Categories Consumer, Earnings Call Transcripts

Burlington Stores, Inc. (BURL) Q4 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

BURL Earnings Call - Final Transcript

Burlington Stores, Inc.  (NYSE: BURL) Q4 2021 earnings call dated Mar. 03, 2022

Corporate Participants:

David Glick — Senior Vice President-Investor Relations and Treasurer

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

John Crimmins — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Analysts:

Matthew Boss — JPMorgan — Analyst

Ike Boruchow — Wells Fargo — Analyst

Lorraine Hutchinson — Bank of America — Analyst

John Kernan — Cowen — Analyst

Kimberly Greenberger — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Roxanne Meyer — MKM Partners — Analyst

Presentation:

Operator

Good day, and thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Burlington Stores Fourth Quarter 2021 Earnings Call. At this time, all participant lines are in a listen-only mode. After the presentation, there will be a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] Please be advised today’s conference may be recorded.

[Operator Instructions]

I’d now like to hand the conference over to David Glick, Group’s Senior Vice President, Investor Relations and Treasurer. Please go ahead.

David Glick — Senior Vice President-Investor Relations and Treasurer

Thank you, operator, and good morning, everyone. We appreciate everyone’s participation in today’s conference call to discuss Burlington’s fiscal 2021 fourth quarter operating results. Our presenters today are Michael O’Sullivan, our Chief Executive Officer; and John Crimmins, Chief Financial Officer. Before I turn the call over to Michael, I would like to inform listeners that this call may not be transcribed, recorded or broadcast without our express permission. A replay of the call will be available until March 10, 2022. We take no responsibility for inaccuracies that may appear in transcripts of this call by third parties. Our remarks and the Q&A that follows are copyrighted today by Burlington Stores. Remarks made on this call concerning future expectations, events, strategies, objectives, trends, or projected financial results are subject to certain risks and uncertainties. Actual results may differ materially from those that are projected in such forward-looking statements. Such risks and uncertainties include those that are described in the company’s 10-K for fiscal 2020 and in other filings with the SEC, all of which are expressly incorporated herein by reference. Please note that the financial results and expectations we discuss today are on a continuing operations basis. Reconciliations of the non-GAAP measures we discuss today to GAAP measures are included in today’s press release.

Now, here’s Michael.

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, David. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. On this morning’s call, we are going to provide a lot of detail on our Q4 results and our 2022 outlook, but that is not where we would like to start. We realize that on these types of calls, it can often be difficult to see the forest for the trees. They tend to be so much focused on short-term issues, but it can sometimes be very hard to see the bigger picture. So this morning, we would like to structure the discussion as follows: I will start by sharing and updating our perspective on the longer-term outlook and opportunity for off-price and for Burlington in particular. As part of this discussion, I will review our 2021 results, and I’ll use these results to provide a progress report on our Burlington 2.0 strategy. Secondly, I will talk about the outlook for 2022, but again, I will try to place this outlook within a broader strategic context. We think that the next couple of years could create huge disruption across retail and that this may drive further restructuring of our industry. We strongly believe that Burlington has a value-focused, flexible off-price retailer will be a clear winner in this restructuring.

Finally, I promise we will talk about Q4. We saw a major slowdown in our trend in the quarter, and as I will explain, we have a good handle on the drivers of this slowdown. Okay. So let’s start with the longer term. For many years, leading up to the pandemic, it was evident that our industry was undergoing a major restructuring. When you look at publicly available market share data, you can see that traditional department stores and other retailers, especially mall-based retailers, have been losing share over a long period. And from this same data, it is clear that for many years, the off-price retail channel has been gaining significant market share. We believe that the most important and powerful trend driving this restructuring is the consumer need for value. There is a growing segment of shoppers who care, above all else, about value.

For many years now, this powerful trend has driven the growth of off-price retail at the expense of traditional retailers. Everything that I’ve said so far was evident before the pandemic, but I would like to bring this narrative up-to-date based upon what happened in 2021. Last year, sales trends boomed across retail, driven by stimulus checks and pent-up savings. Meanwhile, supply constraints met inventory levels remained very tight. It is not surprising that this probe higher realized retail prices. So the key question coming out of this is, does anybody think that the customer no longer cares about value. Our strong view is that, of course, the customer still cares about value. In fact, given the rise in general price inflation, together with growing economic uncertainty, we suspect that over the next couple of years, the consumer need for value will be more important than ever. And the long-term trend of market share moving to the off-price channel will, if anything, accelerate.

Two years ago, pre-pandemic, we launched our strategy to go after this market share opportunity, which we imaginatively called Burlington 2.0. This strategy is intended to make our company more off-price, flexible and nimble so we can better chase the sales trend and more effectively capture supply opportunities. Benchmark data shows that we are by far the smallest, least productive and least profitable of the major off-price retailers. We have a significant and unique opportunity to drive the growth of our top-line sales and earnings over time. So now I would like to turn to our full year 2021 results, and I would like to use these results to assess the progress we have made with Burlington 2.0. Let’s start with some huge positives. In 2021, we grew total sales by 28% versus 2019, and comp sales by 15%. This growth was well ahead of our peers. In achieving these results, we demonstrated our ability to chase. We had planned a flat comp for the year, but then chased 15 points above this. That’s $1.2 billion of incremental sales.

