COMPANY OVERVIEW (Per 2017 10-K):
As of December 31, 2017, Wendy’s operates and franchises the third largest hamburger QSR chain with systemwide sales of $10.3 billion and total locations of 6,634 (6,297 franchised and 337 Company operated). The majority of Wendy’s, 92%, are located in North America; this includes all Company owned locations. The remaining 8% are international with the majority of these locations – 83 located in Indonesia. Wendy’s international footprint is much smaller than other QSR chains.
The Company-run stores generated 6% of the total systemwide revenue with the North American franchise system accounting for 89% of total sales and international franchisees accounting for the remaining 5%.
Wendy’s NA (North America) are supplied through a cooperatively operated entity for the purpose of leveraging their purchase power and effectively managing quality distribution and inventories.
LONG-TERM GROWTH STRATEGY (2017 10-K)
Prior to Todd Penegar being appointed CEO (May 2016), Wendy’s growth strategy was mostly stagnant. Once Mr. Penegar came into position, he began a series of growth initiatives, some new and others reutilized.
- The Image Activation Program, begun in 2013, includes reimaging existing restaurants and building new restaurants, and remains an integral part of Wendy’s global growth strategy. It includes exterior and interior design and upgrades. At the end of QTR-3, 2018 48% of the global system has been reimaged. This compares with 43% at the end of 2017. The Company expects approximately 50% of the global system to be reimaged by the end of 2018. Also, the addition of kiosk ordering stations has been implemented in approximately 10% of the system as of QTR-3, 2018.
The Image Activation Initiative met strong resistance in its early years from franchisees. In one instance, Wendy’s Corporation had to sue one of the largest franchisees to force compliance which ultimately led to the buyout of that particular franchisee (DAVCO with 140 locations). Since that time Wendy’s launched a Franchisee Attitude & Optimism Evaluation Program (survey conducted by Franchise Business Review 2018) in the efforts of gaining more buy-in to the reimaging programs. Research shows that as of QTR-3, 2018:
- 88% of Wendy’s franchisees would still invest in the concept.
- 87% have a positive attitude about their affiliation with Wendy’s.
- 84% would recommend Wendy’s to others.
- System Optimization Initiative – This is a program whereby: (a) Wendy’s will buy and sell restaurants in an effort to optimize the system. (b) Reduce total Company stores to 5% of total store count. As of QTR-3, 2018 the Company acquired 16 restaurants in the Columbus, Ohio market for approximately $21.4 million. Current Company owned restaurants maintain 5% of total system. (c) Franchise Flips – in QTR-3, 2018 the Company facilitated 9 franchise flips (part of the System Optimization Initiative). (d) New Restaurant Development – in QTR-3, 2018 the Company had 37 global openings; a net increase of 13 new units.
- Improving the Customer Experience – The Wendy’s Way is to delight every customer through:
On the technology front, Wendy’s has implemented a series of items to modernize operations. New standardized POS system, new BOH Kitchen monitors and software for scheduling and inventory management and new Mobile App (as of QTR-3, 2018 the Mobile App program has been rolled out and early response has been described as exceeding expectations.) The Rewards Program has been generous – giving away a free Dave’s Single in September as an example.
UNIT LEVEL ECONOMICS (per 2017 10-K; 2018 FDD)
Wendy’s unit level economics disclosure has been less than obvious but the 2018 FDD (Franchise Disclosure Document) provides information on AUV’s, costs and unit level EBITDA.
In 2017 AUV for Company stores was $1,881K. Franchise location AUV was $1,600K. Company store level EBITDA margin was 21.6% and at franchise locations (EBITDAR), before rent, was 19.7%. Comparison of Cash on Cash returns at new restaurants, company and franchised, is provided below (Source: 2017 10K; 2018 FDD), royalties providing the differential:
The acceleration in franchisee investment appears to be the result of two factors:
1. The performance of the new reimaged locations. The average increase in SSS in 2017 remodeled units was 11.5% up from average SSS increase in 2016 of 6.9%. See table below (Source: 2018 FDD):
Reimage Program with Indicated SSS Increase
Refresh 7.8% 6.0%
Remodel 7.5% 8.9%
Scrape & Build 19.2% 22.9%
Average 6.9% 11.5%
2. The Company introduced several creative incentive programs for franchisees to invest in the system. To launch the Image Incentivization Program the Company originally offered a 3-year monthly royalty abatement of 2% for new units. (Currently this royalty abatement has changed to 2% royalty abatement, 3.5% advertising abatement for year 1 and a 1% royalty abatement and a 3% advertising abatement for year 2.)
3. For the Remodel Program, franchisees are offered a 1% royalty abatement for 12 months.
The franchisees now seem convinced of the value of remodeling. Initially, there was serious pushback because of the high costs but after learning of the sales lift (see table above) and the added fact the Company adjusted their reimage requirements to 4 options ranging in costs from $300,000 to $1,200,000, now franchisees are embracing the program.
