- Dunelm is a high quality, highly profitable business with durable competitive advantages. It’s the UK’s leading homewares retailer.
- Dunelm is not a defensive business, but it does operate in a growing market and uses relatively little financial leverage for a retailer.
- Dunelm has performed very well during the pandemic and its shares have performed even better.
- I still like the business, but after recent share price gains I think its valuation and dividend yield are no longer attractive.
- I recently sold all my Dunelm shares having owned them since 2016.
“Dunelm is market leader in the £14bn UK homewares market and active in the £12bn UK furniture market. It currently operates 173 stores, of which the majority are out-of-town, and trades online through dunelm.com.”corporate.dunelm.com
This was a successful investment with Dunelm performing well over the four-year holding period and the shares performing even better.
Overall, I’d say this is a good example of what can happen when you combine a quality business with an attractive purchase price and a little bit of luck.
827p on 06/10/2016
1,358p on 03/11/2020
4 year 1 month
Note: I “top sliced” Dunelm in June and September as its position size exceeded my limit of 6% thanks to its increasing share price. This gives the investment a higher annualised return than would otherwise be the case.
Buy and sell reviews in PDF format
Purchase review: Here’s the original purchase review from the October 2016 issue of my monthly newsletter – Dunelm purchase review (PDF)
Sale review: Here’s the sale review from the November 2020 issue – Dunelm sale review (PDF)
1. Dunelm is a quality business
- Dunelm is the UK’s leading homewares retailer
- It has been focused on homewares since 1979 when it began life as a single market stall in Leicester
- Dunelm has consistently produced returns on capital of more than 15% and profit margins of more than 10%
- Dunelm has grown consistently and sustainably by more than 5% per year for the last decade
- Dunelm has grown at a sensible pace by reinvesting earnings into new stores and better online infrastructure
- Dunelm’s brand, market leadership and ongoing ownership and involvement of the founding family are durable competitive advantages
2. Dunelm isn’t a defensive business (but it is robust)
- The homewares market is relatively stable, growing (ignoring the pandemic) and doesn’t have significant regulatory risk
- However, it’s cyclical and is being disrupted by the transition to online retail, and that increases the risks of financial leverage (debts and leases)
- Fortunately, Dunelm has relatively small store lease liabilities for a retailer
- Dunelm also isn’t exposed to significant risk from a small number of products, patents, customers, suppliers, employees, or commodity prices
3. Dunelm isn’t good value at its current price
- I don’t think the pandemic will significantly hurt Dunelm and in fact it has so far benefited as lockdown has driven increasing demand for homewares
- Dunelm is likely to grow ahead of inflation over the next 20 years as it continues its store rollout program and moves into the furniture market
- Despite that, I don’t think Dunelm’s shares are likely to outperform the market over say ten years, largely because an optimistic future is already baked into the share price
- The dividend yield (based on the pre-pandemic dividend as the dividend is currently suspended) is barely 2%, and I think that’s too low for all but the fastest growing companies (which Dunelm is not)
The rest of this writeup is based on my investment checklist which you can get from the Free Resources page.
The checklist is based around the three primary factors that I look for (to varying degrees) in an investment:
Quality: Is this a quality company? YES
Q.1. Has it produced consistent and sustainable growth?
YES Dunelm has grown very consistently for a very long time; even the global financial crisis did little to slow the company’s progress.
Over the last ten years, Dunelm’s growth has averaged 5% per year, driven primarily by its ongoing store rollout program (growth has averaged 7% if you ignore 2020’s suspended dividend, which was a sensibly cautious response to the pandemic).
This store rollout program has increased the number of stores from 104 in 2011 to 173 in 2020, which is an increase of 66%.
Dunelm’s growth has effectively been entirely self funded, with very little need for increasing debt or lease liabilities.
Q.2. Has it earned consistently good returns?
YES Dunelm has produced very impressive post-tax returns on lease-adjusted capital for a store-based retailer.
Typically, store-based retailers produce fairly weak returns on capital because stores are expensive capital assets, regardless of whether they’re purchased or leased.
However, Dunelm’s policy of operating almost purely from out-of-town superstores has allowed it to produce impressive profits per square metre of rented space, and per pound invested in stores, fixtures and stock.
More specifically, Dunelm’s return on capital has averaged more than 15% over the last decade, and never once fell below 10%. This is far above average and extremely impressive.
Dunelm’s return on sales (profit margin) is also impressive for a low cost volume retailer, averaging 10% over the last decade. In comparison, Tesco’s margins have almost never exceeded 5%.