We did this with 20% less comp store inventory. This drove faster turns and over 150 basis points of higher merchant margin. There were also important milestones and investments that had no immediate effect on results, but are central to Burlington 2.0 and will have benefits in the years ahead. There are two, in particular. Firstly, we grew our buying and planning teams. At year-end, our merchandising headcount was 36% higher than 2019. We hired and promoted some incredible off-price talent. Secondly, we began to roll out our smaller store prototype. As we discussed in our November call, we plan to increase our store count by approximately 60% to 70% over the next five years, and almost all of our new stores will be this new, smaller, more productive and more profitable prototype. This program will completely transform our company. Okay. How about the negatives? The most significant of these came in 2021, came in the form of freight and supply chain headwinds. Our operating margin in 2021 contracted by 60 basis points versus 2019. This was driven by 170 basis points of deleverage in freight expenses and 200 basis points of deleverage in product sourcing costs. Higher merchant margin and SG&A leverage, we’re able to offset the lion’s share of these higher expenses. We believe that some of these high upgrade and supply chain costs will go away over time, but some will remain. We know that we have other opportunities in our P&L, and as I will describe in a moment, we also believe that we have potential to take up prices. So we remain very confident in our five-year earnings algorithm that we discussed back in November.

Let me sum up our progress. In 2021, as demonstrated by our results, we made huge progress on Burlington 2.0. We are much more flexible and nimble, and we are much more off-price than we were two years ago. We still have huge opportunity ahead of us, but the progress that we showed in 2021 exceeds any expectations that we had when we launched Burlington 2.0 just two years ago. Okay. Let’s move on to 2022. As we described in November, 2022 is a very unpredictable year. All retailers will be up against comps that were inflated by nonrecurring factors. Add to this, huge uncertainties around COVID, the economy, inflation, interest rates and freight and supply chain costs. In a moment, I will talk about how we are planning our business in the face of this uncertainty, but firstly, I would like to explain how this uncertainty fits within the broader strategic context that I described a moment ago. Those investors who have followed off-price for a long time know that a volatile and uncertain environment has, in the past, tended to favor off-price. Uncertainty can be difficult for any retailer, but it is especially difficult for traditional retailers. They can’t chase the trend or pull back as effectively as we can. This makes it difficult for these retailers to manage inventories, and this often generates supply opportunities for off-price.

2022 turns out to be a volatile year, this could further strengthen our business. The biggest challenge for us in 2022 is that we are going to be up against industry-leading comp sales growth from last year. In the first three quarters of 2021, we ran 18% comp growth. This was four percentage points ahead of our off-price peers. In the first quarter of last year, we ran 20% comp growth. That was seven to eight percentage points ahead of our off-price peers. It makes sense to be cautious going up against these extraordinary comps. The other thing that is making us wary is that since early December, there has been a slowdown in traffic to our stores. There are analysts on this call who publish very helpful updates on traffic trends by retailer. This data suggests that there was a modest pickup in traffic in February versus January, but the two-year trend for most retailers is still well below December. There could be many reasons for this, omicron, the timing of tax refunds, winter weather disruptions, the impact of inflation or just seasonal transition of spring assortments. It’s difficult to calibrate each of these factors. Of course, traffic may pick up more significantly as some of these transitory issues recede. In a situation of uncertainty like this, our playbook is to plan conservatively and then be ready to chase and take advantage of opportunities.

In November, we described that our initial buying and operating plans for 2022 are anchored on a mid-single-digit comp decline. Since then, the slowdown in traffic has made us more rather than less cautious, especially about the first half of the year. We have rebalanced our full year plan to recognize higher risk in the first half, offset by more upside in the back half. Overall, our full year baseline plan remains a mid-single-digit comp decline. As we said in November, you should not think of this as a prediction. We do not have enough visibility for a reliable prediction. Rather, please think of it as a baseline so we can react to whatever happens. As a reminder, our baseline at the start of 2021 was a flat comp. We then chased 15 percentage points above this plan. In a moment, John will share our margin estimates for this plan. These estimates assume freight and supply chain costs remain elevated through midyear and then begin to abate. You should note that these margin estimates do not yet factor in significant price increases, so let me talk for a moment about retail prices.

