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Retailers fight February same-store headwinds

Home textiles shows some life in mid-tier

James Mammarella -- Home Textiles Today, March 5, 2009

New York– If the mid-market, softlines-driven retailers had trouble posting positive same-store sales gains in February, several mass merchandisers almost made it look easy. On the other hand, home textiles actually stood out as a better-performing category in some of the generally suffering department stores. 

JCPenney was notable among these. “Overall, home and family shoes were the best performing divisions in February,” the retailer said in its monthly sales statement, “with the home division benefiting from the shift of the company’s home sale event into the February reporting period.” 

Speaking broadly, JCP observed “that the sales mix in the period included a lower level of clearance merchandise than last year.” Penney reported a comp decline of 8.8% for the month, with total sales down 7.2% to $1.2 billion.
Soft home was also singled out among the best performing businesses at The Bon-Ton Stores Inc.where, with comps down 8.5% overall,Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president – merchandising, pointed to silver linings: “Valentine’s Day promotions and e-commerce business were very successful during the month, which resulted in our best performing businesses of ladies’ moderate sportswear, cosmetics, soft home, intimate apparel and accessories.”
Home was not mentioned as either outperforming or underperforming at department store chain Dillard’s, where comps slid 13% as total sales fell 14% to $497.7 million for February. 

Meanwhile, to the surprise of few, Walmart U.S. stores reported a sturdy 5.0% comp store gain, as total sales grew 8.1% to $20.1 billion for the month. “We believe falling gas prices significantly boosted household disposable income in February and therefore allowed for both more trips and more spending towards discretionary categories,” said Wal-Mart Stores Inc. vice chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright. While consumables and entertainment sales ruled the day, Walmart stated that home was also “positive.” 

Comps edged up 2.1% at sister division Sam’s Club, where, in odd contrast to Castro-Wright’s statement, the unit stated: “Sam’s Club sales for the four-week February period reflect the ‘stay at home’ trends prevalent in today’s economy.” 

Mass market rival Target continued in a mild funk with a 4.1% drop in comps, as total sales were absolutely flat at $4.373 billion, the company said. Target’s recorded statement said the home segment declined in the high single-digit range, with comps stronger in housewares and weaker in decorative home. 

Off-pricer Ross Stores continued to outpace its more massive counterpart TJX Cos.: Ross eked out a 1.0% comp gain on a 7.0% total sales hike to $476.0 million, while TJX saw flat comps as total sales contracted 2.0% to $1.2 billion (TJX was impacted somewhat by foreign currency fluctuations.) 

With comps off 8.5% and total sales down 9.3% to $1.6 billion in February, Macy’s Inc. pointed to a 16.2% gain in online sales as a bright spot. 

In its broad measure, the Johnson Redbook Same-store Sales Index (SSI) was down 0.2% for February, bettering the 1.8% drop in January and a 1.9% drop in December. Among the 36 chains covered, about two-thirds were in negative comp territory; eight posted double-digit negatives. Department stores as a group were down 9.8%, while the discounter group earned a 3.3% comp gain.

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