. To some extent, this is subject to general economic, financial, competitive, legislative, regulatory and other factors that are beyond our control.
If we are unable to generate sufficient cash flow from operations to service our debt and meet our other commitments, we may need to refinance all or a portion of our debt, sell material assets or operations, delay capital expenditures or raise additional debt or equity capital. We may not be able to effect any of these actions on a timely basis, on commercially reasonable terms or at all, and these actions may not be sufficient to meet our capital requirements. In addition, the terms of our existing or future debt agreements may restrict us from pursuing any of these alternatives.
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Restrictive covenants in our First Lien Credit Agreement may restrict our ability to pursue our business strategies, and failure to comply with any of these restrictions could result in acceleration of our debt.
The operating and financial restrictions and covenants in our First Lien Credit Agreement may materially adversely affect our ability to finance future operations or capital needs or to engage in other business activities. Such restrictions and covenants limit our ability, among other things, to:
incur additional debt or issue certain preferred shares;
pay dividends on or make distributions in respect of our common stock or make other restricted payments;
make certain investments;
sell certain assets;
create liens on certain assets to secure debt;
consolidate, merge, sell or otherwise dispose of all or substantially all of our assets;
make certain payments in respect of certain junior debt obligations;
enter into certain transactions with our affiliates; and
designate our subsidiaries as unrestricted subsidiaries.
A breach of any of these covenants could result in a default under our First Lien Credit Agreement. Upon the occurrence of an event of default under our First Lien Credit Agreement, the lenders could elect to declare all amounts outstanding under our First Lien Credit Agreement to be immediately due and payable and terminate all commitments to extend further credit. If we were unable to repay those amounts, the lenders under our First Lien Credit Agreement could proceed against the collateral granted to them to secure that indebtedness. We have pledged a significant portion of our assets as collateral to secure our First Lien Credit Agreement. Our future operating results may not be sufficient to enable compliance with the financial maintenance covenant in our First Lien Credit Agreement, or any other indebtedness and we may not have sufficient assets to repay amounts outstanding under our First Lien Credit Agreement. In addition, in the event of an acceleration of our debt upon a default, we may not have or be able to obtain sufficient funds to make any accelerated payments.
Furthermore, the terms of any future indebtedness we may incur could have further additional restrictive covenants. We may not be able to maintain compliance with these covenants in the future, and in the event that we are not able to maintain compliance, we cannot assure you that we will be able to obtain waivers from the lenders or amend the covenants.
Despite current debt levels, we and our subsidiaries may still be able to incur substantially more debt. This could further exacerbate the risks associated with our substantial leverage.
We and our subsidiaries may be able to incur substantial additional debt in the future. Although our First Lien Credit Agreement contains restrictions on the incurrence of additional debt, these restrictions are subject to a number of qualifications and exceptions, and the debt incurred in compliance with these restrictions could be substantial. Additionally, we may successfully obtain waivers of these restrictions. If we incur additional debt above the levels currently in effect, the risks associated with our leverage, including those described above, would increase. Our First Lien Credit Agreement includes a $100.0 million revolving credit facility under which we had $96.4 million of availability as of December 28, 2019 after giving effect to outstanding letters of credit.
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Risks Related to Ownership of Our Common Stock
The market price of our common stock has been volatile and may continue to fluctuate substantially, which could result in substantial losses for purchasers of our common stock.
The market price of our common stock has been highly volatile and may continue to fluctuate substantially due to a number of factors such as those listed in “Risks Related to Our Business” and the following:
results of operations that vary from the expectations of securities analysts and investors;
results of operations that vary from those of our competitors;
changes in expectations as to our future financial performance, including financial estimates and investment recommendations by securities analysts and investors;
declines in the market prices of stocks generally;
strategic actions by us or our competitors;
announcements by us or our competitors of significant contracts, new products, acquisitions, joint marketing relationships, joint ventures, other strategic relationships or capital commitments;
changes in general economic or market conditions or trends in our industry or markets;
changes in business or regulatory conditions;
additions or departures of key management personnel;
future sales of our common stock or other securities by us or our existing stockholders, or the perception of such future sales;
expiration of market standoff or lock-up agreements;
investor perceptions of the investment opportunity associated with our common stock relative to other investment alternatives;
the public’s response to press releases or other public announcements by us or third parties, including our filings with the SEC;
announcements relating to litigation;
guidance, if any, that we provide to the public, any changes in this guidance or our failure to meet this guidance;
the development and sustainability of an active trading market for our stock;
changes in accounting principles; and
other events or factors, including those resulting from natural disasters, war, acts of terrorism or responses to these events.
These broad market and industry fluctuations may materially adversely affect the market price of our common stock, regardless of our actual operating performance. In addition, price volatility may be greater if the public float and trading volume of our common stock are low.
In the past, following periods of market volatility, stockholders have instituted securities class action litigation. If we were involved in securities litigation, it could have a substantial cost and divert resources and the attention of executive management from our business regardless of the outcome of such litigation.
Our quarterly operating results fluctuate and may fall short of prior periods, our projections or the expectations of securities analysts or investors, which could materially adversely affect our stock price.
Our operating results have fluctuated from quarter to quarter at points in the past, and they may do so in the future. Therefore, results of any one fiscal quarter are not a reliable indication of results to be expected for any other fiscal quarter or for any year. If we fail to increase our results over prior periods, to achieve our projected results or to meet the expectations of securities analysts or investors, our stock price may decline, and the decrease in the stock price may be disproportionate to the shortfall in our financial performance. Results may be affected by various factors, including those described in these risk factors. We maintain a forecasting process that seeks to plan sales and align expenses. If we do not control costs or appropriately adjust costs to actual results, or if actual results differ significantly from our forecast, our financial performance could be materially adversely affected.