As a value retailer, it makes sense for us to be cautious when it comes to raising prices. That said, there are several factors that give us confidence that we can raise retails. The most important of these is that over the past year, the value gap between us and other retailers has expanded. We have room to raise prices, but still offer great value to shoppers. We have already started to move up our prices, and we will get more aggressive in the coming quarters. As this happens, there could be upside to the margin estimates that John will provide. But given the uncertain outlook, we want to see how the trend develops before we build this margin upside into our forecast. I would like to move on now and talk about Q4. During the quarter, total sales grew 18% versus 2019 and comp store sales grew 6%. Compared to the rest of 2021, these numbers represent a major and a disappointing slowdown. We ran 16% comp through November, but then the trend dropped off. From the traffic monitors that we have in stores, we know that about half of this slowdown can be attributed to lower traffic and the other half to lower spending per shopper. We believe that the decline in traffic in December was driven by external factors, especially the surge in the Omicron variant and historically warm weather in December. But as discussed earlier, on a two-year basis, traffic levels have remained subdued over the past couple of months. There could be multiple reasons for this, many of which are transitory, but again, this is another reason we are being cautious in Q1.

As I mentioned a moment ago, the slowdown in trend in Q4 was also driven by less spending per shopper. In other words, they came to the store, but they spent less. This was driven by our own execution. Let me explain. As you know, we had shipping issues and delays throughout 2021. We largely overcame these issues by placing orders earlier, thereby building attrition to absorb expected delays. This worked well all year. Even through November, we were in very good shape. But then in the critical weeks leading up to holiday, these delays got much worse. Holiday-sensitive businesses like holiday decor, guests, toys and food missed critical receipts.. When we place the orders, we had built in more time to absorb delays, but in retrospect, this additional time was not enough. This is very disappointing. We are confident step up for these issues, we could have achieved a low double-digit comp. I know that and a token will get you on the subway, but there are important lessons for us here, and we’re taking a number of actions to manage this process differently going forward. Based on their results, we believe that our peers built more cushion into their timelines.

Now I would like to turn the call over to John to provide more details on the Q4 and full year financials and our 2022 outlook.

John Crimmins — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Michael, and good morning, everyone. I’ll start with some additional financial details on Q4. Total sales in the quarter grew 18%, while comp sales increased 6%. As Michael said, our comp growth was up 16% in November, but then it started to drop off in December. The gross margin rate was 39.8%, a decrease of 230 basis points versus 2019’s fourth quarter rate of 42.1%. This was driven by a 260 basis point increase in freight expense, which more than offset a 30 basis point increase in merchandise margin, driven by lower markdowns. Product sourcing costs were $159 million versus $89 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, increasing 210 basis points as a percent of sales. Higher supply chain costs represented most of the deleverage. The drivers of these higher costs were consistent with what we have discussed in prior quarters. Adjusted SG&A was $578 million versus $499 million in 2019, decreasing 50 basis points as a percentage of sales. From an expense point of view, the timing of the slowdown in December could not have been worse. By then, we were staffed for holiday based on a low double-digit comp we pulled back once we got through holiday, but by then, we had incurred significant expense.

Adjusted EBIT margin was 9.2%, 410 basis points lower than the fourth quarter of 2019. All of this resulted in diluted earnings per share of $1.80 versus $3.08 in the fourth quarter of 2019. Adjusted diluted earnings per share were $2.53 versus $3.21 in the fourth quarter of 2019. At the end of the quarter, our in-store inventories were down about 30% on a comp store basis. This was consistent with our strategy of finishing the year with much cleaner inventories. Separately, during the quarter, our buyers began to see a lot of great buying opportunities for reserve inventory. We thought that, this might happen, and we were ready to take advantage of these great deals. Reserve inventory grew 62% versus 2019. We think that this will provide some great ammunition in 2022. During the quarter, we opened eight net new stores, bringing our store count at the end of 2021 to 840 stores. This included eight new store openings and no relocations or closures. For the full year, we opened 101 new stores while relocating 17 and closing 5, adding 79 net new stores to our fleet. I’d like to move on now and talk briefly about our full year 2021 results. Total sales increased 28% and comp store sales 15%. We chased $1.2 billion in sales above our original 2021 sales plan. Our operating margin for the full year contracted by 60 basis points, but it’s very important to understand the major puts and takes.

Merchant margin was over 150 basis points higher, and our SG&A leverage was worth 160 basis points. These items were more than offset by 170 basis points of deleverage on freight and 200 basis points of deleverage on product sourcing costs, mostly driven by supply chain costs. Let me move now to 2022. As discussed in November, our baseline plan assumes a mid-single-digit comp decline for the year. We have planned the first half more conservatively than the back half, with the first quarter planned most conservatively all at a mid-teens comp decline. On a stack comp basis, this Q1 plan is more conservative than the full year, but we think this is prudent, given all of the reasons we described earlier. Until we begin to lap the stimulus payments, it makes sense to be cautious. Again, as we discussed in November, we would expect a mid-single-digit comp decline for the full year to drive operating margin deleverage of about 150 basis points.

