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LNT looks to stores to refine assortments

Clifton, NJ — Linens 'n Things chairman and ceo Norman Axelrod said last week that the company is "positive" about the second quarter, but acknowledged that "it is a more uncertain period than we're usually used to talking about."

Speaking to analysts during a conference call to discuss first quarter results, he pointed to four key initiatives adopted in 2002 that the company hopes will improve its performance over the long haul:

  • Maintaining target in-stock levels and increasing investment in core basic merchandise;

  • Putting more people on the floor to improve service;

  • Assorting more merchandise by region;

  • Adding more stores to the nearly year-old inventory ownership program, which gives store managers control over a menu of key merchandise skus.

The company will add 30 to 40 stores per quarter to the ownership program during the second and third quarters. Although the ownership stores overall are performing better than the chain, Linens 'n Things also added more field level support to train and develop store managers.

"This is clearly a long-term initiative that will take time to fully implement," Axelrod said.

"There's still some inconsistency. We're seeing very big increases in some stores and moderate increases in others."

Selling hours on the floor are up 10 percent compared to last year as part of the chain's pursuit of better service, said cfo Bill Giles. That metric will begin to anniversary in the second quarter.

The company's linens business remains weaker than its "things" business. However, management believes that expansion of its program to assortment, regionally combined with upcoming introductions of new merchandise from Waverly and Nautica, will help address the problem.

The average transaction rose in the first quarter after previously trending flat, Giles said. The gain came from more purchases of higher price point items rather than additional units added to the basket.

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