Categories Consumer, Earnings Call Transcripts

Dollar Tree, Inc. (DLTR) Q4 2022 Earnings Call Transcript

DLTR Earnings Call - Final Transcript

Dollar Tree, Inc. (NASDAQ: DLTR) Q4 2022 earnings call dated Mar. 02, 2022

Corporate Participants:

Randy Guiler — Vice President, Investor Relations

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Kevin S. Wampler — Chief Financial Officer

Analysts:

Scot Ciccarelli — Truist Securities — Analyst

Matthew Boss — J.P. Morgan — Analyst

Michael Lasser — UBS — Analyst

John Heinbockel — Guggenheim Securities — Analyst

Paul Lejuez — Citi Investment Research — Analyst

Edward Kelly — Wells Fargo — Analyst

Simeon Gutman — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Michael Montani — Evercore ISI — Analyst

Presentation:

Operator

Good day and welcome to the Dollar Tree, Inc. Fourth Quarter 2021 Earnings Conference Call. Today’s call is being recorded.

At this time, I would like to turn the conference over to Randy Guiler. Please go ahead, sir.

Randy Guiler — Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, Ashley. Good morning and welcome to our call to discuss results for Dollar Tree’s fourth quarter and full year 2021. With me on today’s call are Mike Witynski and Kevin Wampler.

Before we begin, I would like to remind everyone that various remarks that we will make about our expectations, plans and prospects for the company constitute forward-looking statements for the purposes of the safe harbor provisions under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are subject to risks and uncertainties and our actual results may differ materially from those indicated in these forward-looking statements. For information on the risks and uncertainties that could affect our actual results, please see the Risk Factors, Business and Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations sections in our annual report on Form 10-K filed March 16, 2021, our Form 10-Q for the most recently ended fiscal quarter and our most recent press release and Form 8-K and other filings we make from time to time with the SEC.

We caution against reliance on these forward-looking statements made today, and we disclaim any obligation to update or revise these statements except as may be required by law. Following our prepared remarks, we will open the call to your questions. Please limit questions to one and one related follow-up.

I’ll now turn the call over to Mike Witynski, Dollar Tree’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Randy. Good morning and thank you for joining us on today’s call. I’m extremely proud of the team’s strong performance during our transformative fourth quarter. We delivered comparable sales increases at Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, both representing improvements from the prior quarter on a two-year stack basis. Our EPS of $2.01 exceeded our $1.69 to $1.79 guidance range.

Importantly, we recently completed a successful conversion to $1.25 price point across all Dollar Tree stores in the United States, more than two months ahead of schedule, which significantly enhances our ability to provide a meaningful assortment at extreme values to our shoppers. We continue to have terrific performance on other key strategic initiatives, including the expansion of our $3 and $5 plus assortments to another 1,500 Dollar Tree stores, as well as our Combo Stores and H2 Renovations at Family Dollar.

The Dollar Tree segment delivered a comp sales increase of 3.1%, cycling a 2.4% increase from the prior year’s quarter. A 5.5% two-year stack quarterly comp was our best of the year and represented a sequential improvement of 90 basis points from Q3. Discretionary continues to perform extremely well at a 5.4% comp. We are continuing to experience record sell-throughs of our seasonal and holiday merchandise.

The strongest performing categories included candy, Christmas seasonal, party celebrations, crafts and stationery. For the quarter, discretionary represented more than 57% of our sales, up 130 basis points from the prior year’s quarter. For the Dollar Tree banner, December was the strongest comp month of the quarter, as we were cycling a slight negative from the prior year. November was a low-single-digit positive comp and January was our lowest comp month as we cycled the strongest comp month of the prior year’s quarter.

Family Dollar delivered a positive 1.7% comp against the 8.1% increase a year ago. This represented the fourth consecutive quarter the Family Dollar two-year comp stack exceeded 9%. The consumable side of the business, comp just below a positive 3%, while the discretionary was a low-single-digit negative as we’re cycling stimulus dollars from the prior year. The Family Dollar business continues to gain share. The strongest performing categories included pet, candy and snack and beverage. For the quarter, consumables represented just over 73% of sales.

At Family Dollar, November was our strongest comp month of the quarter, closely followed by December. Both periods were above the quarterly comp of 1.7%. January was a negative comp as we cycled a double-digit comp from the prior year related to the release of stimulus dollars. Additionally, retail in January was impacted by Omicron variants much colder and stormier weather than the prior year and the elapsing of the monthly Child Tax Credit advanced payments. The comps at both banners were again driven by an increase in average ticket, partially offset by a decline in transaction count.

Last week, we completed the rollout of our $1.25 price point initiative to every Dollar Tree store across the U.S., more than 7,800 plus stores. This milestone completed more than two months ahead of our targeted date is a testament to the commitment and teamwork between our support teams, our merchandising organizations and our field leadership teams, demonstrating our ability to execute. This strategic endeavor will enable Dollar Tree to ultimately drive store traffic and productivity, customer loyalty and operating performance, while enhancing our ability to navigate the business through higher periods of higher cost.

We have been considering this move for some time and recent years, we’ve lost many items that our customer favorites and key traffic driving consumable products from our assortment, due to the constraints of the dollar price point. Additionally, we have been operating through a higher cost environment as it relates to inflation, tariffs, supply chain and labor costs. The new $1.25 price point enhances our ability to materially expand our assortments, introduce new products and sizes and provide families with more of their daily essentials at a great value.