This estimate assumes that freight and supply chain expenses remain at elevated levels through the middle of the year and then, begin to abate. And they assume no material increase in retail prices. For Q1, we would expect a mid-teens comp decline to drive operating margin deleverage of about 750 basis points versus the first quarter of 2021. Given that we were up against 20% comp growth last year, it might be more helpful to use 2019 as the comparison year for Q1. On a stack basis, our Q1 plan implies comp growth of up 5% versus 2019, and operating margin deleverage of up to 400 basis points. This margin deleverage versus Q1 2019 is completely driven by higher freight and supply chain expenses.

I would now like to turn the call back to, Michael.

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Before we move to questions, let me summarize some of the key points that we’ve covered this morning. We have a strong belief that our industry will continue to be reshaped by a powerful consumer need for value. This should drive further significant growth and market share gains for off-price retail. We are extremely bullish about our business. We see a lot of uncertainty in the near-term outlook, but the big advantage that we have over traditional retailers is that we can react to whatever happens, just as we did in 2021. We are planning our business conservatively, but flexibly for 2022.

At this point, I would like to turn the call over to the operator, for your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from Matthew Boss with JPMorgan.

Matthew Boss — JPMorgan — Analyst

Great. Thanks. So first, Michael, on your full year baseline comp plan, could you provide any color on how you arrived at this plan? How you’re thinking about possible risks and also potential upside drivers to the comp plan for this year?

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Well. Good morning, Matt. Thanks for the question. I think what I’ll do is, split my answer between, the full year plan and then separately I’ll comment on the first quarter plan. For the full year, our starting point was to look at the three-year stacked comp. I think most investors are familiar with this approach. Historically, we’ve averaged about 3% comp growth per year. So over a three-year period, the stack comp would be 9%, three plus, three plus, three. To hit a three-year stack comp of 9% and this year means that our 2022 comp would need to be minus 6%, just mathematically. In other words, take the 15 comps we’ve just reported, which is a two-year stat at minus 6%, you get 9%. Now, of course, we recognize that, that’s just a starting point. Just because our two-year stack has been 9% historically, doesn’t mean it will be 9% this year, but there are several things that could cause our comps to deviate from history. There are factors that could make it higher. There are certain factors that could drive some upside here. For example, if recovery in traffic accelerates as the pandemic recedes or it’s possible that higher wage rates will mean that sales actually remain quite resilient even as we lap stimulus. And there’s also the possibility that inflation may drive trade-down customers. So, there are things that could drive our performance to be better. There are also factors that caused some risk.

Again, the impact of inflation could go the other way. It could actually squeeze consumer spending. The higher interest rates could cause an economic slowdown. Global supply chain constraints could continue. It’s difficult for us to weigh all of those factors. But based upon the data, we believe that a 6% comp decline is kind of gets you to that down mid-single-digit. Yielding 9% three-year stack, it feels like a reasonable starting point. I want to underscore that it’s a starting point, a baseline that we can — we intend to chase from. So, that’s the full year. Let me comment briefly on our Q1 plan of down mid-teens. Putting together our plan for Q1, it was actually much more difficult than planning the full year. The problem is that not only are we up against 20% comp from last year, but almost all of that growth came in the second part of the quarter. So, for the first six weeks of Q1 last year, we ran 5% comp. Then the stimulus checks were mailed out and for the remainder of the quarter, we ran 33% comp. Faced with those numbers, we’ve planned our business conservatively because we want to see what happens to the sales trend once we anniversary the stimulus in mid-March. And look, I can see that it may turn out that we’ve planned too conservatively, and if that’s the case, of course, we’ll make adjustments.

Matthew Boss — JPMorgan — Analyst

Great. And then maybe to follow up, Michael, larger picture, and you touched on it in your first remark there. The larger picture, as we think about the consumer impact of price inflation across the economic backdrop. What impact do you think this could have on your business in terms of traffic and spending levels? And in particular, how you think it may impact or have a potential negative impact on the low-income shopper?

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Yes, it’s a question we’ve been thinking a lot about. We believe that the higher inflation that we’re seeing right now could create a risk to our business, but also it could create a big opportunity. Let’s start with the risk. It’s not hard to articulate the risk. In the coming months, it’s possible that consumers and especially, low-income consumers, as you referenced, will be squeezed as we lap stimulus payments. And at the same time, general price inflation begins to bite, especially on sort of the central items like food and gas. I should point out that a possible mitigant to that is, again, especially among low-income consumers, is that wage rates have also been going up. So, we don’t really know how all that will play out, but we recognize that there is a risk. Now, as I mentioned a moment ago, there’s also a potential opportunity for us. Usually in times of economic stress when consumers are under pressure, their natural and rational reaction is to focus even more heavily on finding great value.

Higher inflation affects everybody. As a value leader at Burlington, we should be well-positioned in that situation, and we think we might benefit from a trade-down customer. And my experience tells me that, that is actually what has happened historically. The record shows — I think the record shows that off-price retail has done very well in times of economic stress, but again, we don’t know. Will there be a trade-down customer, when might this grade down happen. So we’re being cautious, and we’ll see what happens.