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We are a holding company with no operations and rely on our operating subsidiaries to provide us with funds necessary to meet our financial obligations.
We are a holding company with no material direct operations. Our principal assets are the shares of common stock of Globe Intermediate Corp. that we hold. Globe Intermediate Corp. is the indirect parent of Grocery Outlet Inc. which, together with its subsidiaries, owns substantially all of our operating assets. As a result, we are dependent on loans, dividends and other payments from our subsidiaries to generate the funds necessary to meet our financial obligations. Our subsidiaries are legally distinct from us and may be prohibited or restricted from paying dividends or otherwise making funds available to us under certain conditions. If we are unable to obtain funds from our subsidiaries, we may be unable to meet our financial obligations.
We currently do not intend to declare dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future and, as a result, your only opportunity to achieve a return on your investment is if the price of our common stock appreciates.
We currently do not expect to declare any dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future. Instead, we anticipate that all of our earnings in the foreseeable future will be used to provide working capital, to support our operations and to finance the growth and development of our business. Any determination to declare or pay dividends in the future will be at the discretion of our board of directors, subject to applicable laws and dependent upon a number of factors, including our earnings, capital requirements and overall financial conditions. In addition, our ability to pay dividends on our common stock is currently limited by the covenants of our First Lien Credit Agreement and may be further restricted by the terms of any future debt or preferred securities. Accordingly, your only opportunity to achieve a return on your investment in our company may be if the market price of our common stock appreciates and you sell your shares at a profit. The market price for our common stock may never exceed, and may fall below, the price that you pay for such common stock.
If securities analysts do not publish research or reports about our business or if they downgrade our stock or our sector, our stock price and trading volume could decline.
The trading market for our common stock relies in part on the research and reports that industry or financial analysts publish about us or our business or industry. We do not control these analysts. Furthermore, if one or more of the analysts who do cover us downgrade our stock or our industry, or the stock of any of our competitors, or publish inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business or industry, the price of our stock could decline. If one or more of these analysts ceases coverage of us or fails to publish reports on us regularly, we could lose visibility in the market, which in turn could cause our stock price or trading volume to decline.
Future sales, or the perception of future sales, by us or our existing stockholders in the public market could cause the market price for our common stock to decline.
Future sales of shares of our common stock in the public market, or the perception that such sales could occur, could harm the prevailing market price of shares of our common stock. These sales, or the possibility that these sales may occur, also might make it more difficult for us to sell equity securities in the future at a time and at a price that we deem appropriate.
Holders of an aggregate of 34,532,952 shares of our outstanding common stock have rights, subject to some conditions, to require us to file registration statements covering their shares or to include their shares in registration statements that we may file for ourselves or our stockholders. Registration of these shares under the Securities Act would result in the shares becoming freely tradable without restriction under the Securities Act, except for shares held by our affiliates as defined in Rule 144 under the Securities Act.
As restrictions on resale end or if these stockholders exercise their registration rights, the market price of our shares of common stock could drop significantly if the holders of these shares sell them or are perceived by the market as intending to sell them. These factors could also make it more difficult for us to raise additional funds through future offerings of our shares of common stock or other securities.
In addition, the shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our Globe Holding Corp. 2014 Stock Incentive Plan (the “2014 Plan”) and our Grocery Outlet Holding Corp. 2019 Incentive Plan (the “2019 Plan”) will become eligible for sale in the public market once those shares are issued, subject to provisions relating to various vesting agreements and Rule 144 under the Securities Act, as applicable. A total of 14,231,355 shares of common stock have been reserved for future issuance under our 2014 Plan and our 2019 Plan.
In the future, we may also issue our securities in connection with investments or acquisitions. The amount of shares of our common stock issued in connection with an investment or acquisition could constitute a material portion of our then-outstanding shares of our common stock. Any issuance of additional securities in connection with investments or acquisitions may result in additional dilution to you.
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Provisions in our organizational documents could delay or prevent a change of control.
Certain provisions of our amended and restated certificate of incorporation and amended and restated bylaws may have the effect of delaying or preventing a merger, acquisition, tender offer, takeover attempt or other change of control transaction that a stockholder might consider to be in its best interest, including attempts that might result in a premium over the market price of our common stock. As of March 20, 2020, the H&F Investor owned approximately 30% of the voting power of our outstanding stock.
These provisions provide for, among other things:
the division of our board of directors into three classes, as nearly equal in size as possible, which directors in each class serving three-year terms and with terms of the directors of only one class expiring in any given year;
that at any time when the H&F Investor and certain of its affiliates beneficially own, in the aggregate, less than 40% in voting power of the stock of our company entitled to vote generally in the election of directors, directors may only be removed for cause, and only by the affirmative vote of the holders of at least two-thirds in voting power of all the then-outstanding shares of stock entitled to vote thereon, voting together as a single class;
the ability of our board of directors to issue one or more series of preferred stock with voting or other rights or preferences that could have the effect of impeding the success of an attempt to acquire us or otherwise effect a change of control;
advance notice for nominations of directors by stockholders and for stockholders to include matters to be considered at stockholder meetings;
the right of the H&F Investor and certain of its affiliates to nominate a number of members of our board of directors proportionate to their collective ownership of our common stock and the obligation of certain of our other pre-initial public offering stockholders to support such nominees;
the right of certain other pre-initial public offering investors to nominate one member of our board of directors and the obligation of the H&F Investor and certain of our other pre-initial public offering stockholders to support such nominee;
certain limitations on convening special stockholder meetings; and
that certain provisions of our amended and restated certificate of incorporation and amended and restated bylaws may be amended only by the affirmative vote of the holders of at least two-thirds in voting power of all the then-outstanding shares of our stock entitled to vote thereon, voting together as a single class, if the H&F Investor and certain of its affiliates beneficially own, in the aggregate, less than 40% in voting power of our stock entitled to vote generally in the election of directors.