In preparation for this move, our merchandising teams have taken on the herculean task of reviewing thousands of product SKU-by-SKU or item-by-item to reassess the value through comp shops of our competitors. Many of our products, especially on the seasonal and discretionary side, are still considered to be an extreme value at the new $1.25 price point, where those products that are considered new or to be reinvested in with the larger quantities or package sizes, we have a clear, a very clear and focused and urgent plan to bring that product into our stores. These assortment changes will be taking place throughout the year, but we do expect 50% of the categories, new and reinvested in products to be in the store by midyear. Example the products already in the stores are carbonated beverages and salty snacks, all at the $1.25 price point.

I could not be more proud of our team’s smooth execution of the transition to the $1.25 price point. Initially, we roll out the program to a diverse segment of more than 100 stores across the U.S. then we expanded to nearly 200 stores across three metropolitan markets. And starting in December, we embarked on seven ways of multi-state introductions. The signage, training and talking points equipped our field leadership teams to execute the stores checklist to complete the transitions. The teams embrace the project, roll up their sleeves and got it done. Feedback from our shoppers as indicated they clearly understood the change in pricing. Stores were easy to shop and the signage was very clear. The key has always been and always will be enabling us to deliver extreme value to our customers. We are focused on exceeding shopper expectations for the value at $1.25 just like we have been at the $1 price point more than 30 years.

We have been closely tracking the performance of converted stores on a daily basis item-by-item, category-by-category. We have seen relatively consistent reaction and performance across various demographics, geographies and store sizes. Among our findings are the following: our new and reinvested SKUs are driving improved performance in their categories, including in the food, snack and beverage, which are all very important traffic driving categories. Our seasonal and discretionary continue to outperform consumable, but we believe this can balance out as we continue to modify the assortment on the consumables and deliver greater value for our customers.

As you would expect, we are seeing comp lift sales to the stores that have transitioned to $1.25, partially offset by a decline in unit sales in the teens. As we go through the year, we expect to see a greater lift to the gross margin in the first half of the year as we sell-through the current inventory. And importantly, as I have stated before, we have confidence we can get back to our historic 35% to 36% annual gross margin range this year, even with a continuation of elevated freight costs. And as we reinvest in the key categories to deliver extreme value, we expect to see improved traffic and productivity as we move throughout the year.

I’ve shared much about the $1.25 price point, as it is where many investors are focused and it is transforming our company. But I want to be clear that we are very pleased with the continued progress we are seeing across each of our strategic initiatives. Regarding Dollar Tree Plus, we finished the year with the multi-price product in approximately 660 stores, well beyond our original target of 500 stores. At Dollar Tree, our $3 and $5 plus assortment will be expanded to another 1,500 stores in fiscal ’22. Customers are responding very well to holiday, seasonal and discretionary categories and we will continue to grow and improve this initiative.

At Family Dollar, our Combo Stores are working. Customers love shopping the best of Family Dollar and Dollar Tree and one easy to shop local store in their community. The stores are driving a material comp sales lift, increased productivity, higher gross margins and improved operating performance. We ended the year with more than 240 Combo Stores and are planning to add another 400 Combo Stores this year. We ended the year with 3,815 Family Dollar Stores in the H2 format. We are planning for another 800 H2 store reservations in fiscal 2022, which we believe will bring our store fleet current and will enable us to reallocate time, effort, resources and capital from the renovation program to other value-creating initiatives as we move forward.

I will now hand the call over to Kevin to provide details on Q4 performance and our outlook for fiscal 2022.

Kevin S. Wampler — Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Mike, and good morning. For the quarter, consolidated net sales increased 4.6% to $7.08 billion, comprised of $3.92 billion of Dollar Tree, and $3.16 billion of Family Dollar. Enterprise same-store sales increased 2.5% as we cycled a 4.9% increase from a year ago, representing a 70 basis point improvement from Q3 to 7.4% on a two-year stacked basis. Cost for the Dollar Tree segment increased 3.1%. Family Dollar same-store sales increased 1.7% cycling a strong 8.1% increase from last year.

On a two-year stack basis, Dollar Tree comps increased 5.5%, which was a 90 basis point improvement from Q3, and Family Dollar increased 9.8%, which was a 70 basis point improvement from Q3. Dollar Tree’s comp was comprised of a 6% increase in average ticket, partially offset by a 2.8% decline in traffic. Family Dollar experienced a 4.6% increase in average ticket, partially offset by a 2.7% decline in traffic.

Gross profit was $2.14 billion for the quarter. Gross margin was 30.2% compared to 31.8% in the prior year’s quarter. Gross profit margin for the Dollar Tree segment declined 50 basis points to 35.6% when compared to the prior year’s quarter. Factors impacting the segments gross margin, performance included, merchandise cost including freight increased 110 basis points, driven by higher freight costs, partially offset by increased initial mark on and increased sales of higher margin discretionary merchandise. This increase was partially offset by shrink that improved 30 basis points related to favorable inventory results and a decrease in the shrink accrual rate.

Distribution costs improved approximately 20 basis points resulting primarily from lower COVID-19 related expenses and sales leverage, partially offset by higher hourly wages and occupancy cost decreased approximately 10 basis points, as a result of the leverage from the comp sales increase in the quarter. Gross profit margin for the Family Dollar segment declined 320 basis points to 23.4% in the fourth quarter.

Year-over-year Delta included the following, merchandise cost including freight increased 220 basis points related to higher freight costs and an unfavorable sales mix, partially offset by higher initial mark-on. Markdowns increased 90 basis points, primarily related to our recent product recall in our Arkansas distribution center and 404 Family Dollar stores.