Matthew Boss — JPMorgan — Analyst

Its great color. Thanks for all the detail. Best of luck.

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Matt.

Operator

Our next question comes from Ike Boruchow with Wells Fargo.

Ike Boruchow — Wells Fargo — Analyst

Hi. Good morning, Michael, John and David. I guess a question first for Michael and a follow-up for John. Michael, in the past, I think you’ve been fairly cautious, even maybe skeptical about raising retail prices in the off-price space. I guess just bigger picture, what’s changed? And what gives you the confidence that Burlington can start to potentially take some AURs up this year?

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Well, good morning, Ike. Thanks for the question. Yes, you’re right. In the past, I have been very skeptical about price increases. And I recognize that in the past couple of quarters, the environment has really changed. If I go back to last summer, my view was that the main driver of higher prices at that point was the sudden growth in consumer demand during a period of constrained supply. So when demand exceeds supply, you get higher prices. But usually, demand and supply move back into equilibrium over time and prices fall back. But since then, I think what’s happened is, we’ve seen just a very rapid and I think somewhat unexpected increase in price inflation across the whole economy. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. And I think that inflation is going to mean that some of the higher costs we’ve seen, such as higher wage rates are here to stay.

Now for retailers, that’s going to mean not just a transitory increase in the cost base, but a permanent increase in their cost base. And the only way to absorb those costs is for retailers to keep prices elevated and also raise prices further. Given that all retailers face this issue, it’s likely to mean that there will be higher retails across the whole industry. Now moving on to what does this mean for us? And actually, the second part of your question, what gives us confidence that we can actually raise prices. I think I would cite three main factors driving our confidence. Number one, over the last few months, we’ve selectively tested higher retail prices. And so far, we have not seen any major issues. As described earlier that the slowdown in Q4 had multiple root causes, but higher retails were certainly not one of them.

Second reason we’re confident is that the value gap between us and most other retailers increased in 2021. Our strategy is all about offering great value to the customer, but the value is relative. As other retailers have raised prices, that’s really created an umbrella for us to do the same, but still offer great and importantly, differentiated value to customers. And then the third — finishing up the third reason we’re confident is, frankly, we listen to other retailers earnings calls as well. Higher retail prices seem to be working for them. We were never going to be a leader in raising prices, but we’re certainly happy to follow when we see it working. So as I said in my prepared remarks, we need to be a little bit careful as we raise retail, especially in the first half of the year. But for the reasons I’ve described, we think we have plenty of room to take prices up, but still offer great value to the customer.

Ike Boruchow — Wells Fargo — Analyst

Got it. Thanks, Michael. And then, John, just real quick. I guess in November, you guys shared a multi-year earnings out goal. Just kind of curious, how does higher pricing and then, of course, higher freight and supply chain expenses affect the model that maybe you described a couple of months ago?

John Crimmins — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Ike, Thanks for your question. Good question. So let me just share how we’re thinking about that. Compared to 2019, as you know, our freight expenses delevered by 170 basis points this year. We’ve talked a lot previously about the global and industry-wide issues around freight. So I’m not going to get into that again. But we do think that over time, these costs should improve. We don’t think they’re going to return all the way to — back to kind of pre-pandemic or historical rates. So it’s still kind of difficult to estimate where that’s going to end up, but we think that some of it may be 50 basis points of the deleverage could become a permanent part of our expense base. On the supply chain side, again, we’ve been talking about that throughout the year. Compared to 2019, we had deleverage there of about 200 basis points. Some of this was higher wage rates, which we expect to be permanent but some of that deleverage was driven by temporary incentives and inefficiencies that we don’t expect to be permanent.

Again, it’s really difficult to kind of forecast or estimated but we’ll be disappointed if we don’t recapture 50 to 100 basis points of the overall supply chain deleverage. We’re going to have to see how things evolve before we have confidence in where these numbers are landing. But if our numbers are right, that would mean that these items would represent 150 to 200 basis points of deleverage or permanent expense structure. Now obviously, we’re not going to accept that neither will any other retailer. We along with all the other major retailers are going to look for ways to recapture this margin. So one of the important levers in recapturing this margin is going to be our ability to take up retail prices. As Michael described a little earlier, over the past year, other retailers have raised the price on going, and we believe that’s going to provide an opportunity for us to take up our retails over time and still be able to offer great relative value to our customers. So mixing this all together, I think there are some important puts and takes to our long-term earnings model.

On the one hand, we expect some of the higher grade and supply chain expenses to become permanent, but on the other hand, we believe that we’re going to be able to take up retails and capture incremental margin. So to wrap up, in terms of our five-year opportunity, we see it the same way we saw it at the end of Q3 when we talked about 200 to 300 basis points of EBIT margin expansion and mid-teens average annual earnings growth across the next five years. And as far as 2022, we continue to expect modest operating margin expansion, our expense, algo, if you will, that modest expansion to begin around a 3% comp. So, it’s very similar to the way we spoke about it at the end of the third quarter.