Q.3. Does it have a focused core business?
YES The vast majority of Dunelm’s business is focused on homewares, from soft furnishings such as curtains and cushions to to rugs, lights and more recently a fast-growing selection of furniture from beds to desks and sofas.
Traditionally the company focused on out-of-town superstores, but this has now evolved into a “total retail” system blending in-store and online ordering with click and collect and home delivery.
Q.4. Has it had the same core business for over a decade?
YES Dunelm has been focused on homewares since 1979, when it started out selling seconds such as curtains that Marks & Spencer and other big retailers didn’t want.
Q.5. Has it had broadly the same goal and strategy for over a decade?
YES When it joined the Million Pound Portfolio in 2016, Dunelm didn’t have a clear goal. That has since been remedied and now the company’s purpose is “to help everyone create a home they love”.
The company’s overall strategy has remained largely unchanged for many years.
Essentially the strategy is to provide a wide range of value-for-money homeware products across a wide range of price points. These are sold through large out-of-town stores and now a very fast and functionally modern website, with customers able to pick up in-store or at home regardless of how they order.
This give the customer convenience, with Dunelm effectively being a one-stop-shop for homewares for a large portion of the UK population (my wife was very excited when Dunelm opened its first store in our hometown).
Q.6. Is there a culture of evolution rather than transformation?
YES There have been no attempts to “transform” Dunelm at any point, and that’s a good thing. Instead, the company is continually evolving by reinvesting earnings to adapt to the ever-changing retail landscape.
Q.7. Has management avoided excessively rapid expansion?
YES Dunelm has grown at a healthy pace of around 5% to 7% over the last decade. This is ahead of inflation and has required the roll out almost 70 additional stores, but this is in no way excessive.
Single digit growth can typically be absorbed with ease, as it doesn’t involve a rapid increase in new stores, new processes, new staff and so on. And the cost of fitting out new stores and buying in additional stock has been comfortably covered by the company’s high returns from capital employed.
Q.8. Has management avoided excessive or low quality acquisitions?
YES Dunelm only made one meaningful acquisition during the last ten years. It acquired the loss-making Worldstores business out of administration for around £10 million, but eventually incurred costs of £30 million to pay off suppliers and tie up other loose ends.
At the time the media seemed to be quite negative about this acquisition. Worldstores was the UK’s largest online furniture catalogue, but it was a failed business which dragged on Dunelm’s returns for a year or two and was eventually broken up and sold off or closed down.
But the whole point was to acquire Worldstores’ technology platform, furniture supplier relationships and two-man delivery infrastructure. And from that point of view it was very successful, giving Dunelm exceptionally good online ordering and delivery capabilities.
Q.9. Does the company benefit from network effects?
NO Dunelm’s products do not become better just because more people use them.
Q.10. Does the company benefit from unique and hard to replicate assets?
YES Dunelm’s most valuable assets are its brand and its culture as a long-time family business.
Although people won’t willingly pay more to buy Dunelm branded pillows, the brand is useful as a way to lower search costs for customers.
In other words, if someone’s thinking about buying curtains, they might just do a web search for “Dunelm near me” rather than “curtain shop near me”. So being synonymous with your product is incredibly valuable, as companies like Domino’s and Victrex know only so well.
As for Dunelm’s family business culture, the company was managed by the founding couple, Bill and Jean Adderley, from 1979 to 1996. After that their son, Will, who grew up working in the business, took over. Will was CEO until 2016, giving the company a near 40-year period as a family-run business.
Will is currently on the board as deputy chairman and, when combined with his mother’s shares, the Adderley family still own more than 50% of the company.
This history and ongoing founding family involvement can have various benefits. The primary benefit is that founders often have a longer time horizon than hired managers.
Founders often think about handing their business onto the next generation, which invariably involves thinking about how to build the company over decades. This typically precludes high risk strategies, such as using debt to fund excessive growth or acquisitions.
Another frequent benefit of long-time family-run businesses is a desire to have the right people in the business and to treat them as more than just transactional cogs in a corporate machine.
With Dunelm this showed up in the short-lived tenure of Will Adderly’s replacement, who became CEO in 2016 and left for “personal reasons” in 2017.
In reality the new CEO was generally thought to be a bad fit with Dunelm’s culture, and it’s hard for a CEO to win an argument with a deputy chairman who owns 44% of the company’s shares. It also shows up in Dunelm’s employees, many of whom have been with the company for decades.