Consolidated selling, general and administrative expenses increased 40 basis points to 22.1% of total revenue compared to 21.7% in Q4 last year. For the fourth quarter, the SG&A rate for the Dollar Tree segment as a percentage of total revenue increased 50 basis points to 20.6% when compared to the prior year’s quarter. Other SG&A increased approximately 50 basis points resulting from higher card transaction fees and operating taxes along with marketing and store supply costs associated with the transition to the $1.25 price point.

Payroll costs increased 10 basis points resulting primarily from higher store hourly payroll costs due to minimum wage increases and higher healthcare costs, partially offset by lower incentive compensation. And depreciation cost decreased 15 basis points, primarily due to lower store-impairment write-offs and leverage due to the increase in comp store sales. For Family Dollar, the fourth quarter SG&A rate as a percentage of total revenue increased 10 basis points to 20.7% compared to 20.6% in the prior year’s quarter.

Other SG&A expense increased 25 basis points, primarily due to lower miscellaneous income, an increase in card transaction fees, an increase in insurance costs related to general liability claims. Depreciation and amortization expense increased 15 basis points due to higher store asset impairment charges and expenditures associated with the store renovation program. Store facility costs increased 5 basis points, primarily due to higher repairs and maintenance expenses, including snow removal, partially offset by lower telecommunication expenses.

Payroll expenses improved 35 basis points, primarily due to lower incentive compensation and field management vacancies, partially offset by higher store hourly payroll resulting from higher labor rates. Corporate support and other expenses as the percentage of total revenue were flat when compared to the prior year’s quarter at 1.4%.

Operating income was $578.8 million or 8.2% of total revenue in the fourth quarter. Non-operating expenses totaled $79.6 million comprised primarily of net interest expense including debt extinguishment costs of $46.5 million associated with our debt refinancing in the quarter. Effective tax rate was 9% compared to 22.3% in the prior year’s fourth quarter resulting primarily from a deferred tax benefit related to state entity restructuring.

Companies had net income of $454.2 million or $2.01 per diluted share. This compared to net earnings of $502.8 million or $2.13 per diluted share in the prior year’s quarter. Combined cash and cash equivalents at year end totaled $984.9 million compared to $1.42 billion at the end of fiscal 2020. Outstanding debt as of January 29 was $3.45 billion.

For the year, the company repurchased $950 million in shares at an average price of $103.75. The company did not repurchase shares during the fourth quarter as our Board is engaged in discussions with Mantle Ridge. We currently have $2.5 billion remaining on our share repurchase authorization. Compared to the prior year, inventory levels increased 39% at Dollar Tree and 17% at Family Dollar. The higher levels of inventory are comprised of significant increases in goods on the water year-over-year as we rebuild inventory levels, as well as increased capitalized freight cost based on much higher rates during the year. We do not anticipate any additional material inventory markdowns related to the recent Family Dollar voluntary product recall.

Capital expenditures were $271.6 million in the fourth quarter versus $191.8 million in Q4 of last year. For fiscal 2022, we expect that consolidated capex will be approximately $1.3 billion, which will be focused on 590 new stores, consisting of 400 Family Dollar and 190 Dollar Tree Stores, 1,500 Dollar Tree plus additions and 800 Family Dollar H2 renovations, with addition of our replacement of frozen and refrigerated capability to select Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores, supply chain construction and upgrades and information technology system projects.

Depreciation and amortization totaled $188.7 million for Q4 compared to $182.9 million in the fourth quarter last year. For fiscal 2022, we expect consolidated depreciation and amortization to be approximately $750 million.

Our initial outlook for fiscal 2022 includes the following assumptions. For same-store sales, for the enterprise, we are forecasting low-to mid-single-digit positive comps for the year. Considerations for 2022 include the following. The company incurred approximately $33.5 million in COVID-19 related costs in fiscal 2021. We expect these costs to be minimal in fiscal 2022. We will be cycling a third round of stimulus check that totaled an estimated $386 billion in March of 2021 and later in the year, we will be cycling the monthly advanced Child Tax credit payments that began in July of 2021.

We expect continued pressure on store and DC payroll based on competitive markets, states increasing minimum wages, unemployment levels and completing the company’s many initiatives. We expect to incur more than $165 million in store minimum wage changes and market adjustments. In addition, we are investing more than $30 million in DC hourly wages. We continue to partially offset these average hourly rates — rate increases through productivity and efficiency initiatives.

Import and domestic freight will present cost pressures due to the annualization of fiscal 2021 rates in the first half of 2022. In addition, diesel fuel prices are expected to be significantly higher in 2022. We cannot predict future currency fluctuations. So we have not adjusted our outlook for the currency rate changes.

Net interest expense is expected to be approximately $33 million for Q1 and approximately $129 million for fiscal 2022. We estimate consolidated net sales for the first quarter will range from $6.63 billion to $6.78 billion based on a low-single-digit increase in same-store sales for the combined enterprise.

Diluted earnings per share estimated to be in the range of $1.95 to $2.10. Consolidated net sales for full fiscal 2022 are expected to range from $27.22 billion to $27.85 billion. The company estimates diluted earnings per share will range from $7.60 to $8, which at the high end implies a consolidated operating income margin of 9%. Our outlook assumes a tax rate of 24.3% for the first quarter and 24.1% for fiscal 2022.

Our weighted average diluted share counts are assumed to be 226.5 million shares for Q1 and 226.7 million shares for the full year. Our outlook does not include any share repurchases. And as previously mentioned, we currently have $2.5 billion remaining on our existing share repurchase authorization.

I’ll turn the call back over to Mike.