These provisions could make it more difficult for a third party to acquire us, even if the third-party’s offer may be considered beneficial by many of our stockholders. As a result, our stockholders may be limited in their ability to obtain a premium for their shares.
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The H&F Investor holds a significant percentage of our outstanding stock and its interests may be different than the interests of other holders of our securities.
As of March 20, 2020, the H&F Investor owned approximately 30% of the voting power of our outstanding common stock. As a result, the H&F Investor is able to control or influence actions to be taken by us, including future issuances of our common stock or other securities, the payment of dividends, if any, on our common stock, amendments to our organizational documents and the approval of significant corporate transactions, including mergers, sales of substantially all of our assets, distributions of our assets, the incurrence of indebtedness and any incurrence of liens on our assets. As a result, certain governance provisions in our organizational documents will be affected.
The interests of the H&F Investor may be materially different than the interests of our other stakeholders. In addition, the H&F Investor may have an interest in pursuing acquisitions, divestitures and other transactions that, in their judgment, could enhance its investment, even though such transactions might involve risks to you. For example, the H&F Investor may cause us to take actions or pursue strategies that could impact our ability to make payments under our First Lien Credit Agreement or that cause a change of control. In addition, to the extent permitted by our First Lien Credit Agreement, the H&F Investor may cause us to pay dividends rather than make capital expenditures or repay debt. The H&F Investor is in the business of making investments in companies and may from time to time acquire and hold interests in businesses that compete directly or indirectly with us. Our amended and restated certificate of incorporation provides that none of the H&F Investor, any of its affiliates or any director who is not employed by us (including any non-employee director who serves as one of our officers in both his director and officer capacities) or his or her affiliates will have any duty to refrain from engaging, directly or indirectly, in the same business activities or similar business activities or lines of business in which we operate. The H&F Investor also may pursue acquisition opportunities that may be complementary to our business, and, as a result, those acquisition opportunities may not be available to us.
As long as the H&F Investor continues to own a significant amount of our outstanding common stock, even if such amount is less than 30%, it will continue to be able to strongly influence or effectively control our decisions and, so long as the H&F Investor continues to own shares of our outstanding common stock, nominate individuals to our board of directors pursuant to the stockholders agreement we are parties to. The concentration of ownership could deprive you of an opportunity to receive a premium for your shares of common stock as part of a sale of our company and ultimately might affect the market price of our common stock.
Failure to comply with requirements to design, implement and maintain effective internal controls could have a material adverse effect on our business and stock price.
As a privately-held company, we were not required to evaluate our internal control over financial reporting in a manner that meets the standards of publicly traded companies required by Section 404(a) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“Section 404”). As a public company, we have significant requirements for enhanced financial reporting and internal controls. The process of designing and implementing effective internal controls is a continuous effort that requires us to anticipate and react to changes in our business and the economic and regulatory environments and to expend significant resources to maintain a system of internal controls that is adequate to satisfy our reporting obligations as a public company. If we are unable to establish or maintain appropriate internal financial reporting controls and procedures, it could cause us to fail to meet our reporting obligations on a timely basis, result in material misstatements in our consolidated financial statements and harm our results of operations. In addition, we are required, pursuant to Section 404, to furnish a report by management on, among other things, the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting in our annual report for the year ended January 2, 2021. This assessment will need to include disclosure of any material weaknesses identified by our management in our internal control over financial reporting. The rules governing the standards that must be met for our management to assess our internal control over financial reporting are complex and require significant documentation, testing and possible remediation. Testing and maintaining internal controls may divert our management’s attention from other matters that are important to our business. Our independent registered public accounting firm will be required to issue an attestation report on effectiveness of our internal controls in our annual report for the year ended January 2, 2021.
In connection with the implementation of the necessary procedures and practices related to internal control over financial reporting, we may identify deficiencies that we may not be able to remediate in time to meet the deadline imposed by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for compliance with the requirements of Section 404. In addition, we may encounter problems or delays in completing the remediation of any deficiencies identified by our independent registered public accounting firm in connection with the issuance of their attestation report.
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Our testing, or the subsequent testing by our independent registered public accounting firm, may reveal deficiencies in our internal controls over financial reporting that are deemed to be material weaknesses. A material weakness in internal control could result in our failure to detect a material misstatement of our annual or quarterly consolidated financial statements or disclosures. We may not be able to conclude on an ongoing basis that we have effective internal control over financial reporting in accordance with Section 404. If we are unable to conclude that we have effective internal control over financial reporting, investors could lose confidence in our reported financial information, which could have a material adverse effect on the trading price of our common stock.
Our amended and restated bylaws provide, subject to limited exceptions, that the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware and, to the extent enforceable, the federal district courts of the United States of America will be the sole and exclusive forums for certain stockholder litigation matters, which could limit our stockholders’ ability to obtain a favorable judicial forum for disputes with us or our directors, officers or employees.
Our amended and restated bylaws provide, subject to limited exceptions, that unless we consent in writing to the selection of an alternative forum, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware shall, to the fullest extent permitted by law, be the sole and exclusive forum for any (i) derivative action or proceeding brought on behalf of our company, (ii) action asserting a claim of breach of a fiduciary duty owed by any director, officer or other employee of our company to the Company or our stockholders, (iii) action asserting a claim against the Company or any director, officer or other employee of the Company arising pursuant to any provision of the Delaware General Corporation Law, or the DGCL, or our amended and restated certificate of incorporation or our amended and restated bylaws or as to which the DGCL confers jurisdiction on the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware or (iv) action asserting a claim against the Company or any director, officer or other employee of the Company governed by the internal affairs doctrine. These provisions shall not apply to suits brought to enforce a duty or liability created by the Exchange Act or any other claim for which the federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction. Unless we consent in writing to the selections of an alternative forum, the federal district courts of the United States of America shall be the exclusive forum for the resolution of any complaint asserting a cause of action arising under the Securities Act, subject to and contingent upon a final adjudication in the State of Delaware of the enforceability of such exclusive forum provision. Any person or entity purchasing or otherwise acquiring any interest in shares of our capital stock shall be deemed to have notice of and consented to the forum provisions in our amended and restated bylaws.
