Allbirds Admits Missteps, Unveils New Strategy After Brutal Holiday Quarter

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Allbirds missed Wall Street's expectations on the top and bottom lines.
  • The footwear retailer acknowledged its results were disappointing and announced a broad transformation strategy.
  • The company said it failed to focus on the core consumer group and plans to realign its focus this year.

Footwear retailer Allbirds on Thursday unveiled a broad overhaul of its strategy and an executive shake-up after failing to post year-over-year quarterly sales growth for the first time in its history.

Shares of Allbirds plummeted during off-hours trading. As of Thursday's close, shares of the company have fallen 3.5% so far this year to $2.36, giving it a market value of $352.5 million.

The retailer, which had been in the process of a broad brick-and-mortar expansion that it's now winding down, was candid about its failures. The company is betting its new strategy will reignite growth, improve capital efficiency and drive profitability in the coming years. 

"While we made important progress, the year came to a challenging close, with results below our expectations due to both execution and macro challenges," Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds' co-founder and co-CEO, said in a statement. "We need to improve performance." 

The company said its most recent quarter was hurt by a "disappointing" holiday season. Results fell short of Wall Street's expectations on the top and bottom lines.

Here's how Allbirds did in its fourth quarter compared with what Wall Street was anticipating, based on a survey of analysts by Refinitiv:

  • Loss per share: 17 cents vs. 12 cents expected
  • Revenue: $84.18 million vs. $96.8 million expected

For the three months ended Dec. 31, Allbirds net loss widened to $24.87 million, or 17 cents a share, from $10.44 million, or 9 cents a share, a year earlier. Sales were $84.18 million, down more than 13% from $97.22 million year over year. 

While full year net revenue increased by 7% to $297.77 million, Allbirds' net losses in its first full year as a public company ballooned to $101.35 million, more than double the $45.37 million in losses it recorded in 2021. 

Gross margins in the quarter decreased to 43.1% compared to 50.2% in the year-earlier period as selling, general and administrative expenses jumped to $41.6 million, compared to $36.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2021. 

What went wrong?

The shoemaker said its poor performance can be attributed to a series of missteps, including its decision to shift away from its core consumer by introducing products that deviated form that base, including technical performance running products geared for elite athletes. 

Following the successful launch of its Dasher running shoe, the company decided to penetrate deeper into the high-performance category with products like the Flyer. But Allbirds' customers just weren't "ready for us to serve them in that area," Zwillinger told CNBC in an interview Thursday. 

"As we made those adjacent product development decisions, we unfortunately lost a bit of sight of what our core consumer fell in love with us for in the first place and what they continue to want from us," Zwillinger said. 

"And unfortunately, as you have limited resources, we expended our marketing dollars and our product-development resources on those adjacencies and didn't do as much work on embellishments of the core franchise and revitalizing those franchises to keep them extremely relevant with the core consumer." 

Those missteps coupled with a "very promotional" holiday season led the company to miss expectations, Zwillinger said. 

"We just saw those culminating in a way that just came together and put a compound effect and had us miss expectations, which was really disappointing for us," he said. 

Transformation strategy

The company also made a series of changes to its executive leadership and board of directors. 

Chief Financial Officer Mike Bufano will be stepping down. Annie Mitchell, who previously worked at Gymshark and Adidas, will be taking his place. 

Allbirds also hired a new head of stores for North America, eliminated its chief commercial officer position and appointed former Nike executive Ann Freeman to its board. Eric Sprunk, the former chief operating officer of Nike, has also been appointed as a board advisor.

Allbirds outlined several focus areas it plans to drill down on in 2023. It also hired a chief transformation officer — former Juul Labs executive Jared Fix — to lead the charge. 

The company plans to reconnect with its core consumer by focusing specifically on the products those customers want and offering a more curated seasonal color offering that's gender specific. 

It will also slow the pace of Allbirds store openings in the United States and continue to partner with wholesalers — such as REI, Nordstrom and Dick's Sporting Goods — to enhance brand awareness and boost sales. 

In 2022, the company opened 19 new stores in the U.S. As of the end of December, Allbirds had 58 total stores, 42 in the U.S. and 16 abroad. In 2023, it plans to open just three new stores in the U.S. in locations for which it signed leases in early 2022. 

The company is also revisiting its go-to-market strategy in certain international markets and is considering moving toward a distributor model to reduce operating expenses and overall complexity. 

Its final area of focus will be enhancing gross and operating margins by transitioning to a single manufacturing partner in Vietnam. 

Read the full earnings release here.

Correction: Allbirds posted a net loss of 17 cents a share in the latest quarter. An earlier version of the story said the loss was adjusted.

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