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Kevin. I am more encouraged and enthusiastic about our business and the opportunity than ever before. After a few years of Dollar Tree delivering operating margins lower than we’d like, I believe we are poised to benefit from our initiatives to deliver materially improved operating performance. Because of our team’s dedication, focus and execution, we have one of the most important milestones behind us converting more than 7,800 stores to the new pricing strategy, providing value to our customers in a meaningful assortment is at the forefront. And as we reinvest in end market, the extreme value assortment at Dollar Tree, we are confident store traffic and productivity will improve throughout the year, which will contribute to shopper loyalty. Value and convenience is more important than ever to our customer in today’s environment.

We are dedicated, aligned and focused. The ability to execute our key initiatives is paying off and setting a solid foundation for improved operating performance. We delivered at EPS of $5.80 in fiscal 2021 and the high end of our guidance range this year is $8 representing a 38% increase. I believe, we are at inflection point to exhibit our earnings power in the years ahead. This year, we are laser focused on meeting our customer needs, while driving our initiatives that are delivering the best returns. These initiatives combined with our robust balance sheet will position us to deliver long-term value for our stakeholders, customers, associates, suppliers and our shareholders.

I would like to once again thank every one of our more than 2,000 associates for all they have accomplished over the past two years. Through the unprecedented challenges presented with COVID-19, supply chain issues and labor shortages, our teams are there every day to serve millions of shoppers across the U.S. and Canada. We have accomplished quite a lot in the last 18 months, but in many ways, I feel that we have just getting started that the future is bright for Dollar Tree and Family Dollar.

Before we take your questions, I would like to provide a brief update on our ongoing engagement with Mantle Ridge. We continue to have constructive dialog with Mantle Ridge and our shareholders, and indeed, we have been meeting weekly with Paul Hilal of Mantle Ridge and Rick Dreiling. Accordingly, we will not be addressing any Mantle Ridge related questions during the Q&A portion of our earnings call.

Operator, we are now ready to take questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] We will now take our first question from Scot Ciccarelli of Truist Securities. Please go ahead.

Scot Ciccarelli — Truist Securities — Analyst

Good morning, guys, thanks for the information. So Mike, given your comments on the decline in units at Dollar Tree, is it fair to assume that the Dollar Tree stores are roughly generating high-single-digit comps after the price conversion. And then secondly, are you surprised that the magnitude of the unit decline. I guess, it doesn’t quite seem to reconcile that’s on the comments that the consumers have been really accepting of the price changes. So any color there would be helpful.

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, thanks. So on the unit decline, I mean, we have the same exact sensitivity models of many of you do. New units, comps, transactions and then margin enhancement and going into it, we’ve been watching this for the last 18 months to 24 months. And because of the vendor cost increases on our key consumable items that drive traffic for the last 18 months, vendors have eliminated items, downsized items or raise the price on items that we have lost in our assortment. And all those 18 months to 24 months, we have seen unit declines and transaction reduction because of that. So there wasn’t a surprise to us, we knew where we needed to invest our dollars and as we roll this out and tested it, it really concerned and our customers told us, here is where we needed to do our work and that’s why it does three things for us.

We were able to improve our assortment and move to the $1.25 and really bring back items that consumers like at our extreme value and high-traffic driving categories. And that will improve our traffic and our consumable sales going forward. The other thing it does is, it enables us to get — again, I keep saying, get back to 35% to 36% gross profit margins in this high-cost environment. And then lastly, it allows us to improve our operating performance in a higher cost environment and offsetting and as Kevin said, and we share our high-end of our range — EPS range is $8 of 78% increase and that’s absorbing the $600 million in freight that we assumed last year and then Kevin just shared another $200 million in labor between the stores and DCs.

So that’s why this strategy is so important to us and the unit decline as we see the new items come in, we see the customers responded very quickly. And many of you even pointed out as you’ve done your store inspections. You’ve seen some of the new products in our carbonated beverage, in our salty snacks, in our meat snacks and we expect those sales to slowly improve. And even with the unit decline where it’s that, you’ve seen how it’s translated into an improved operating income as you saw that we beat fourth quarter by $0.25. So no, we’re not surprised, but yes, we are working diligently to get the new product in to reverse that trend, that’s been existing for 18 months and really deliver what the customer wants at that extreme value on both the consumable side to drive traffic and the discretionary side that they know us for. We were able to improve our assortment and move to the $1.25 and really bring back items that consumers like at our extreme value and high-traffic driving categories. And that will improve our traffic and our consumable sales going forward. The other thing it does is, it enables us to get — again, I keep saying, get back to 35% to 36% gross profit margins in this high-cost environment. And then lastly, it allows us to improve our operating performance in a higher cost environment and offsetting and as Kevin said, and we share our high-end of our range — EPS range is $8 of 78% increase and that’s absorbing the $600 million in freight that we assumed last year and then Kevin just shared another $200 million in labor between the stores and DCs.

So that’s why this strategy is so important to us and the unit decline as we see the new items come in, we see the customers responded very quickly. And many of you even pointed out as you’ve done your store inspections. You’ve seen some of the new products and our carbonated beverage and our salty snacks and our meat snacks and we expect those sales to slowly improve. And even with the unit decline where it’s that, you’ve seen how it’s translated into an improved operating income as you saw that we beat fourth quarter by $0.25. So no, we’re not surprised, but yes, we are working diligently to get the new product in to reverse that trend, that’s been existing for 18 months and really deliver what the customer wants at that extreme value on both the consumable side to drive traffic and the discretionary side that they know us for.

Scot Ciccarelli — Truist Securities — Analyst

Okay, thank you very much.

