Will Bed Bath & Beyond sink like Sears or rise like Best Buy? The company has been on a rollercoaster of crises, including a meme-stock rise and crash. Its latest financial report comes Thursday.

Will Bed Bath & Beyond sink like Sears or rise like Best Buy?

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Will Bed Bath & Beyond sink like Sears or coast like Best Buy? The company that's been on a roller coaster of crises will present its latest financial update tomorrow. NPR's Alina Selyukh takes a look at how a once-celebrated home goods retailer lost its way.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: It's hard to overstate the wild ride of Bed Bath & Beyond on Wall Street.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Value spiked by nearly 300%.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: A more than 40% drop in one day.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Absolutely plunging as it shuts 150 stores, slashes its workforce.

SELYUKH: The rise and crash of a meme stock - people on Reddit and YouTube pumped money into Bed Bath this summer after their idol, activist investor Ryan Cohen, bought a stake in the company until suddenly he sold it, got out. Cue legal turmoil, then more shocking news - the death of the chain's chief financial officer days after he announced store closures, job cuts and financing for a turnaround. So what's next?

JAIME KATZ: There are a lot more questions than answers now.

SELYUKH: Jaime Katz is an analyst at Morningstar.

KATZ: You have an interim CEO. You have an interim CFO. The COO has been relieved of his duties.

SELYUKH: Chaos is a fairly recent state of being for Bed Bath & Beyond. Until recent years, the company seemed relatively steady, hoovering up competitors. In 2018, it had over 1,500 stores with a secret weapon that shoppers loved - and no, not the 20% off coupon. Unlike most retailers, Bed Bath let local managers choose what to sell in each store. Former exec Amy Laskin remembers one Miami visit.

AMY LASKIN: Right in the front, when you walk in the doors, there's this wild, brightly colored, Disney-themed stuff. It was so Miami. And I thought, this will never sell anywhere else.

SELYUKH: Laskin was a content marketing executive in the 2010s. This was a time of existential change. Mobile shopping was exploding. Amazon, Target, Wayfair put up formidable competition. Bed Bath & Beyond still searched for its online identity.

LASKIN: I would go into one meeting, and it would be, we need to be about home, more furniture. The next conversation would be, we need to be more competitive with Amazon. We need to be the destination with everything. And that's where those crazy new categories of merchandise came in.

SELYUKH: Like diamond jewelry for the wedding registry. Bed Bath & Beyond whipped up a dizzying website, but it kept running ads promoting physical stores.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Oh, this is called offline shopping. It's like online shopping, but in real life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Wait, so I can touch anything before I buy?

SELYUKH: This ad is from 2019, a year before the pandemic. Sales were dropping. A series of turnarounds began. A new CEO had a big idea. Bed Bath would declutter and try a strategy that worked like a charm at Target - introduce its own brands. What took Target years Bed Bath was trying to do in months during the pandemic. Shoppers weren't sold on the unfamiliar labels, says analyst Katz.

KATZ: This might have been a different story had people gone into the stores and seen the new brands.

SELYUKH: But this was time to rake in online sales. In fact, it was a boon for home goods - kitchen gadgets, air fryers, cozy blankets. Bed Bath & Beyond missed out. Its turnaround rush made the supply chain problems worse, leaving shelves empty. It was a bit slow on the curbside pickup, its website still a clunker. Now the new new leadership is racing to bring back the national brands, hoping for a holiday season miracle.

Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

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