Having said all that, a strong brand and family-like culture focused on the long-term are not golden tickets to a bright future, as John Lewis has found out in recent years. Dunelm still has to outwork and outthink the competition, but if it can do that then the odds are at least skewed in its favour.
Q.11. Is the company the market leader in its core market?
YES It’s the leading homewares retailer having overtaken John Lewis in 2012. This should give Dunelm some economies of scale advantages, and being #1 is a social proof which helps increase trust in the business.
Q.12. Does the company benefit from switching costs?
NO Customers can easily buy curtains or cushions from another retailer.
Defensiveness: Is this a defensive company? NO
D.1. Does the company have limited financial leverage?
YES Dunelm currently has outstanding debts of almost £320 million, the vast majority of which are future store lease liabilities. That’s about four-times its average earnings over the last ten years of £84 million, which is a very low level of leverage for a store-based retailer where lease liabilities are often double-digit multiples of average earnings.
The reason for Dunelm’s low leverage are twofold: First, it doesn’t borrow very much from banks or other lenders. Second, its store lease agreements are very short.
Almost two-thirds of Dunelm’s store lease agreements end within the next five years, whereas some retailers and restaurant chains frequently sign leases lasting ten or twenty years (and in the case of M&S, it has one store lease extending more than 200 years into the future).
These short leases give Dunelm much greater flexibility with its store estate, which is incredibly useful and a material advantage in a world where online shopping has already become the default for most people.
In other words, Dunelm can close or move stores relatively quickly with relative ease, whereas retailers with 20-year or 200-year leases will have to pay a king’s ransom to get out of those lease agreements early.
D.2. Is the company’s core market defensive?
NO Although the homewares market has performed exceptionally well during the pandemic, that’s down to luck rather than any intrinsic defensive or counter-cyclical qualities of the market itself. So in a normal recession, people will typically put off buying curtains and cushions until the economy improves.
For example, Dunelm’s like-for-like sales (which strips out the effect of new store openings) declined by more than 8% during the 2005/2006 slowdown and by almost 10% during the 2009 financial crisis.
However, during that time the company was still increasing its store count, and that more than offset sales declines in individual stores, leading to an overall increase in revenues. Even so, the underlying homewares market is still cyclical.
D.3. Is the core market expected to grow over the next ten years?
YES Dunelm’s core homewares and furniture markets are both very mature and are expected to grow more or less in line with inflation over the next five years or so. This ignores 2020 and 2021, which are unusual because of the pandemic.
The market is expected to have returned to its pre-pandemic size and growth trend by 2022.
D.4. Is the core market relatively free from regulatory risk?
YES No abrupt regulatory changes are expected in either homewares, furniture or retail in general.
D.5. Is the core market unlikely to be disrupted?
NO Retail is currently going through a period of disruption thanks to the World Wide Web and, more recently, smart phones.
However, this transition is now largely over, with almost all competitive retailers having sophisticated online capabilities, from websites and apps to the infrastructure necessary to handle deliveries, returns and click and collect (for those retailers that still have stores).
I think this disruptive period for retail will be over quite soon, but for now I think the pace of change is still fast enough to call it disruptive.
D.6. Is the company free from significant concentration risk?
YES Dunelm isn’t overly dependent on any one customer, employee or supplier.
D.7. Is the company free from significant product or patent risk?
YES Dunelm doesn’t rely on patents to any meaningful extent and it isn’t dependent on just a handful of key products. And products which do need to be updated tend to have minor updates rather than ground-up redesigns (it seems unlikely that there will be any great need to “reinvent” the curtain anytime soon).
D.8. Is the company largely unaffected by commodity prices?
YES Although commodities are used in the production of Dunelm’s products, they don’t materially impact selling prices from one year to the next.
Value: Is this company good value? NO
V.1. Is the company free from problems which are likely to materially damage its long-term prospects?
YES The pandemic is the obvious problem which is having a seriously damaging effect on most retailers. And perhaps over the next year or two it will begin to negatively impact Dunelm seriously as well.
For now though, Dunelm has performed surprisingly well during the pandemic, with revenues from July, August and September up an incredible 37% over last year. Although Dunelm is a quality business and was performing well before lockdown, its success through the pandemic is almost entirely down to luck.
With people spending much more time at home, it was inevitable that many of them would want to improve the environment in which they were suddenly spending the vast majority of their time. And for those working from home, the need for a decent desk and chair (at the very least) would be a worthwhile investment.