Operator

We’ll take our next question from Matthew Boss of J.P. Morgan. Please go ahead.

Matthew Boss — J.P. Morgan — Analyst

Great, thanks and congrats on the nice quarter. On the top line, could you help provide maybe a comp forecast by banner if we broke apart the low-single-digit comp guide for the first quarter? Mike, what are you seeing from your low income customers so far in February and just how best to think about the delta between low-single digits in the first quarter and low to mid-single digits for the year on the comp side?

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, we’re not — we haven’t broken out by banner. But when what our customer, last year, as you know, they were — they had a lot of stimulus dollars in their hands between the stimulus dollars, the Child Tax Credit and then the food stamp environment. And then the extra unemployment and many of those are going away. So not only are they going away, but then on the other side is the highest inflation you’ve seen in 40 years. So they are starting to see pressure on their rent bills, their heating bills, their gas bills, their utilities and their food bills. So we think that this value segment that we’re in and this undeniable value that we’re going to deliver to $1.25 and our great values at Family Dollar at convenient locations are really poised well to deliver what the customer is looking for.

Matthew Boss — J.P. Morgan — Analyst

Maybe just a follow-up, Kevin, on gross margin, is it — could you walk through maybe some of the moving pieces embedded this year in the forecast, specifically, what are you embedding for freight? And how best to think about gross margin drivers from here at both the Dollar Tree banner and Family Dollar?

Kevin S. Wampler — Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I think as you look at the gross profit section of the P&Ls. So obviously, the biggest headwind continues to be freight and as I spoke to the first half, in particular, so as we went through 2021 rates climbed quarter-to-quarter until that kind of finally flattened out at the back half of Q3. So the first half of the year will continues to see some pretty good pressure there and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, I think.

As we look at the year, we do not see things getting better in the supply chain world of — and moving product and the rates that are required to continue to move goods. And it’s not just the rates to pay for the goods. It’s also the rates you pay once you got — once it gets into the port, it’s costing more to move the product. So drayage is more, storage costs are more. Everybody is trying to charge for equipment. So there’s a lot of pressure on a lot of different places as it relates to moving products. So I think that’s a big one.

The other one is diesel costs. Diesel costs are up basically, I think, just over $1 year-over-year at this point in time right now. So that adds a significant amount to the pressure as well as we think about it. And then again, I think — to your point, I think we faced stimulus dollars, in particular in the Family Dollar business, in Q1. Discretionary business, if you remember, a year ago in Q1 at Family Dollar had a very large comp, a double-digit comp. So we would see unfavorable mix in Q1 as it relates to our Family Dollar business.

So those are some of the things that are — some of the moving pieces that are kind of going on. And then I think the other thing that we think about from a — and Mike kind of talked about it already, is the investment, the reinvestment in the product that we’re making at Dollar Tree. The consumers let us know where we need to continue to look at our value proposition. The merchants are doing a great job working through that, and we’re flowing new goods and we’ll continue to flow goods throughout the year. So I think that will be an important piece of it.

Operator

We’ll take our next question from Michael Lasser of UBS. Please go ahead. Please go ahead, Michael, your line is open.

Michael Lasser — UBS — Analyst

Good morning, thanks a lot for taking my question. What is the comp lift that you are getting from $1.25 price point yield? And how wide does the lift vary across stores and geographies? And as part of that, how has it — the move to $1.25 impacted customer shopping sequences? Have you seen some customers who just aren’t coming back after realizing the price change?

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Thanks, Michael. And we did — the consumer was a huge important part of this and our ability to deliver meaningful assortment to them. And we did consumer research, in-depth research, back in October, and we just recently finished it up. And I’ve seen some of the analysts have done their own in-depth research. And the most important thing is, is the research tells us that they trust Dollar Tree. And at Dollar Tree is the most recognized and trusted brand in the value $1 segment, period. This is after the $1.25 price change.

They expressed the likelihood to continue to shop of above 85%. They still want to recommend our stores above 77% of our shoppers. And there’s an emotional connection still. Our customers still believe they’re getting a good value for the money. And we receive higher marks than our competitors at a good value even at $1.25. So our customer — bringing our customer along is critical. And the reason that that’s enabling that is on our discretionary side, it’s $1.25. All our comp shops still tell us where we are winning. And our — when I said a herculean task, our merchants starting last fall, so November, December and January and a little bit into February, went item-by-item. They did complete category reviews and reviewed item-by-item, line-by-line and went out and comp-shop them every item and brought it in and wanted to make sure that at $1.25, this item still stood up as a great value to the competitive market. And where we saw that, we see the unit sales where we would expect them.

And then to your point, you see unit declines where we aren’t competitive, and we knew that over the last 18 months. But what the breaking the $1 does and going to $1.25 is really lets us get the new assortment in, and we’re so excited about it. They — over the last three months, our entire merchant team not only went through a line review category-by-category, but they also did our January trip. And our January trip that we bought for the back half of this year is some of the most exciting items that we’ve had, and our customers are going to be wild about it compared to what they’re seeing in the marketplace.

And then the new items where we’re delivering, we’re seeing an improvement in unit sales as we bring those in. And we absolutely believe that throughout the next six months to seven months, as the consumable side and those new items start to flow in, we will see units begin to come up, and we will see our sales come up accordingly. And we will maintain that customer loyalty from our customers. They still believe we’re the number one value in the $1 segment because they’re seeing the inflation, the highest in four decades. So they see what’s happening in the marketplace, and they trust us. Our merchants have worked very hard. And I think over the first half of the year, we will slowly get better and better in units and in our traffic going forward.