Ike Boruchow — Wells Fargo — Analyst

All right. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Lorraine Hutchinson with Bank of America.

Lorraine Hutchinson — Bank of America — Analyst

Thank you. Good morning. Michael, I have a question about supply. How is the buying environment right now? It looks like your reserve inventory grew really significantly in the fourth quarter. Can you just talk a little bit more about this?

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Well, good morning, Lorraine. Actually, I’m glad you asked about this. I feel like I spent quite a bit of time on the call talking about how shipping delays hurt us in the fourth quarter. The flip side of that is that silver lining, if you like, is that the shipping issues happened across the retail industry, and they’ve created a really strong buying environment for off-price. We had hoped, we have predicted that, that may happen. Over the past couple of months, our buyers have been able to take advantage of some really terrific buying opportunities, and these opportunities have covered four merchandise that we will pack away until later this year and even late arriving spring merchandise and actually, a good size of the increase that happened towards year-end was actually screen merchandise that we’re going to flow to stores over the next few months.

We feel very excited about the value and the content of our reserve inventory. Now, we’re always very careful about what we allow into our reserve inventory. There are strict controls and strict criteria on what we’re prepared to store away in reserve inventory, but we feel really good about what we have in terms of value and content. Now, I think it’s pretty important to point out that, that inventory is going to be important, if, as we hope, we’ll face a stronger trend in 2022. Leaving aside, the reserve inventory, we’ve also been seeing a lot of good deals for in-season merchandise that we can close stores right away. My assessment is that coming out of 2021, many retailers and vendors feel quite bullish about the outlook. They may turn out to be right, and I hope they are, but if they’re not, if the trend is not as strong as they had planned, then this is likely to generate a lot of very strong off-price supply. And again, we can use that to fuel any ahead of planned sales.

Lorraine Hutchinson — Bank of America — Analyst

Thank you. John, it’s been a year since you’ve increased your new store target, and we heard today that you’re continuing to accelerate the store opening cadence. How is the program going? How are these new stores performing? And then, how should we think about the impact of this performance on the future outlook?

John Crimmins — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Lorraine. Thanks for the question. Really appreciate this one. So let me start just by reviewing kind of what’s happened since we did announce our 2,000 store target on last year’s fourth quarter call. As we walked through earlier, we finished 2021 with 840 stores after opening 101 new stores, relocating 17 and closing 5. So we added 79 net new stores to the fleet. Of those new stores, 48 of those were in the 30,000 square foot or smaller — new small store prototype. So it’s still early, but overall, we’ve been very pleased with the performance of these stores — of all of our new stores, but especially, the small format stores. Today, we announced that we plan to open 120 new stores, adding 90 net new stores to our fleet during 2022. We expect about 80 of those stores that we open will be in the 30,000 square foot or smaller format. So as we said previously, you should expect that longer term, over the next five years, 75% of the stores that we open will be in the small format. So as we continue to add more of the small store prototypes of the fleet, there are a few things that we’re going to expect to see. We’re going to see our sales funds, as we open these stores, start at about 70% to 80% of the chain average as they open, but we would expect comp store sales growth that’s going to be faster than the rest of the chain for several years after opening.

We would think better operating margins. We require operating margins for all of our new stores to be accretive to company’s operating margin in year two, and then we’d expect these stores to grow faster than the rest of the fleet over the next several years from an operating margin rate perspective. We expect much higher sales productivity than our larger boxes. These stores are the — in excess of $300 a foot on the growth side and $400 a foot selling square feet and are going to have lower occupancy and lower operating expenses. This more efficient operating model should translate to stronger full operating margins and access to better, more expensive retail locations that should also drive strong sales. So just another point to remember, we’re different from a lot of other retailers in the productivity of our stores across our fleet varies tremendously.

We have so many huge older boxes that have way more space than we need as we reduced inventory over the years. So for us, the big productivity gains that come with the smaller boxes and that’s just going to help with adding stores to new markets, but there’s also going to be a big relocation opportunity for us as we relocate existing stores to smaller boxes — in smaller boxes that are easier to operate, more efficient to operate and are in stronger retail nodes. So a lot of these boxes are older, oversized, in need of some refresh and — so we’ve actually seen, as we’ve been doing reloc that we usually can see a pretty healthy sales lift along with improved four-wall profitability. Finally, over the next five years, we would expect to open well over 600 gross new stores, including about 150 relocations of older, less productive locations. So I think you could see that on a base of 840 stores overtime this is really going to be transformative to our chain.

Lorraine Hutchinson — Bank of America — Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from John Kernan with Cowen.

John Kernan — Cowen — Analyst

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for taking our questions here.

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

John Kernan — Cowen — Analyst

I have a couple of questions for John, first. How are you feeling about wage rates in stores given the levels of inflation we’re seeing the competition for labor? And how should we think about the level of wage growth for stores and DCs you’re baking into the 2022 outlook? And I’ll just have a quick follow-up.