These choice of forum provisions may limit a stockholder’s ability to bring a claim in a different judicial forum, including one that it may find favorable or convenient for disputes with us or any of our directors, officers or other employees which may discourage lawsuits with respect to such claims. Alternatively, if a court were to find the choice of forum provisions that will be contained in our amended and restated bylaws to be inapplicable or unenforceable with respect to one or more of the specified types of actions or proceedings, we may incur additional costs associated with resolving such action in other jurisdictions, which could harm our business, operating results and financial condition. For example, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware recently determined that a provision stating that U.S. federal district courts are the exclusive forum for resolving any complaint asserting a cause of action arising under the Securities Act is not enforceable. However, this decision may be reviewed and ultimately overturned by the Delaware Supreme Court.
Our board of directors is authorized to issue and designate shares of our preferred stock in additional series without stockholder approval.
Our amended and restated certificate of incorporation authorizes our board of directors, without the approval of our stockholders, to issue 50,000,000 shares of our preferred stock, subject to limitations prescribed by applicable law, rules and regulations and the provisions of our amended and restated certificate of incorporation, as shares of preferred stock in series, to establish from time to time the number of shares to be included in each such series and to fix the designation, powers, preferences and rights of the shares of each such series and the qualifications, limitations or restrictions thereof. The powers, preferences and rights of these additional series of preferred stock may be senior to or on parity with our common stock, which may reduce its value.
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ITEM 1B. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
None.
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ITEM 2. PROPERTIES
As of December 28, 2019, we leased 345 of our 347 stores and each of our four primary self-operated distribution centers. The remaining two stores were owned by IOs. Our initial lease terms for store locations are typically ten years with options to renew for two or three successive five-year periods. Our corporate headquarters, located in Emeryville, California, is leased under an agreement that expires in 2023, with options to renew for two successive five-year periods. Our primary distribution centers range from approximately 100,000 square feet to approximately 400,000 square feet. Including options to renew, our primary distribution centers have leases expiring between 2023 and 2035.
We believe that our corporate and distribution center facilities are in good operating condition and adequate to support the current needs of our business.
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ITEM 3. LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
From time to time, we may be party to litigation that arises in the ordinary course of our business. Management believes that we do not have any pending litigation that, separately or in the aggregate, would have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, financial condition or cash flows.
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ITEM 4. MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES
This Item is not applicable.
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PART II
ITEM 5. MARKET FOR REGISTRANT'S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES
Market Information for Common Stock
Our common stock has traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbol “GO” since our IPO on June 20, 2019. Prior to that date, there was no public market for our common stock.
Stockholders
American Stock Transfer & Trust Company, LLC is the transfer agent and registrar for our common stock. As of March 20, 2020, there were 26 stockholders of record of our common stock. The actual number of stockholders is greater than this number and includes stockholders whose shares are held in street name by brokers and other nominees, and stockholders whose shares may be held in trust by other entities.
Dividend Policy
We currently do not expect to declare any dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future. Instead, we anticipate that all of our earnings in the foreseeable future will be used to provide working capital, to support our operations, to finance the growth and development of our business and to reduce our net debt. Any determination to declare dividends in the future will be at the discretion of our board of directors, subject to applicable laws, and will be dependent on a number of factors, including our earnings, capital requirements and overall financial condition. In addition, because we are a holding company, our ability to pay dividends on our common stock may be limited by restrictions on our ability to obtain sufficient funds through dividends from subsidiaries, including restrictions under our First Lien Credit Agreement, and may be further restricted by the terms of any future debt or preferred securities. See NOTE 6— Long-term Debt to our Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information about our First Lien Credit Agreement.
Stock Performance Graph
The following graph shows a comparison of cumulative total return (equal to stock appreciation plus dividends) during each monthly accounting period from June 20, 2019 (the date our common stock began trading on the NASDAQ Global Select Market) through December 27, 2019 for:
Grocery Outlet Holdings, Inc.
Nasdaq Global Market Composite Index
Nasdaq US Benchmark General Retailers Index
https://cdn.kscope.io/dc0cd6d1cb47e86f15cfbc947799e1b9-go-20191228_g1.jpg

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Company/Index6/20/20197/26/20198/23/20199/27/201910/25/201911/22/201912/27/2019
Grocery Outlet Holding Corp.$100.00  $177.23  $189.77  $156.18  $143.23  $144.00  $152.14  
Nasdaq Global Market Composite Index$100.00  $100.11  $92.79  $86.99  $90.97  $97.60  $105.15  
Nasdaq US Benchmark General Retailers Index$100.00  $102.06  $95.60  $96.95  $99.57  $99.44  $103.02  
We are required to provide a line-graph presentation comparing cumulative stockholder returns on an indexed basis with a broad equity market index and either a published industry index or an index of peer companies selected by us. We have selected the Nasdaq Global Market Composite Index for the broad equity market index and the Nasdaq US Benchmark General Retailers Index as the published industry index.
Notes:
Assumes initial investment of $100.00 at our initial public offering price on June 20, 2019 (our initial listing date). Total return includes reinvestment of dividends.
If the monthly accounting period end date ends on a day that is not a trading day, the preceding trading day is used.