And the most important thing, even with the track or even with the extra cost that Kevin talked about in our freight in the first half, we still believe we can deliver that 35% to 36% margin. So it’s the flow-through that’s going to be so important while we’re bringing in the new items to drive that top line.

And to answer your question, across geographies, we really don’t see any difference in unit declines across geographies, competitive makeup or demographics. It’s really similar. And when we had the — when we had a foot in both camps, our $1.25 stores moved very similar to our $1 stores. There was not a — the gap didn’t get worse or better. It just moved very similar. So it was very consistent across that perspective too, which gave us permission to move as quick as possible to get that new assortment in and really leverage this for our customers going forward.

Michael Lasser — UBS — Analyst

Mike, in the past, you’ve helpfully provided the comp is that Dollar Tree saw from the Dollar Tree Plus, which is 6%. Is there an equal number that you can give us for the $1.25? And then how do you turn this into a longer-term comp driver for the business to make sure it just doesn’t have — it’s not just a one-and-done impact for 2022 and then the business goes back to experiencing some challenges longer term? For example, does this open the door to move from $1.25 to $1.50 that could provide even more missionizing flexibility to drive the business down the road?

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So what the $1.25 going forward enables us to do is, really going forward, the $1.25 will allow us to bring in great assortment to drive traffic and meet the customers’ need at a fixed price point and differentiate us just like we’ve been differentiated for 30 years. We think the $1.25 allows us to do that.

But to your point, then how do you continue to drive our comp store sales at the Dollar Tree Plus, that’s why we’re accelerating that to another 1,500 stores. And I’ve shared we want to get to 5,000 stores going forward. So we think that the growth in Dollar Tree, similar to a lot of you have referred to Dollarama up in Canada, we believe that this is going to be a point where we can continue to drive comp store sales, improved assortment with our $1.25, $3 and $5 assortment.

So going forward, we’re going to do 1,500 this year. We’re going to continue to grow another large amount of stores the following year. And then we’re also at Dollar Tree Plus items at the $3 and $5, we’re planning for and looking to expand it in 2023. So not only grow the store count but expand the assortment and depth inside the store. So that will enable continuous comp growth year-over-year as we move forward.

And to answer your question on the — we just completed the assortment. We will share more as we get forward on the comp store growth with the unit decline. It is — we are very confident, we can be in that low to mid-single-digit comps. But even at that, it translates and flows through at that higher margin and leveraging throughout the P&L to a 38% increase in our EPS. So that’s why we’re very excited about the improvement that this year will bring.

And as we move forward, now that we have the whole fleet on there, in the prior quarters, we’ll definitely share more details because it will be the whole fleet and inconsistent time frame. Throughout the last three months, we were — just in December, we had a few thousand stores that it was during the Christmas. January, we’re rolling out more stores, but it was in a cycling. January was a tough month for retail. And then February was in our cycling bad weather from last year, and we had one of the best Valentine’s we’ve ever had. So there’s just been a lot of moving parts. So once it stabilizes and we have the whole fleet on here, we’ll absolutely share it. But it is doing exactly what we thought it would, and it’s delivering that EPS we expect it to.

Michael Lasser — UBS — Analyst

Just to clarify, just because you don’t want to provide it at this point, the market should not interpret it that the response — the comp response has been disappointing?

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Not at all. No. No, and it’s evident by our 25% beat in the fourth quarter and 38% increase in EPS. This is — and the key is this really enables us, I can’t stress enough. It enables us to bring back those key items on the consumable side that over the last 18 months to 24 months have just slowly disappeared. And they were one by one. It wasn’t all at once. But over time, we lost unit sales on the consumables and comps out of the consumables, which ultimately lost transactions counts the last 18 months. And you’ve seen it in our reporting every quarter. What this enables us to do is bring back all of those items and then even more new items. And I’m so excited about the assortment that you’re going to see flowing in there, and our customers are excited. Our end caps with the brand name leaders of carbonated beverage, 4 feet of meat snacks that we brought back are really going to be key traffic-driving items that we see will accelerate as they increase throughout the first half of this year.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from John Heinbockel of Guggenheim. Please go ahead.

John Heinbockel — Guggenheim Securities — Analyst

Hey, Mike. I want to start with, what do you think happens to total assortment inside the Dollar Tree, let’s say, over the next year and then broader than that, right? Because you don’t want the assortment, I would imagine to get significantly larger than it’s been historically. And then what do you do with — you guys don’t have the kind of tight planograms that some others do. Can you go back and do a strategic re-planogramming in space allocation, maybe giving more to consumables? And when would that happen?

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. No, it’s a great call. We can’t — this line item review, we went category-by-category. And we strategically looked at what drives traffic and give it the appropriate space needed. And we aren’t planogrammed, and that enables us to bring in great new items and bring out closeout items and invest in wow items and throw the hunt items to really get the customer excited about seeing newness in our stores. And as we look at the store, the $1.25 items, and then there’s $3 and $5, I believe, going forward, we will move — we will monitor the productivity in dollars and profitability. And our stores are — we don’t have a shelf stretcher inside our stores.

You’re right, there is the only a set amount of linear footage. But we believe we can continue to optimize based on the customers’ reaction on the $3 and $5. And when we have those category — those items, they are highly productive and deliver higher penny profit and more efficiencies throughout the supply chain and inside the store. So we will manage that going forward. And I — we’ll continue to look at the space we need for the right consumables to drive the traffic. And then we will grow the discretionary based on the productivity and continue to manage that going forward. Just as we have over the last 35 years, we’ve flexed the space accordingly.