John Crimmins — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Okay. Thanks, John. So well, I guess, let me start, you probably heard us talk about this before. We manage our labor closely by monitoring the local markets where we operate stores, in the same thing of faster distribution centers. As each competitive market changes, we respond by making adjustments to be sure that we’re competitive and we’re able to properly staff our operations. Last year, as we discussed during the year, the DC labor market became ultra competitive in the second half of the year. And so we responded with a combination of permanent wage increases and temporary incentives that allowed us to maintain our desired staffing levels at our distribution centers. We also saw increased wage pressures in our stores, particularly during the fourth quarter. So we responded similarly with a combination of permanent increases and temporary incentives. So as of the end of the year, we think we’ve kept up with the wage escalation that took place last year. And of course, we’re going to incur the full year impact of those adjustments this year, but we’ve included that in our plans for the year.

And we’ve assumed that wage pressures are going to continue to accelerate in 2022 in our planning assumptions and in the outlook that we shared. So while we think we use reasonable assumptions, there’s always some risk that wage escalation may happen faster than we’ve anticipated, that it’s certainly a volatile environment. And we’ve got what we think are reasonable assumptions, but we don’t know what’s going to happen. But it is more pressure than we planned for. A couple of things might be in our favor. We’ve likely see some sales benefit as many of our customers would have more income available wages are going up higher than we expect. And it probably means that inflation is continuing, which could indicate a larger opportunity for us to raise retails to cover those additional costs.

John Kernan — Cowen — Analyst

Got it. A lot of moving pieces there. Follow up for John or David that the capex plan you shared for FY ’22, it’s $725 million. It’s roughly double FY ’21. Can you walk us through the step up? Is this 7% or so level of sales, what we should model going forward?

David Glick — Senior Vice President-Investor Relations and Treasurer

Thanks, John. I’ll take that one. This is David. Yes, I understand how that can look like a big step up. So let me kind of walk you through what’s happening. So we did spend about $318 million in 2021. Our plan — the original plan at the beginning of the year was $470 million. Obviously, it came in lower. Some of that spend that was originally planned for 2021 has moved into 2022. Why? It’s caused by delays related to the disruption in the global supply chain. So it wasn’t totally unexpected. In fact, some of the shift was for materials that we planned and order early, anticipating that there might be delayed, but it allowed us to be comfortable we could receive them well before they’re needed. So if you look at 2022, without those timing shifts, we would have expected a capex spend of about $600 million, and that is a step up from our original plan in 2021. So what is that driven by? We’re opening 120 stores versus 101. So increased investment in our new store development. process. We’re adding supply chain capacity and processing capability to support our accelerated growth. Remember, 28% sales increase versus 2019. So we need to keep pace with our supply chain. And there’s several other initiatives that we believe will help drive productivity and efficiency across our business. So I think the way to think about it going forward, a rough $600 million is a good — to be using as a model going forward, but hopefully, that…

John Kernan — Cowen — Analyst

Very helpful. Thank you guys.

Operator

Our next question comes from Kimberly Greenberger with Morgan Stanley.

Kimberly Greenberger — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Great. Thank you. Good morning. Michael, I wanted to start with just circling back to some of the points you made when you were answering Lorraine’s question. Can you just remind us of all of the levers that you’ve got at your disposal to adjust to current sales trends in your stores, both as we work our way through the first quarter and the full year 2022? And just comment on the degree of usability of your reserve inventory to feed your spring business. Any other levers that you’ve got at your disposal to chase upside in sales trends should the opportunity arise? And then the levers that you use as well to manage the risk on the downside, if trends prove more challenging? Thank you.

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Good morning, Kimberly. Thanks for the question. I think actually, I think you know this, but I think that question kind of goes to the essence of Burlington 2.0. We’re not the biggest retailer. We’re not the most sophisticated retailer, but we have to be the most flexible retailer. That’s what Burlington 2.0 is all about. And the way we achieve that flexibility is to plan our business conservatively, but then be ready to chase and make sure that we have levers that are closer to chase. I feel like over the last two years, the whole company has been focused on that concept, Burlington 2.0, planning conservatively and chasing. And in the — if I think about merchandising in particular, our merchants start with a conservative buying plan, and then we chase based upon the strength of the trend.

And in terms of individual levers, reserve inventory has certainly become important to us because you can see how that gives you ammunition to chase, but we also — we control our liquidity now a lot more, a lot more tightly than we used to. And that means that the buyers have an open to buy, they can go into the market, buy in-season merchandise can again chase. Now in terms of levers to pull back, the conservative plan itself is intended to accomplish that. So by planning conservatively, if the trend doesn’t materialize, that’s okay, we’re planning conservatively. So that’s the idea. Now I should say that last year, I feel very good about how we demonstrated our ability to chase. The thing that makes us a little cautious this year and the thing that makes us cautious about Q1 is that we recognize there are limits to this whole chase. Planning conservatively and then chasing work for us last year, and it works well when the trend is developing. And you can add to the plan and chase it.