The information included under the heading “Stock Performance Graph” in Item 5 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K is “furnished” and not “filed” and shall not be deemed to be “soliciting material” or subject to Regulation 14A, shall not be deemed “filed” for purposes of Section 18 of the Securities Exchange Act or otherwise subject to the limitations of that section, and shall not be deemed incorporated by reference into any of our filings under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or the Securities Exchange Act, whether made before or after the date of this report and irrespective of any general incorporation by reference language in any such filing.
The stock price performance shown in the graph is not necessarily indicative of future price performance.
Unregistered Sales of Equity Securities
From December 30, 2018 to December 28, 2019, we granted to our employees options to purchase 99,262 shares of our common stock under our 2014 Plan at a weighted-average exercise price of $12.53 per share.
The issuances of these stock options were deemed to be exempt from registration under the Securities Act in reliance upon Section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act or Regulation D promulgated thereunder, or Rule 701 promulgated under Section 3(b) of the Securities Act, as transactions by an issuer not involving any public offering or pursuant to benefit plans and contracts relating to compensation as provided under Rule 701. None of the foregoing transactions involved any underwriters, underwriting discounts or commissions or any public offering.
Issuer Purchase of Equity Securities
The table below sets forth information regarding our purchases of our common stock during the fourth fiscal quarter ended December 28, 2019:
PeriodTotal Number of
Shares Purchased
Average Price
Paid per Share
Total Number of Shares
Purchased as Part of
Publicly Announced
Plans or Programs
Maximum Number
(or Approximate Dollar Value)
of Shares that May Yet Be Purchased
Under the Plans or Programs
September 29, 2019—October 26, 2019 (1)
—  —  —  —  
October 27, 2019—November 23, 2019 (1)
—  —  —  —  
November 24, 2019—December 28, 2019 (1)
14,358$31.37  —  —  
Total14,358—  
(1)During the three months ended December 28, 2019, we withheld 14,358 shares of our common stock (with a weighted average share price of $31.37) from employees to satisfy minimum tax withholding obligations relating to the vesting of restricted stock units. These shares were not acquired as part of a publicly announced share repurchase plan or program.
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ITEM 6. SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA
The following selected consolidated statements of operations data and consolidated balance sheets data are derived from our audited consolidated financial statements and should be read in conjunction with the consolidated financial statements, related notes thereto, and other financial information included herein. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of the results to be expected in any future period.
Fiscal Year Ended
December 28,
2019
December 29,
2018
December 30,
2017
December 31,
2016
January 2,
2016
(in thousands, except per share data)
Consolidated Statements of Operations Data:
Net sales$2,559,617  $2,287,660  $2,075,465  $1,831,531  $1,627,306  
Cost of sales1,772,515  1,592,263  1,443,582  1,270,354  1,135,090  
Gross profit787,102  695,397  631,883  561,177  492,216  
Operating expenses:
Selling, general and administrative639,437  557,100  510,136  457,051  401,204  
Depreciation and amortization47,883  45,421  43,152  37,152  31,243  
Share-based compensation31,439  10,409  1,659  2,905  172  
Total operating expenses718,759  612,930  554,947  497,108  432,619  
Income from operations68,343  82,467  76,936  64,069  59,597  
Other expense:
Interest expense, net45,927  55,362  49,698  47,147  45,900  
Debt extinguishment and modification5,634  5,253  1,466  —  5,473  
Total other expense51,561  60,615  51,164  47,147  51,373  
Income before income taxes16,782  21,852  25,772  16,922  8,224  
Income tax expense1,363  5,984  5,171  6,724  3,459  
Net income$15,419  $15,868  $20,601  $10,198  $4,765  
Per Share Data:
Net income per share (basic and diluted):
Basic$0.20  $0.24  $0.30  $0.15  $0.07  
Diluted$0.19  $0.23  $0.30  $0.15  $0.07  
Weighted average shares outstanding (basic and diluted):
Basic79,044  68,473  68,232  68,260  68,219  
Diluted81,863  68,546  68,332  68,323  68,266  
Fiscal Year Ended
December 28,
2019
December 29,
2018
December 30,
2017
December 31,
2016
January 2,
2016
(in thousands)
Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:
Cash and cash equivalents$28,101  $21,063  $5,801  $6,853  $5,722  
Working capital62,199  89,448  76,244  68,186  62,746  
Total assets (1)
2,185,529  1,376,862  1,317,871  1,268,470  1,220,853  
Total debt (2)
447,989  857,368  710,886  711,866  625,782  
Total liabilities (1)
1,440,145  1,076,911  890,738  862,118  741,070  
Total stockholders’ equity745,384  299,951  427,133  406,352  479,783  
Total liabilities and stockholders’ equity2,185,529  1,376,862  1,317,871  1,268,470  1,220,853  
_______________________
(1)Includes $740.2 million lease right-of-use assets and $806.0 million lease liabilities as of December 28, 2019. See NOTE 4—Leases to our Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information.
(2)Total debt consists of the current and long-term portions of our total debt outstanding, net of debt discount and debt issuance costs. See NOTE 6—Long-term Debt to our Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information.
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ITEM 7. MANAGEMENT'S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATION
You should read the following discussion of our financial condition and results of operations in conjunction with the consolidated financial statements and related notes thereto included in “Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.” This discussion may contain forward-looking statements based upon current expectations that involve risks and uncertainties. Our actual results may differ materially from those anticipated in these forward-looking statements as a result of various factors, including those described in “Item 1A. Risk Factors” or in other sections of this report.
We operate on a fiscal year that ends on the Saturday closest to December 31st each year. References to fiscal 2019, fiscal 2018, and fiscal 2017 refer to the fiscal years ended December 28, 2019, December 29, 2018, and December 30, 2017, respectively.
