The Ultimate Beauty Solution

Mark is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

While reviewing Ulta Beauty (NASDAQ: ULTA), the constant realization is that the company has no comparable competition. The beauty sector is a massive industry yet the majority of the products are sold via direct marketers, department stores, or drug stores. Neither group offers a focused, easy to visit store format. For a consumer that wants quality products, they previously had to travel to a distant mall. Enter Ulta Beauty into the mix and clearly investors have been excited about the historical growth rates.

The genius of Ulta is the lack of directly focused competition, especially for investment dollars. Sure investors can chose direct marketer Avon Products (NYSE: AVP) or professional beauty supplier Sally Beauty Holdings (NYSE: SBH). In neither case do investors get a stock with a direct competitive threat to Ulta or even stocks with any meaningful growth potential these days.

Flat stock

The stock action of Ulta over the last year highlights the major point of paying the right price for a stock. Ulta recently reported that Q1 2013 revenue surged 22.9%. These gains came from both strong comparable sales of nearly 7% and growth in square footage. Unfortunately for investors, the stock was priced for perfection as the spring of 2012 rolled along.

Adding Prestige brands

A major catalyst for the rest of the year will be the addition of the prestige brands of Clinique and Lancôme in boutiques within the stores. These premium brands will help drive the high-end customers to Ulta that typically went to a Sephora store at a J.C. Penney or a Macy’s.

Ulta expects to add a total of 125 stores for the year with the majority added during the rest of 2013. The store base reached 576 stores at the end of Q1, helping square footage grow 24% year-over-year. More importantly, the company added eight Clinique boutiques to reach 51 and plans to add 25 Lancôme boutiques this year. These boutiques are expected to drive more high-end customers to the stores.

Competitive threats

Sally Beauty probably has the most comparable concept with a vast retail network. The company, though, focuses more on the professional market with a skew towards salons. In that light, Sally isn’t as much a direct competitor, yet it does have over 4,500 retail stores, suggesting that Ulta might be able to expand on the goal of reaching 1,200 retail locations. Unfortunately Sally only has a market cap of $5.2 billion with a revenue base of $3.6 billion. The stock trades at a solid multiple of nearly 20 times current year earnings estimates, a sign to investors that a massive store base doesn’t always equal larger valuations.

Avon is more of a direct competitor as it manufactures and markets beauty products through direct selling and independent representatives. With revenue of over $10 billion, it is definitely a target for Ulta to take market share. Instead of dealing with a friend that resells Avon products, the hopes are that Ulta will provide a more convenient and appealing option. The vast selection at Ulta, including the new Clinique and Lancôme boutiques, hopefully pulls consumers from the historical direct marketing model.

Like most in the general sector, Avon is facing flat to declining growth. The stock has a substantial market value of over $10 billion and only trades at 1 times revenue due to the lack of growth. Surprisingly, analysts see earnings surging over the next few years, allowing the stock to trade at over 16 times next year's estimates. The stock appears expensive considering the lack of revenue growth.

Bottom line

Amazingly, Ulta Beauty appears to offer the ultimate beauty shopping solution for a massively fragmented market. From department stores to drug stores to a direct seller such as Avon Products, the market has a vast amount of retail outlets that sell beauty products such as makeup, yet Ulta is one of few with quality products situated outside of mall locations. What woman wants to trek out to the mall for a $15 beauty product that can be easily purchased at a more convenient non-mall location on the way home from work?

At 23 times forward earnings, Ulta now provides an entry point equivalent with its growth rate. Historically that valuation level has provided great entry points for fast growing companies.

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Mark Holder and Stone Fox Capital Advisors, LLC have no positions in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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