Of course, there’s a chance that the pandemic is just pulling demand for homewares from the future into the present, and that Dunelm will see weak sales in 2021 and perhaps 2022. But either way, I don’t see the pandemic or anything else as an obvious risk to the company’s longer-term prospects.
V.2. Is the company likely to grow over the next 20 years (and if so, how fast)?
YES It seems extremely likely that people will still want to buy cushions, clocks and curtains 20 years from now, in approximately the same volume per person as they do today.
On that basis, and as I’ve already said, it seems reasonable to expect Dunelm’s underlying markets to grow in line with inflation, or around 2% per year if the Bank of England can keep inflation near their target. On that basis I think growth of 2% per year for Dunelm is a reasonable low level expectation.
In addition, Dunelm has said for a long time that it thinks it can operate 200 superstores in the UK without excessively cannibalising sales from other nearby Dunelm stores. I expect Dunelm to reach 200 stores within 10 years from its current count of 173. That’s an increase of 16%, or just under 2% per year.
So if we combine like-for-like growth of 2% with store rollout growth of 2%, then perhaps Dunelm can manage growth in the region of 4% per year for the next decade.
On top of that the company wants to get people to shop more often and put more things in their basket when they do. So perhaps Dunelm can take add another 1% or so to its overall growth rate (a very ballpark guess).
On that basis I think it’s reasonable to assume that Dunelm can grow by around 5% per year on average over the next ten years. For comparison, that isn’t far off the 7% growth rate it achieved over the last decade (ignoring the impact of the 2020 dividend suspension) when its store rollout program was far more aggressive than it will be over the next decade.
A 5% growth rate over 10 years will produce total growth of almost 65%. That would take the dividend from a pre-pandemic high of 28p to almost 46p, assuming similar growth across revenues, earnings and dividends.
Over the ten years from 2030 to 2040 I have even less idea what might happen. Perhaps Dunelm will expand internationally, but who knows?
If Dunelm sticks to the UK, it seems reasonable that Dunelm might grow in line with inflation, plus perhaps another 1% per year for population and disposable income growth, giving it a growth rate beyond the next ten years of 3% (again, obviously a ballpark figure).
V.3. Do you think this investment is likely to outperform over the next ten years?
NO I like Dunelm. I think it’s a quality business which is likely to continue growing for many years to come. However, at its current price I don’t think it’s likely to outperform the market over the next ten years, and its dividend yield is a little too low for my liking. More specifically:
Dunelm has one of the lowest stock screen ranks of any of the model portfolio’s holdings. It’s ranked 79th out of more than 200 companies, which isn’t bad, but it’s 28th out of 34 holdings in the portfolio.
This low-ish rank is mostly due to Dunelm’s high PE10 and PD10 ratios. These are 33 and 71 respectively, which are above my preferred maximums of 30 and 60. If the dividend hadn’t been suspended then these ratios would still be relatively high for a company with somewhat pedestrian growth prospects.
The shares also seem to offer relatively weak value from a dividend yield plus dividend growth point of view. Here’s why:
If Dunelm reinstated its dividend at the 2019 level of 28p, then the shares would have a dividend yield of just 2% at their current price of 1,342p. A 2% yield is a little low for my liking, but a 2% yield might be okay for a company that can grow at 8% or more per year over the next twenty years.
But, as I’ve already said, my ballpark estimate for Dunelm’s growth rate is 5% over the next decade and 3% beyond that.
A 2% yield plus a 5% growth rate gives an expected total return of 7%, which is a bit weak and no better than the UK market’s long run rate of return.
Even worse, if Dunelm grows its dividend by 5% annually for ten years then its dividend will reach 46p in 2030. If the shares stayed exactly where they are today, then in that 2030 scenario they’d have a dividend yield of 3.4%.
A dividend yield of 3.4% is nothing special, especially if Dunelm’s growth rate has slowed to 3% by that point.
So for me, there’s a real risk that even if Dunelm performs well as a company over the next decade, its share price might not increase significantly or even at all from where it is today.
This is similar to the situation from mid-2013 to mid-2016, when Dunelm’s share price was sometimes above 1,000p. Back in 2013 Dunelm’s dividend was 16p, giving the company a dividend yield of just 1.6%.
Investors were clearly optimistic about Dunelm’s future, but they were too optimistic and had to wait almost seven years to see any capital gains at all.
In contrast, Dunelm’s shares fell as low as 500p in 2018 as the company worked through the Worldstores acquisition and other headwinds. At that point the dividend yield was more than 5%, a far more attractive yield especially when combined with a high quality business.