OVERVIEW
We are a high-growth, extreme value retailer of quality, name-brand consumables and fresh products sold through a network of independently operated stores. Our flexible buying model allows us to offer quality, name-brand opportunistic products at prices generally 40% to 70% below those of conventional retailers. Entrepreneurial independent operators (“IOs”) run our stores and create a neighborhood feel through personalized customer service and a localized product offering. This differentiated approach has driven 16 consecutive years of positive comparable store sales growth. As of December 28, 2019, we had 347 stores in California, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Idaho and Nevada.
Initial Public Offering
On June 24, 2019, we completed our initial public offering (“IPO”) of 19,765,625 shares of our common stock at a public offering price of $22.00 per share for net proceeds of $407.7 million, after deducting underwriting discounts and commissions of $27.1 million. We also incurred offering costs payable by us of $7.2 million which we recognized as a charge to additional paid-in-capital. The shares of common stock sold in the IPO and the net proceeds from the IPO included the full exercise of the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares.
In connection with the closing of our IPO, we repaid in full the $150.0 million outstanding principal amount and $3.6 million accrued interest on our second lien term loan and terminated the related loan agreement. Additionally, using the remainder of the net proceeds, together with excess cash on hand, we prepaid a portion of the term loan outstanding under our first lien credit agreement, dated as of October 22, 2018 (as amended, the “First Lien Credit Agreement”) totaling $248.0 million and $3.8 million of accrued interest. On October 23, 2019, we prepaid an additional $15.0 million of principal on the term loan outstanding under our First Lien Credit Agreement. See “—Liquidity and Capital Resources” for additional information.
In addition, in fiscal 2019, we recognized $24.3 million for share-based compensation expense related to time-based stock options granted prior to our IPO, for which vesting became probable upon completion of our IPO, as well as $3.0 million for share-based compensation expense related to time-based stock options and RSUs granted as part of and subsequent to our IPO. See NOTE 7—Share-based Awards to our Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information.
Secondary Public Offerings
On October 8, 2019, certain of our selling stockholders completed a secondary public offering of shares of our common stock. We did not receive any of the proceeds from the sale of these shares by the selling stockholders. We incurred related offering costs of $1.1 million which are included in selling, general and administrative expenses for fiscal 2019. We received $3.2 million in cash (excluding withholding taxes) in connection with the exercise of 451,470 options by certain stockholders participating in this secondary public offering.
On February 3, 2020, certain of our selling stockholders completed another secondary public offering of shares of our common stock. We did not receive any of the proceeds from the sale of these shares by the selling stockholders. We incurred offering costs payable by us of $1.1 million. We received $1.4 million in cash (excluding withholding taxes) in connection with the exercise of 191,470 options by certain stockholders participating in this secondary public offering.
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COVID-19
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, a global pandemic and recommended containment and mitigation measures worldwide. As a result, many states, including California, Washington and Oregon, where we have a significant number of stores, have declared a state of emergency, closed schools and non-essential businesses and enacted limitations on the number of people allowed to gather at one time in the same space. As of the date of this filing, grocery stores are considered essential businesses in states and counties that have enacted requirements that residents leave their homes only for essential business (“shelter in place”) and are able to continue operating. However, we expect that our IOs may face staffing challenges so long as school closures and COVID-19-related concerns exist. In addition, certain inventory items such as water, beans and bread as well as key cleaning supplies and protective equipment have been, and may continue to be, in short supply. These factors could impact the ability of stores to operate normal hours of operation or have sufficient inventory at all times which may disrupt our business and negatively impact our financial results. Further, planned construction and opening of new stores may be negatively impacted due to shelter in place requirements and the closure of government offices in certain areas. In the event that an employee, IO, or IO employee tests positive for COVID-19, we may have to temporarily close a store, office or distribution center for cleaning and/or quarantine one or more employees which could negatively impact our financial results. We cannot reasonably estimate the length or severity of this pandemic, but it could have a material adverse impact on our consolidated financial position, consolidated results of operations, and consolidated cash flows in fiscal 2020. See “Item 1A. Risk Factors—Major health epidemics, such as the outbreak caused by a coronavirus (COVID-19), and other outbreaks could disrupt and adversely affect our operations, financial condition and business” for additional information.
Key Factors and Measures We Use to Evaluate Our Business
We consider a variety of financial and operating measures in assessing the performance of our business. The key GAAP measures we use are net sales, gross profit and gross margin, selling, general and administrative expenses (“SG&A”) and operating income. The key operational metrics and non-GAAP measures we use are number of new stores, comparable store sales, EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP adjusted net income.
Fiscal 2019 Overview
Key financial and operating performance results for our fiscal 2019 compared to our fiscal 2018 are as follows:
Net sales increased by 11.9% to approximately $2.56 billion for fiscal 2019 from approximately $2.29 billion for fiscal 2018; comparable store sales increased by 5.2% in fiscal 2019 compared to a 3.9% increase in fiscal 2018.
We opened 34 new stores and closed 3, ending fiscal 2019 with 347 stores in six states.
Net income decreased 2.8% to $15.4 million, or $0.19 per diluted share for fiscal 2019, compared to net income of $15.9 million, or $0.23 per diluted share, for fiscal 2018.
Adjusted EBITDA(1) increased 10.6% to $169.8 million for fiscal 2019 compared to $153.6 million for fiscal 2018.
Non-GAAP adjusted net income(1) increased 31.7% to $65.0 million, or $0.79 per non-GAAP diluted share, for fiscal 2019 compared to $49.3 million, or $0.72 per non-GAAP diluted share, for fiscal 2018.
_______________________
(1)Adjusted EBITDA, non-GAAP adjusted net income and non-GAAP adjusted diluted earnings per share are non-GAAP financial measures and should be considered as a supplement to, and not as a substitute for, or superior to, financial measures calculated in accordance with GAAP. See GAAP to non-GAAP reconciliations in the “Operating Metrics and Non-GAAP Financial Measures” section below for additional information.
