Best Buy makes the best of a bad situation

Year-over-year revenue may be down 77%, "voluntary reductions" are underway, and the environment's difficulty level is somewhere between challenging and shriek-inducing. Still, Best Buy's Tuesday earnings call was remarkably upbeat.

The electronics retailer's Q3 2009 (not a typo) ended on November 29, and during that three-month period it reported profits of $52 million, or 13 cents/share. Sales performance on Black Friday was, however, not bad at all, and meant the difference between domestic results being down 6.3% and being essentially flat.

No one wants flat results, but as CEO Brad Anderson pointed out, next to the rest of the market, that's not really so bad, especially since Best Buy did gain market share during the autumn quarter.

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That would seem to be not so difficult when your main competitor's in bankruptcy. But company officials say they're not taking anything for granted about where Circuit City's customers will go next. "We're not assuming anything about market share," they said, noting that they're pretty sure Circuit City customers are not unaware of Best Buy's existence, and that it's actually a matter of getting those folks to "give Best Buy a second chance."

Anderson made a point of taking the long view, describing the current in-house planning philosophy as "harvesting some of the seeds we've sown over the past six or seven years" and citing examples from previous economic meltdowns to explain how Best Buy will get through the current trouble. For now, the company will pare back levels of investment, slow (but not stop) rollouts of new stores, cut capital spending by 50%, and work with suppliers -- leveraging the company's sheer size, as other behemoths such as Wal-Mart do.

The employee buyout offers are part of that as well. The company says it will offer 7.5 months of severance pay to corporate employees taking the offer, or 12 months if age plus years of service add up to 60 or more. Best Buy will also pay for a year of health-care coverage, a year of life insurance, and for outplacement services as wanted. No official target number of buyouts has been given. Once the uptake on the buyout offer is known -- the deadline is January 5 -- there'll be decisions about layoffs.

On the positive side, Anderson cited improvements in the company's approach to Black Friday, many of which he says were due to six months' worth of planning based on what the company learned last year. He said that the company's renewed focus on "full-service bundled solutions" is paying off with customer loyalty, and cited the home theater, computing, digital imaging, and games segments as top performers.

The company offered earnings guidance revision last month, and Anderson stuck by the rather wide numbers -- $2.30 to $2.90 -- on Tuesday's call.

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