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J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (JCP), Best Buy Co., Inc. (BBY): Is Retail Inception a Dream or Nightmare?

The store-within-a-store business model, or as it is currently called, ‘retail inception’ after Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster movie Inception, is nothing new. The concept is commonly an agreement where a retailer (acting as a landlord) allows part of their real estate (their store property) to be used by a different company (acting as a tenant) to run an independent store. It is said to be a win-win situation. The retailer is able to offer prime property for which it can charge high rents and produce a constant predictable cash flow. The company within the store makes a higher profit than it would through a wholesale model since they don’t need to split profits with a retailer, and additionally, there is a significantly reduced overhead expense. In the end, customers are supposed to get lower prices and better service. However, is ‘retail inception’ a dream or a nightmare?

Best Buy’s Dream?

Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY)

Downward trends continue to plague Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) as recent first quarter 2014 FY results show revenue is down 9.6% both domestically and internationally, operating income dropped 36.4%, and EPS came in at nearly half the number from the same quarter a year ago at $0.24. On top of that, Best Buy has been in the process of closing stores.

Year-to-date, however, Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) is up over 135% in share price as it is now at multi-year highs. Much of this is due to shareholder anticipation and speculation on Best Buy’s transformation from being a failing big-box retailer to a retailer of smaller boxes – an electronics department store. Earlier this month, Best Buy made an agreement with Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) to add their mini-stores in half of Best Buy’s big-box stores. They will be the third store-within-a-store, joining their competitors Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and SAMSUNG ELECT LTD(F) (OTCMKTS:SSNLF).

The burden, though, is clearly on Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) to make these partnerships succeed. All three companies – Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Samsung, and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) – have businesses that are thriving and will continue to with or without Best Buy’s accommodations. Microsoft, in particular, posted increases across all their divisions in their recent third quarter results as cloud computing is only expanding their earnings potential on already existing products and services. The Microsoft Business, Servers & Tools, Windows, Online Services, and Entertainment and Devices divisions posted revenue increases of 8%, 11%, 23%, 18%, and 56%, respectively. EPS for the company also beat the same quarter a year ago ($0.61) coming in at $0.72.

The Kick

When it comes to the store-within-a-store model, at least in recent years, there have been many ‘kicks’ available to wake Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) up on potential warning signs. Among their many problems that led to bankruptcy, Best Buy’s ex-competitor Circuit City tried the retail inception model by partnering with Verizon Wireless in 2004 to include full-service sales and service centers in each of their Superstores. Before that, Circuit City had a semi store-within-a-store model for gaming manufacturers. At the turn of the millennium, they had an exclusive partnership to feature Sony PlayStation gaming in their stores with dedicated floor space and excluded Nintendo Co., Ltd (ADR) (OTCMKTS:NTDOY), Sega, and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s Xbox from this ability until the Sony agreement ended.

J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP) had Ron Johnson turn the store into a landlord of a ghost town during his tenure before being fired on April 8, 2013. The implementation of his concept could foreshadow what is to come for companies like Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY). Perhaps, the change that Ron Johnson was so hopeful for just needed more time to see a success. Maybe results take much longer as you have more and more stores within stores. Last year, J.C. Penney took a $1.5 billion loss before taxes and this year shareholders aren’t as confident as they are with Best Buy currently. J.C. Penney stock has declined over 13% this year, and they have lost nearly 80% of their market value since their 2007 peak.

BBY Total Return Price data by YCharts

Entering Limbo

In the movie Inception, ‘limbo, ’ or the point where the dreamer enters a dream state permanently, occurs when you go beyond three levels of dreams. In this situation, one could say that you can stay in control by having up to three stores within a store. Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) is at that level. The pros of the model like neutralization of competition by the stabilization of prices among different brands are historically outweighed by many of the cons. One of the biggest problems is alienating the core shoppers of the main store. It is falsely assumed that shoppers like both the main store and the stores within the store equally. However, this is usually not the case. Different brand affiliations and loyalties can wind up backfiring on the main store’s consumer base. Window’s customers may not necessarily be Best Buy customers, for example.

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