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Key Components of Results of Operations
Net Sales
We recognize revenues from the sale of products at the point of sale, net of any taxes or deposits collected and remitted to governmental authorities. Discounts provided to customers by us are recognized at the time of sale as a reduction in sales as the products are sold. Discounts that are funded solely by IOs are not recognized as a reduction in sales as the IO bears the incidental costs arising from the discount. We do not accept manufacturer coupons. Sales consist of sales from comparable stores and non-comparable stores, described below under “Comparable Store Sales.” Growth of our sales is primarily driven by expansion of our store base in existing and new markets as well as comparable store sales growth. Sales are impacted by product mix and availability, as well as promotional and competitive activities and the spending habits of our customers. Our ever-changing selection of offerings across diverse product categories supports growth in sales by attracting new customers and encouraging repeat visits from our existing customers. The spending habits of our customers are subject to macroeconomic conditions and changes in discretionary income. Our customers’ discretionary income is primarily impacted by wages, fuel and other cost-of-living increases including food-at-home inflation, as well as consumer trends and preferences, which fluctuate depending on the environment. Because we offer a broad selection of merchandise at extreme values, historically we have benefited from periods of economic uncertainty.
Cost of Sales, Gross Profit and Gross Margin
Cost of sales includes, among other things, merchandise costs, inventory markdowns, inventory losses and transportation, distribution and warehousing costs, including depreciation. Gross profit is equal to our sales less our cost of sales. Gross margin is gross profit as a percentage of our sales. Gross margin is a measure used by management to indicate whether we are selling merchandise at an appropriate gross profit. Gross margin is impacted by product mix and availability, as some products generally provide higher gross margins, and by our merchandise costs, which can vary. Gross margin is also impacted by the costs of distributing and transporting product to our stores, which can vary. Our gross profit is variable in nature and generally follows changes in sales. Our disciplined buying approach has produced consistent gross margins throughout economic cycles which we believe has helped to mitigate adverse impacts on gross profit and results of operations. The components of our cost of sales may not be comparable to the components of cost of sales or similar measures of our competitors and other retailers. As a result, our gross profit and gross margin may not be comparable to similar data made available by our competitors and other retailers.
Prior to fiscal 2014, we calculated gross margin based on gross sales, not deducting for deposits collected or discounts provided, and excluding warehouse depreciation.
Selling, General and Administrative Expenses
SG&A expenses are comprised of both store-related expenses and corporate expenses. Store-related expenses include commissions paid to IOs, occupancy and shared maintenance costs, Company-operated store expenses, including payroll, benefits, supplies and utilities and the cost of opening new IO stores. Corporate expenses include payroll and benefits for corporate and field support, marketing and advertising, insurance and professional services and AOT recruiting and training costs. SG&A generally increases as we grow our store base and invest in our corporate infrastructure. SG&A expenses related to commissions paid to IOs are variable in nature and generally increase as gross profits rise. The remainder of our expenses are primarily fixed in nature. We continue to closely manage our expenses and monitor SG&A as a percentage of sales. The components of our SG&A may not be comparable to the components of similar measures of other retailers. We expect that our SG&A will continue to increase in future periods as we continue to grow our sales revenue.
Operating Income
Operating income is gross profit less SG&A, depreciation and amortization and share-based compensation. Operating income excludes interest expense, net, debt extinguishment and modification costs and income tax expense. We use operating income as an indicator of the productivity of our business and our ability to manage expenses.
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Results of Operations
The following tables summarize key components of our results of operations for the periods presented, both in dollars and as a percentage of net sales (amounts in thousands, except for percentages):
Fiscal Year Ended
December 28,
2019
December 29,
2018
December 30,
2017
Net sales$2,559,617  $2,287,660  $2,075,465  
Cost of sales1,772,515  1,592,263  1,443,582  
Gross profit787,102  695,397  631,883  
Operating expenses:
Selling, general and administrative639,437  557,100  510,136  
Depreciation and amortization47,883  45,421  43,152  
Share-based compensation31,439  10,409  1,659  
Total operating expenses718,759  612,930  554,947  
Income from operations68,343  82,467  76,936  
Other expense:
Interest expense, net45,927  55,362  49,698  
Debt extinguishment and modification costs5,634  5,253  1,466  
Total other expense51,561  60,615  51,164  
Income before income taxes16,782  21,852  25,772  
Income tax expense1,363  5,984  5,171  
Net income$15,419  $15,868  $20,601  

Fiscal Year Ended
December 28,
2019
December 29,
2018
December 30,
2017
Percentage of sales (1)
Net sales100.0 %100.0 %100.0 %
Cost of sales69.2 %69.6 %69.6 %
Gross profit30.8 %30.4 %30.4 %
Operating expenses:
Selling, general and administrative25.0 %24.4 %24.6 %
Depreciation and amortization1.9 %2.0 %2.1 %
Share-based compensation1.2 %0.5 %0.1 %
Total operating expenses28.1 %26.8 %26.7 %
Income from operations2.7 %3.6 %3.7 %
Other expense:
Interest expense, net1.8 %2.4 %2.4 %
Debt extinguishment and modification costs0.2 %0.2 %0.1 %
Total other expense2.0 %2.6 %2.5 %
Income before income taxes0.7 %1.0 %1.2 %
Income tax expense0.1 %0.3 %0.2 %
Net income0.6 %0.7 %1.0 %
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(1)Components may not sum to totals due to rounding.
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Operating Metrics and Non-GAAP Financial Measures
Number of New Stores
The number of new stores reflects the number of stores opened during a particular reporting period. New stores require an initial capital investment in the store build-outs, fixtures and equipment which we amortize over time as well as cash required for inventory and pre-opening expenses.