John Heinbockel — Guggenheim Securities — Analyst

And then maybe as a follow-up to that, right? So you talked about reinvesting some of this gross margin benefit. Is that more likely to be in consumables, right, to drive traffic for discretionary? And once you get to that 35% to 36%, would you like to run that kind of margin-neutral? And whatever benefit you get on EBIT margin is leveraged, right, from the higher comp?

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. We’d like to definitely get to 35% to 36%, but we believe there may be upside beyond that. And as you just said, it’s the stick and rudder that a retailer always does. They want to do what they need to, to have great value and drive that top line and then at the margin that they need to deliver continuous improvement in EPS.

John Heinbockel — Guggenheim Securities — Analyst

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

We’ll take our next question from Paul Lejuez of Citi. Please go ahead.

Paul Lejuez — Citi Investment Research — Analyst

Hey, thanks, guys. Maybe just going back to the Dollar Tree comp impact from the move to $1.25, I think you said you didn’t want to give a specific number, but you did share that units were down mid-teens. And I think, all else equal, if units weren’t down, you would have seen a 25% comp lift, if my simple math is right. So can you just confirm that you’re actually seeing a net high single-digit to low double-digit comp lift in those stores? And if that is the case, is that how you’re planning that concept comp for F ’22? And are you ordering units down in that mid-teens rate that you’ve experienced thus far or something better than that? And then just — I guess I’ll ask my follow-up now. I’m just curious which categories you’re seeing more or less elasticity? Thanks.

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So as I said before, we haven’t shared the comp on the rollout because we just got everything rolled out. But we have shared, we believe in our forecast going forward in our guidance is low to mid-single-digit comps that we’re very confident we can achieve. And even with that, the lower units and the comp in that range still delivers a 38% growth in our EPS.

And what was the second part of the question? Oh, the categories. The elasticity is, it’s exactly where we thought it would. Our customer gives us — we have such great value. And I’ve said this before, when we go to buy and create our seasonal items on the discretionary side, we go out and the comp shop and we find $5 and $7 items. And we — our merchants will make those items at the $1. That’s why we’re known for such great value on the discretionary side.

So when we move to $1.25, our discretionary units are still selling very, very well. And our customer research tells us that and our sales tell us that. And then it also, as I’ve shared on the consumables side is where we’re seeing the unit decline. But as we bring in those new items, the unit decline, in fact, the categories are positive comp, where I’ve shared the last 18 months, they were negative and we were losing units, where we’ve already introduced the items and they’re flowing in, it’s absolutely reversed and starting to trend in a positive nature.

Paul Lejuez — Citi Investment Research — Analyst

Good. So how does that influence out of your plan units in terms of managing inventory?

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So we’re planning to feed that growth that we talked about. And we’re buying on the discretionary side, like we always buy, to continue to drive our seasonal and our discretionary side. And the good thing is we’re getting every consumable item we can’t right now in the marketplace. And our new items that we’re bringing in, we’re buying as many as we can. And the time line to replenish that is most of that is domestic. So we can keep feeding the sales growth and unit growth as it happens.

Operator

We’ll take our next question from Edward Kelly of Wells Fargo. Please go ahead.

Edward Kelly — Wells Fargo — Analyst

Hi, guys, good morning. Mike, I wanted to ask you, rolling out the $1.25 without the new product makes it difficult for you to showcase what this ultimately means for your customers over the long term. Are you — I mean it doesn’t sound like it, but based upon what you’ve seen so far in SKUs looking forward, are you concerned at all about the gap in time between the $1.25 and when the new product comes in and what that could potentially do to customer loyalty? And then as part of this question, can you just talk a bit more about how the merchandising from here changes the cadence around that? What percentage of the SKUs are actually going to change for customers? How important is bringing things back, right, that you haven’t sold historically? Any additional color on all that would be great. Thank you.

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. It’s extremely important to bring back items that they haven’t seen. And as I’ve reiterated several times, in the last 18 months to 24 months, we’ve seen our discretionary sales decline and over — especially, it has accelerated as everybody has seen. Throughout last year, our vendors were getting pressure, costs were increasing, and inflation is at the four decades high. So we needed to move for several reasons. One, to quickly get in that assortment that we wanted, and number two, we needed to be simple for the organization, we can’t have our merchants buying $1 assortment and $1.25 assortment and mixing it up. We need it to be crystal clear for them. And they went to task in the last three months to four months and went through that entire line, item by — line review and category review item-by-item, and now the items are flowing back in.

So we didn’t want to confuse our customers and confuse our merchants and confuse our operators. So we moved to $1.25 as fast as we did. And we’re bringing our customers along with us. Absolutely, we’re afraid of our customer thought process. That’s why we did in-depth research back in October when we first introduced it. And our customers told us because of the increases they’re seeing in the marketplace, the $1.25 is still an extreme value. They also told us after we moved to $1.25, Dollar Tree is their number one trusted store by far in the $1 segment and value segment. And I think some of you have done research stating the same thing, that Dollar Tree’s trust and brand loyalty is still there.

And now as these new items at the $1.25 flow in, it’s even going to increase from there. And we — it’s very important for us to get this item in as soon as possible. And that’s why we believe that throughout the year as this flows in, we will see the units improve in the categories that we’ve addressed. The categories on the discretionary side are already a great value because the market has moved significantly around us. So we think we’re in a great position. When the customer’s stressed more than ever, highest inflation in four decades, they’re getting pressure on their rents, on their fuel for their cars, on their heating bills and on their food bills, they’re going to come to Dollar Tree and Family Dollar now more than ever because of the great value that we have.

