Jump on the Restoration Bandwagon

 | Jun 20, 2014 | 6:34 AM EDT  | Comments
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In the time since 17 pounds of Restoration Hardware (RH) catalogues have arrived at your house, the stock of Restoration Hardware has rallied 17 points.

Coincidence? Of course.

But when you sit down with CEO Gary Friedman you begin to wonder whether his catalogue and bricks-and-mortar throwback approach to business isn't better than the Web. After all, only 8% of retail is done on the Web. Why not figure out how to master the 92% that's left.

That's exactly what Restoration Hardware, with its high-teens comparable-store numbers is doing. RH has developed a hybrid approach to retail that seems very 21st century, kind of the way that a Cezanne may have been to a Rembrandt, a breakthrough look at the art of retailing that is no longer constrained by the old model.

Don't sniff at this notion. It is not high minded. We know the mall has become a challenged place to shop. Some, like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, say that it is a fact of life because online shopping is easier and faster and often cheaper

Friedman, on the other hand, says that perhaps it is just soulless. Who wants to go to windowless box that couldn't even sustain plant life and spend a lot of money in a totally dreary session? Who wants to go on the Web where every retailer is created equal because of the size and flatness of the computer screen? Why not design stores that look and feel different than all others, that look and feel like an art gallery AND a home. Why not have terrific-looking catalogues, even if some got more than they asked for -- or didn't even ask for -- when the tomes arrived.

I think that Friedman is on to something. I think that his vision and his desire to disrupt the model -- including even some of his own earlier stores -- is visionary and, yes, will be successful. Will the stock market give him a chance to build out the stores he needs? I think until this most recent quarter the jury was out.

Now it is back.

It says he has the time, the inclination, the vision, the smarts and the cash to pull it off.

He's certainly persuasive. Friedman went on the road recently to talk to buyers of a Restoration Hardware convertible bond. I always hate it when companies do these converts because the buyers often turn right around and short the common, putting instant pressure on the stock. Not this time. The stock went higher after the convert. That's a sign that the convert buyers not only didn't short the stock but, most likely, they might have augmented their convert positions with common in the aftermarket.

To me that means stop betting against him, as so many hedge funds have, and start betting with him. His company's just starting its journey toward greatness and right now the market capitalization is way too small for the story he has to tell, the vision he believes in and the execution capabilities he has demonstrated both here and William-Sonoma (WSM), where he worked before he took this job in 2001. Even after those 17 pounds and 17, I think the story has much further to fly. 

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