Fast food profits 

I have previously written here that one of the most repeatable ways to make money on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) is to buy into a retail store rollout story early. Catching the steepest part of the ‘S’ curve when revenue and profit growth are accelerating while head office becomes simultaneously more efficient usually produces good results thanks to the accompanying rise in the share price. 

And when like-for-like sales of existing stores are still growing and the number of new stores being added is high in proportion to the number of existing stores, jumping aboard early provides an even more beneficial tailwind.  

Store growth ambitions are often disclosed in a company’s initial public offering (IPO) prospectus and within twelve months, investors usually have a good idea about management’s ability to deliver on the stated plans, as well as customers’ love for the concept. 

Recent retail success stories 

Some recent and not-so-recent examples include Lovisa (ASX:LOV), which sold its product through 60 stores in 2012. When it was listed in 2014, it had grown to 220 stores. Eight years after listing, Lovisa distributes its jewellery through 449 stores. And since it listed, the share price is 976 per cent higher.  

JB Hi-Fi (ASX:JBH) listed in October 2003, with just 25 stores, issuing shares at $1.55. Today, with 316 stores (including acquisitions of Clive Anthonys and The Good Guys) the shares trade at $58.46, a return of 3671 per cent, or 19.1 per cent per annum over 20 years, excluding dividends. 

The furniture retailer Nick Scali (ASX:NCK) was listed in May 2004. At the time of its 2004 full-year results, it reported sales of $43.4 million and earnings of $6.7 million from just 10 stores. The IPO price was $1. With 85 stores today, and more than 90 Plush stores, the share price is up 1378 per cent at $13.78, or 14 per cent per year over 20 years.  

Guzman y gomez IPO 

Recently, the healthy, fast, Mexican-inspired food chain Guzman y Gomez launched its prospectus for an already fully subscribed IPO to list shares on the ASX on 25 June.  

With its first store opening in 2006, and 185 stores in Australia currently, Guzman y Gomez’s management has already proven to be one of Australia’s fastest-growing quick service restaurant (QSR) teams. Guzman y Gomez plans to have over a thousand domestic stores in the next twenty years. This compares with McDonalds (NYSE:MCD) Australia, which opened its first store in 1971, reached 869 stores in 2011 and now has 1043 stores. Elsewhere, Subway, which launched in 1988, has 1227 stores across Australia today, while Domino’s (ASX:DMP), which set up shop in 1983, now has 736 stores. 

And like Lovisa, JB Hi-Fi and Nick Scali before it, Guzman y Gomez lists ‘new store openings’ as its top source of future growth, stating, “new restaurant openings in Australia are expected to be the primary contributor to Guzman y Gomez’s network sales growth over the long term. Guzman y Gomez believes there is an opportunity to grow its network to more than 1,000 restaurants in Australia over the next 20-plus years. The company believes that it has substantially built the team, restaurant pipeline, and infrastructure to be able to open 30 new restaurants per annum over the near-term [it opened 26 in CY23], increasing to 40 restaurants per annum within five years.” As an aside, there are also 16 stores in Singapore, five in Japan and four in the U.S. 

Not only are store openings going to continue, they are expected to accelerate. That’s the first source of growth.  

Importantly, individual store economics are extremely attractive, with Guzman y Gomez expecting to achieve a return on investment (ROI) in line with existing stores of approximately 50-55 per cent on new corporate restaurants and its franchisees to achieve an ROI of approximately 30 per cent on new franchise restaurants, with the difference being due to the royalty paid by franchisees. 

Not only is the number of these highly profitable stores expected to grow significantly and accelerate, but restaurant margins are also expected to improve. Guzman y Gomez restaurant margins improve with volume, and volume rises as Guzman y Gomez stores mature. In 2023, corporate restaurant margins were 14.4 per cent. In 2024, that margin is expected to rise to 17.1 per cent and 17.8 per cent in 2025. At the same time, the Franchise royalty rate is expected to rise from an average 7.6 per cent in FY23 to 8.3 per cent in 2025. 

And as the store count grows, the general and admin related costs should come down. Indeed, the company is aiming for a reduction in G&A-to-network-sales from the expected 6.8 per cent of sales in FY25. 

Accelerating store openings, continuing like-for-like sales growth, expansion in restaurant margins and franchise royalty rates should all add up to strong earnings growth, something investors are desperately seeking in an environment marred by slowing economic growth and heightened interest rates. 

What remains for investors to consider is the price they might be paying for all this growth. Cornerstone investors, which include Aware Super and Copper Investors, are acquiring their shares at $22 each following a 250-for-one share split. That price represents a very high price-earnings (P/E), so one might wonder what the cornerstone investors see that’s worth paying up for, especially given at that multiple there will be any number of investors who turn their back on the opportunity. So is Guzman y Gomez the ultimate investor Mexican standoff? 

Valuation considerations 

Most investors value QSR businesses on an earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) multiple basis, and the number on the prospectus is about 38 times, which, again, is very high. 

Importantly, it’s worth understanding that 38 times includes the losses the company is currently incurring in the U.S. strip out those losses and the multiple applicable to the Australian business is about 32 times. 

It’s also worth acknowledging a change in the terms between the company and its franchisees. When Guzman y Gomez first launched, the standard franchise contract included an eight per cent of sales royalty. Given Guzman y Gomez franchisees earn abnormally high returns on investment, Guzman y Gomez changed that franchise royalty to eight per cent of sales up to three million dollars per store and 15 per cent above that. All new franchise arrangements are struck on the new terms and old franchise arrangements, when they come up for renewal, will move to the new platform. 

Assuming Guzman y Gomez didn’t open another restaurant ever again and existing stores traded without any further improvement, the shift to the new contract terms would see the EBITDA multiple falls from 32 to approximately 28 times. 

Meanwhile, if the company also opens its targeted 30 stores next year, never opens another store again after 2025, and these stores trade in line with existing stores, the EBITDA multiple falls to 23 times. It is clear from the prospectus, the company plans to open many more stores in coming years. 

International comparisons 

Despite Guzman y Gomez’s prospectus appearing to play down its international growth opportunities, it may nevertheless be worth comparing the adjusted EBITDA multiple to global peers. A relevant comparison would be Cava (NYSE:CAVA), which IPO’d in the U.S. in June 2023, also at U.S.$22 per share, funnily enough. Upon listing, Cava shares surged 89 per cent to U.S.$42 amid that clearly welcomed long-term sustainable growth stories, especially category-defining brands. Cava has about 200 stores and trades at 82 times EBITDA. Meanwhile, Chipotle (NYSE:CMG), which is obviously the behemoth in the space, and arguably mature, with 6,000 stores, trades at 34 times. With an already proven store concept, a significant store rollout opportunity ahead, and a proven management team to execute that store rollout, some investors are clearly arguing the multiple is reasonable. And with existing shareholders (including your author) escrowed until August 2025, the supply of shares may be tight.  

Investing in the rapid rollout of a successful store concept has been one of the easiest and most repeatable ways to make money in the Australian stock market. The listing of Guzman y Gomez in June this year will help determine if that strategy remains relevant. 

The Montgomery Small Companies Fund owns shares in Lovisa, Nick Scali and JB Hi-fi. This article was prepared 6 June 2024 with the information we have today, and our view may change. Itdoes not constituteformal advice or professional investment advice. If you wish to trade Lovisa, Nick Scali or JB Hi-fi, you should seek financial advice.   


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