And let’s not forget, from 500p Dunelm’s investors have seen an almost 200% capital gain. So as always, valuation matters, even for high quality businesses.
Final Decision: Are you happy to own this company at this price?
NO Dunelm is a high quality business which I’m happy to own. However, at more than 1,300p I don’t think the shares are good value for money.
On that basis, and somewhat reluctantly, I removed Dunelm from the model portfolio and my personal portfolio a few days ago.
The proceeds will, as usual, be reinvested into a new holding next month.
I sold Dunelm too, about £12 and after it went higher. I doubled my money but clearly not very good at market timing when it comes to selling. Any tips?
John Kingham says
Hi Andrew, unfortunately I have no tips on market timing as I have no idea what the market’s going to do tomorrow, next week or next month.
As a value investor all I do is try to buy companies when prices appear low, sell when prices appear high and leave the market timing to someone else.
About the closest I come to market timing is to look at FTSE 100 and 250 valuations using CAPE (cyclically adjusted PE), but even that’s a valuation tool rather than a market timing tool.
Good move John, this will quite possibly end up at 650-700p again at some stage.
If you look at just the simple amount of profit against the revenue, you can see a declining relative return.
2016 rev of £880M yielded profit of £128M
2020 rev of £1,057M yielded profit of £109M
Declining margins one can conclude — in a sense good company but running to stand still in a saturated market?
John Kingham says
Hi LR, perhaps, but for me the key issue is size. Dunelm is already market leader and is nearing the end of the store rollout phase which has driven growth for 40 years.
Yes, it could move further into furniture, or open “Dunelm Express” stores in high streets, or grow via the online channel, but that’s speculation and existing competitors in those areas (e.g. IKEA) aren’t going to just roll over.
As you say, Dunelm might end up back significantly below 1,000p at some point, and then I might be interested again as a higher yielding stock.
John, excellent analysis. Thank you for sharing.
PS: I find your forecast of future clock sales quite brave in a world of smart phones, watches, homes, etc.
John Kingham says
No problem Ken. I mentioned clocks because I saw some YouTube videos where women (I’m not being sexist, it was literally women) walked around various Dunelm stores eyeing up all the goodies on the shelves. One video showed an aisle which seemed to be mostly dedicated to wall clocks in 101 different styles.
So my guess is that wall clocks are decorative first and functional second, so they’ll probably still be around in 100 years. Although having said that, I think Dunelm could survive without clocks.
Good work. I like your approach to investing and one that many can learn from. I see and hear about too often retail investors buying and holding no matter what and never regularly reassessing their investments. Even worse, some try to trade in and out too frequently just by looking at charts which I think is just voodoo science.
I fall into this category as well so am trying to change (although I try to have the bulk of my investments in diversified funds so no real need to monitor that regularly). I belatedly sold off my Vodafone/VZ shares recently after reading your research. Had held since 2013. Total annualized return ended up being a bit under 2% so not brilliant. But glad to come out of it with a gain at least.
I also trimmed my position in Fevertree (still like it longer term but had too much of it for my liking plus overlap with the holding being in Smithson which i hold). Finally, I completely exited out of my holding in the REIT Safestore (self-storage) to lock-in a doubling in return after just a few years.
Would be interested in your thoughts on Safestore. My rationale for selling was due to a number of factors:
– For a REIT it is very expensive at around 23x PE (earnings excluding property value gains and depreciation to get a true earnings picture).
– Related to the above, has a lot of growth priced in even with earnings growing 10% in recent years. There is competition and it seems there is quite a lot of turnover in customers. So sceptical of long term sustained customer base.
– Trades at a premium to NAV of around 70%, again related to the above. The value of the properties it holds is based on the current cap rates for self-storage and there is an argument to be made that the portfolio is worth more than the individual parts. But still, 70% feels overly excessive.
– I don’t like the commercial real estate risk I am taking on because once the self-storage market peaks and falls, the property value is essentially determined by cap rates for the general commercial property market which would reduce the value of the properties. Also the sectors valuations are very uncertain given we have brought forward a lot of the trends in moving away from bricks and mortar stores.
John Kingham says
Unfortunately I don’t have much to say about Safestore as I don’t invest in REITs. REIT accounts have various REIT-specific factors that I don’t have the time or inclination to get into, so for now I just ignore REITs entirely.
Other than that, the only thing I know about the commercial real estate market is that UK rents seem to have been falling for years as retail goes online and office workers work from home or from lower cost cities or countries.