SHAREHOLDER RETURN (2017 10-K):
The Wendy’s Company paid quarterly cash dividends of $0.07 per share on its common stock aggregating $68.3 million in 2017. During the first quarter of 2018, The Wendy’s Company declared a dividend of $0.085 per share to be paid on March 15, 2018 to shareholders of record as of March 1, 2018.
The following table summarizes the Company’s repurchases of common stock for 2017, 2016 and 2015:
In February 2017, the Board of Directors authorized a repurchase program for up to $150M. An additional $120M was approved in August after the sale of the Company stake in Inspire Brands. In calendar ’18 through October, the Company repurchased 8.5M shares for $146.2M an average purchase price of $17.21. In Q3’19, an additional $120M was authorized, bringing the current outstanding authorization which expires 12/27/19 to $220M.
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS (Per Q3’18 EPS Report and Conference Call)
The reported numbers are heavily focused on “Adjusted” results. By far the largest adjustment was the Investment Income from the sale of their interest in Inspire Brands, for $450M, $353M net of tax. Adjusted earnings per share ($0.17 vs. $0.09), as described by the Company, “resulted primarily from the positive impact of a lower tax rate…..as well as an increase in adjusted EBITDA.” Adjusted EBITDA was $107.2M vs. $97.6M, the largest operating improvement being a $5.2M reduction in G&A expense. The most important operating variables in Q3 was a decrease in North American Same Restaurant sales (on a constant currency basis) of 0.2%, traffic also down, (vs. 2.0% increase in ’17), global systemwide sales growth of 1.7% (on top of 3.4% in ’17), a decrease in company operated restaurant EBITDA margin of 20 bp to 15.7% (labor rate inflation and higher insurance costs, partially offset by pricing actions and lower commodity costs). There were 37 new openings globally and 24 closings, moving toward 1.5 percent for all of ’18 (1.0% in N.A. and 10% internationally). At the end of Q3, 48% of the global system was image activated vs 43% a year earlier. 16 restaurants were bought back from franchisees, in Columbus, Ohio, which is historically interesting as that is where Dave Thomas started Wendy’s 49 years ago. Also in Q3, there were 9 “Franchisee Flips”, as part of the system optimization program, with 130 FFs to be completed in ’18.
For all of ’18, the Company now expects N.A. comps of about 1%, Company operated restaurant margin of 16-16.5% (15.8% for nine months, 17.6% in calendar ‘17), G&A expense of $190-195M ($46.5M and 146.1M for 3 mos. and 9 mos.), Adjusted EBITDA up 6-8% to $415-420M ($107.2M and $291.7M for 3 mos. and 9 mos., $406.2M in calendar ’17, don’t know how ’18 becomes 6-8% growth), Adjusted EBITDA margin of approximately 33% (33.6% and 32.5% for 3 mos. and 9 mos.), Cash Flow from Operations of $295-$310M (was 229.7M for 9 mos.), Free Cash Flow of $225-235M ( $181.1M for 9 mos.). Commodity inflation is expected to be 1-2%, labor inflation of 3-4%, interest expense of $120M ($29.6M and $89.9M for 3 mos.and 9 mos.). In essence, the Q4 results are implied to approximately mirror Q3, with a slight increase in restaurant operating margin.
The Company points out, relative to projected ’18 results, and “certain non-GAAP financial measures”, including “adjustments”: “Due to the uncertainty and variability of the nature and amount of those expense and benefits, the Company is unable without unreasonable effort to provide projections of net income, earnings per share, free cash flow or reported tax rate or a reconciliation of those projected measures.”
The Company refrained from reaffirming previous goals for 2020, since international plans are being updated under new leadership in this area.
The Company stressed on the conference call the ongoing reimaging program, the delivery program now covering 50% of the North American system, free cash flow generation of $181M for 9 mos. (a 50% increase) and FCF for all of ’18 of $225-235M (vs. 169.9M in calendar ’17, a result of slightly lower capex and a favorable change in working capital, i.e.accrued expenses), further development of the mobile app, the excellent franchisee relationships (strongly evidenced by recent survey results), the ongoing capital allocation process that includes substantial share repurchase.
There was quite a bit of conference call conversation about marketing initiatives and balancing the low priced offerings with premium products in a still fiercely competitive environment. An incentive program was launched to provide franchisees 11.5% of royalty and advertising relief for two years if they sign an incremental development. This is a step up from the previous 6% cumulative abatement over a three year period, with one point of the increased relief in each of the first two years on the royalty side. The Company initiative to reduce costs on reimaging has helped as well to stimulate new unit growth. International unit growth is still strong, on a small base, at 10% after 15% in ’17.
Overall, Wendy’s management continues to do a credible job of “blocking & tackling”, renovating and optimizing the system, encouraging international development and allocating capital to reward shareholders. They are here to stay, but are basically a mature chain operating in a challenging environment.