Edward Kelly — Wells Fargo — Analyst

And just a quick follow-up, on the gross margin on Dollar Tree, why wouldn’t the early part of the year, particularly the first half to be much higher than 35% to 36% just given what’s going on from a pricing standpoint and then that normalized towards the end? Is that a fair assessment?

Kevin S. Wampler — Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I think as we think about it, Ed, there is that possibility obviously. Because we haven’t changed as much of a product, it’s in process. But again, I think the other side of that is just a little bit of the freight market and the diesel costs and some things like that. Obviously — we obviously hope there’s upside to that, but we still got to go out and work through the quarter and prove it at the end of the day.

Edward Kelly — Wells Fargo — Analyst

Understood. Thank you.

Operator

We will now take our final question from Simeon Gutman of Morgan Stanley. Please go ahead.

Simeon Gutman — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Hey, everyone. Good morning. So I guess my one question is when we look at the guidance on the face, it looked — it felt a bit conservative. Mike, you mentioned the units down mid-teens, and then there’s some higher inventory costs. I wanted to ask you, if there’s points of conservatism. You mentioned that as you roll out new units, you’re seeing a new product. The units look like they’re getting better. I don’t know much on — how the costs flow through throughout the year, but can you talk about the points of conservatism that could be in this model throughout the year?

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. We’re and I’ll toss it to Kevin on a few line items. But overall, we just got completed and the merchants just went through their line-by-line items. So we — it is a wait and see. We think that we’re going to see traction throughout the year to drive the comp and the improved unit decline and reverse its course. So we’ve put out based on what we know now to be a model of the low to mid-digit comps, and the most important thing is at that higher margin price points. So we think there’s — as we see the items start flowing in faster than what we want, then yes, we believe that then there could be some higher sales.

Kevin S. Wampler — Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. I think as we look at it, as we’ve talked about some of the things, the bigger headwinds, obviously, labor is a big one. At the end of the day, with the continued investments that we continue to make and the workforce, and so I think we have to think about that. But I think, again, as Mike has said many times, as this assortment changes, it does give us the opportunity to potentially, hopefully, outperform this guidance at the end of the day. But I don’t know that it makes sense to go beyond where we’re at, at this point, to Mike’s point, given the fact that we’ve just got all the stores converted.

It’s been somewhat lumpy from a business standpoint given the January time frame and with Omicron and weather between January and February. So there’s a lot of different things as — so I think Mike’s statement about getting into the first quarter, and hopefully, all of this all kind of settles out, it will give us a much better read and give us, obviously, the data that we’ll be able to speak to and make changes if changes are warranted.

Michael A. Witynski — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. And I would just reiterate, this is a trance moving beyond the $1 price point enable us to unlock our assortment and really deliver a 38% improvement in our EPS. And for long term, the way I think about it, it continues to move beyond that. And then we’re bringing in 1,500 more Dollar Tree Pluses and growing that year after year going forward and how that’s going to leverage our sales and productivity of our stores and margin dollars. And then when you look at our Combo Stores on the Family Dollar side and getting 400 of those going, all of our initiatives will keep driving our top line at a better margin rate and enhance the EPS as we go forward, not only this year but in the years to come.

Simeon Gutman — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

And we will now take our final question from Michael Montani of Evercore. Please go ahead.

Michael Montani — Evercore ISI — Analyst

Thanks. Thanks for taking the question. I just wanted to ask on the inventory side, if you could help us to understand, what is the build there in terms of units versus pricing given some of the accounting and how we can get comfortable with that relative to sales? And then I just had a follow-up question.

Kevin S. Wampler — Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. I think if you look at inventory, obviously, the number, they sound like big increases. You got to remember that a couple of things. One, there’s more — we’ve had a backlog trying to get inventory moved for some time now. We still have a backlog of inventory. It’s taking longer to get goods from Asia through the ports and into our distribution centers. So there’s an element of the goods on the water being higher that are just because of the fact that it’s taking — instead of being 30 to 40 days, it’s now 50 to 60 days to get goods from one place to the other.

I think the other side of it is, as I spoke to is, the freight rates that we’ve talked about all this past year, the additional $600 million of freight, a large — obviously, that gets capitalized into inventory and doesn’t come through the P&L until you sell those goods. So there’s a large portion of freight costs that are also part of this build. And what you got to remember is Dollar Tree imports significantly more than Family Dollar. So that’s why the Dollar Tree side of it is higher.

We feel very good about our inventory position. I mean, obviously, I would tell you that our merchants would like to have more goods than they have right now. In certain categories in particular, it’s — but — so we feel very good about where we’re at from an inventory perspective. And I think if we compared it probably to two or three years ago — probably three years ago, it would probably look pretty reasonable if we looked at it on a store basis.

Michael Montani — Evercore ISI — Analyst

Okay. Thanks. And then just a follow-up on the ticket, if I could, for Family Dollar, if I heard correctly, that was up, I think, 4.8%. So can you just give some color there in terms of like units per transaction versus inflation and mix?

Kevin S. Wampler — Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. I think, as you look at it, I think there is some, obviously, inflation in that number. And I don’t have it broken out, but I would guess it’s probably about half of that number potentially, maybe about 2% as we look at the price increases that have been incurred over the last 12 months in particular. So that’s probably about where it falls out.

Michael Montani — Evercore ISI — Analyst

Got it. Thanks very much for taking the question.

Operator

I would now like to turn the call back to Mr. Guiler for any additional or closing remarks.

Randy Guiler — Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, Ashley. Thank you for joining us for today’s call. Our next earnings conference call to discuss Q1 results is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, May 26, 2022. Have a good day.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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