In Q1, what we’re up against is a single event that happened in the middle of the quarter last year, where comp went from plus 5% to 33%. And we don’t — we’re planning as best we can against that event, but if our plan is wrong, if our plan is too conservative, it may be difficult to chase as fast as we need. It may take us a few weeks. So I want to recognize there are limits. Now going back to the last part of your question about reserve, the usability of reserve, actually, the great thing about what we put away in reserve is that a lot of the growth that happened in our reserve inventory in Q4 was in spring merchandise. There was also some growth in full coated merchandise, which we’ll bring out later this year, but there’s a lot in there that we can use in the spring. So that does give us some ammunition and some additional flexibility.

Kimberly Greenberger — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Great. Thank you, so much. And John, I just wanted to circle back on your response on the store productivity. Those new smaller stores are hitting north of $300 in sales per square foot — sales per gross square foot, which is really impressive, particularly in light of the either the legacy fleet and where they are on productivity. I missed the way you characterized the sort of incremental margins or the new store margins on those locations as they’re hitting that level. Are those accretive to overall company operating margins such that the growth of those smaller format stores has the effect of actually raising Burlington’s operating margin over time? Thanks.

John Crimmins — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. Thanks. That’s — it’s a good question because there’s actually two different benefits that we can get from the stores and the small format stores and the waiting can be a little bit different depending on the stores. So first of all, any of the stores that we open, smaller format or the other stores, one of our financial hurdles is for them to be accreted as company’s EBIT in that year two, which is the base year of underwriting. And then for all of these stores, but particularly for the smaller stores, we expect kind of our sales maturation process and an operating margin optimization process that drives improvement greater than the rest of the fleet for the first few years, let’s say and so that we kind of get the combination of benefits. Either it’s going to be a higher EBIT margin than we would have expected because of the operating efficiency of the smaller store or in some cases, the operating margin may be similar to some of our other stores as we open them, but we’ll have had access to a stronger retail node and are going to be in a position that we’re very excited about the sales opportunity in the store. So it’s kind of a blend of those things, both benefits from these smaller formats for us.

Kimberly Greenberger — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Very clear. Thank you so much.

John Crimmins — Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You are welcome.

Operator

Our last question comes from Roxanne Meyer with MKM Partners.

Roxanne Meyer — MKM Partners — Analyst

Great. Thank you. Good morning. My question is around home. Prior to the pandemic, you had ambitions to grow that Home business. And clearly, the pandemic has hurt the potential for Home, given the supply chain delays that disproportionately impacted. I was just wondering if you could give us an update on how you’ve been able to expand category breadth? How you think about growth this year, maybe particularly in the first half, given supply chain constraints? And just how you’re thinking about the trajectory of the Home business longer term?

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Roxanne, I’ll take that. Yes, Home is a really important business for us and a huge strategic opportunity for us. It’s interesting. If I look at Q4, by far, the bigger slowdown in Q4 in terms of business was Home. It fell off significantly in Q4, and that is directly attributable to the shipping issues and delays that we discussed earlier. But if I step back from Q4 and talk about the full year, even with the slowdown in Q4, our comp across our Home business was well over 30%. It compares with the chain at 15%. Our home merchants and planners did an outstanding job last year. And we had shipping issues all year, it’s just we ended up with this crunch in Q4. To answer your question about how is the penetration of home grown since 2019, in 2019, our home businesses were about 17% of our total sales. In 2021 — and again, this includes the slowdown in the fourth quarter, but in 2021, our Home business was 20% of our overall sales. So a pretty decent increase in penetration in that period of time. And obviously, if we hadn’t had the shipping issues in Q4, it would have been higher than that, so a lot of progress.

And in terms of this year and the coming years, again, we still think we have a huge amount of opportunity. Now that opportunity, we’re going after it. Yes, by expanding categories, by deepening vendor relationships, but more than anything else, we’re going after it by strengthening the talent that we have, especially in our merchandising group. And when I look at the talent we were able to hire and promote last year, I think we’ve made really, really great progress.

Roxanne Meyer — MKM Partners — Analyst

Great. Thanks for all the color and best of luck this year.

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Roxanne.

Operator

That concludes today’s question-and-answer session. I’d like to turn the call back to Michael O’Sullivan for closing remarks.

Michael O’Sullivan — Chief Executive Officer

Before we hang up, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Burlington for their hard work throughout 2021. As a token of this appreciation and for the second year running, we’ve awarded a special thank you bonus to the majority of our store, supply chain and corporate associates in recognition of their hard work and commitment in 2021. Let me close by thanking everyone on this call for your interest in Burlington Stores. We look forward to talking to you again in late May to discuss our first quarter results. Thank you for your time today.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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