We expect new store growth of IO stores to be the primary driver of our sales growth. We lease substantially all of our store locations. Our initial lease terms on stores are typically ten years with options to renew for two or three successive five-year periods.
Comparable Store Sales
We use comparable store sales as an operating metric to measure performance of a store during the current reporting period against the performance of the same store in the corresponding period of the previous year. Comparable store sales are impacted by the same factors that impact sales.
Comparable store sales consists of sales from our stores beginning on the first day of the fourteenth full fiscal month following the store’s opening, which is when we believe comparability is achieved. Included in our comparable store definition are those stores that have been remodeled, expanded, or relocated in their existing location or respective trade areas. Excluded from our comparable store definition are those stores that have been closed for an extended period as well as any planned store closures or dispositions. When applicable, we exclude the sales in the non-comparable week of a 53-week year from the same store sales calculation.
Opening new stores is a primary component of our growth strategy and, as we continue to execute on our growth strategy, we expect a significant portion of our sales growth will be attributable to non-comparable store sales. Accordingly, comparable store sales is only one measure we use to assess the success of our growth strategy.
Prior to fiscal 2014, we calculated comparable store sales growth based on gross sales for stores beginning on the 366th day after opening. While we believe results under this prior method do not materially differ from results under our current method, we believe that our current methodology more appropriately adjusts for higher sales volumes that typically occur in conjunction with a store’s grand opening events.
EBITDA, Adjusted EBITDA and Non-GAAP Adjusted Net Income
EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP adjusted net income are key metrics used by management and our board of directors to assess our financial performance. EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP adjusted net income are also frequently used by analysts, investors and other interested parties to evaluate companies in our industry. We use EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP adjusted net income to supplement GAAP measures of performance to evaluate the effectiveness of our business strategies, to make budgeting decisions and to compare our performance against that of other peer companies using similar measures. In addition, we use EBITDA to supplement GAAP measures of performance to evaluate our performance in connection with compensation decisions. Management believes it is useful to investors and analysts to evaluate these non-GAAP measures on the same basis as management uses to evaluate our operating results. We believe that excluding items from operating income, net income and net income per diluted share that may not be indicative of, or are unrelated to, our core operating results, and that may vary in frequency or magnitude, enhances the comparability of our results and provides a better baseline for analyzing trends in our business.
We define EBITDA as net income before net interest expense, income taxes and depreciation and amortization expenses. Adjusted EBITDA represents EBITDA adjusted to exclude share-based compensation expense, purchase accounting inventory adjustments, debt extinguishment and modification costs, non-cash rent, asset impairment and gain or loss on disposition, new store pre-opening expenses, dead rent for acquired leases, provision for accounts receivable reserves and certain other expenses. Non-GAAP adjusted net income represents net income adjusted for the previously mentioned EBITDA adjustments, further adjusted for costs related to amortization of purchase accounting assets and deferred financing costs and tax effect of total adjustments. EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP adjusted net income are non-GAAP measures and may not be comparable to similar measures reported by other companies. EBITDA, adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP adjusted net income have limitations as analytical tools, and you should not consider them in isolation or as a substitute for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP. We address the limitations of the non-GAAP measures through the use of various GAAP measures. In the future we may incur expenses or charges such as those added back to calculate adjusted EBITDA or non-GAAP adjusted net income. Our presentation of adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP adjusted net income should not be construed as an inference that our future results will be unaffected by the adjustments we have used to derive our non-GAAP measures.
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The following table summarizes key operating metrics and non-GAAP components of our results of operations for the periods presented (amounts in thousands, except for percentages and store counts):
Fiscal Year Ended
December 28,
2019
December 29,
2018
December 30,
2017
Other Financial and Operations Data
Number of new stores34  26  29  
Number of stores open at end of period347  316  293  
Comparable store sales growth (1)
5.2 %3.9 %5.3 %
EBITDA (2)
$112,852  $124,271  $118,622  
Adjusted EBITDA (2)
$169,842  $153,578  $136,319  
Non-GAAP adjusted net income (2)
$64,963  $49,308  $48,655  
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(1)Comparable store sales consist of sales from our stores beginning on the first day of the fourteenth full fiscal month following the store’s opening, which is when we believe comparability is achieved.
(2)See “—GAAP to Non-GAAP Reconciliations” section below for a reconciliation from our net income to EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA, net income to non-GAAP adjusted net income, and GAAP to non-GAAP earnings per share for the periods presented:
GAAP to Non-GAAP Reconciliations
The following tables provide a reconciliation from our GAAP net income to EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA, GAAP net income to non-GAAP adjusted net income, and our GAAP to non-GAAP earnings per share for the periods presented:
Fiscal Year Ended
December 28,
2019
December 29,
2018
December 30,
2017
Net income$15,419  $15,868  $20,601  
Interest expense, net45,927  55,362  49,698  
Income tax expense1,363  5,984  5,171  
Depreciation and amortization expenses (a)
50,143  47,057  43,152  
EBITDA112,852  124,271  118,622  
Share-based compensation expenses (b)
31,439  10,409  1,659  
Debt extinguishment and modification costs (c)
5,634  5,253  1,466  
Non-cash rent (d)
10,582  7,903  8,401  
Asset impairment and gain or loss on disposition (e)
1,957  1,306  549  
New store pre-opening expenses (f)
1,509  1,555  1,807  
Rent for acquired leases (g)
—  —  72  
Provision for accounts receivable reserves (h)
2,575  749  3,004  
Other (i)
3,294  2,132  739  
Adjusted EBITDA$169,842  $153,578  $136,319  

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Fiscal Year Ended
December 28,
2019
December 29,
2018
December 30,
2017
Net income$15,419  $15,868