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Home quiet in tepid August comps

New York - Sometimes known for its "dog days" doldrums, this August was not unkind to retailers, as department stores continued their comparable store sales turnaround, although at a slowing pace, while other formats maintained modest comp rates, with some scattered good news in the home department.

Of the 13 merchants tracked monthly by HTT, the month saw comp store gains by 10, slight comp declines by just two, and a flat performance by Dillards.

The 4.3% comp gain for August at Macy's Inc., squarely in the middle of the pack, featured a 22.2% year-over-year increase in online sales (the company includes its e-commerce in its comps). Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo, said back-to-school volume was marked by "great performances" in the chain's exclusive Madonna-licensed Material Girl brand for juniors and in American Rag, "our largest private brand in juniors and young men's." No mention was made of home.

It was a different story for home at Kohl's, which posted a 4.5% comp gain for the month. Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and ceo of the 1,067-unit mid-tier retailer, stated: "From a line-of-business perspective, the home business reported the strongest comparable store sales for the month." However, domestics may not have been a key part of that performance; the company's recorded sales message declared only, "Home was the strongest category, with a high single digit comp, led by small electrics and luggage."

JCPenney posted a 2.3% comp gain in August, about half the rate it achieved earlier this summer. The 1,107-unit retailer touted its big volume in apparel and fashion accessories as leading the way for August. The home division "had positive sale gains this month online," the company noted in its sales recording, which JCP said reflects its streamlining of jcp.com navigation and shopping tools.

Bon-Ton Stores saw a comp decline of 4.6%, which eroded the year-to-date comp gain to 0.8%, or half the 1.6% year-to-date level the company had reached two months ago. Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president - merchandising of the 278-store retailer did not mention soft home in his category report. He noted that although August sales were below expectations, "We had a much improved conversion to fall merchandise as compared with the prior year."

Dillards reported that "sales in the home and furniture category were significantly below trend," as it posted flat comps for August; the southern regional department store operator is tracking at a 1.0% comp gain year-to-date.

Food and healthcare-and-beauty were the merchandise segment champions at Target, as the upscale discounter saw August comps gain 1.8%. Target's home division scored middling gains; the company stated in its recorded sales message: "Comparable store sales in home increased in the low single digit range, led by sales in the back-to-school category, with the softest performance in decorative home."

The HomeGoods division of off-pricer TJX Cos. turned in a 5% comp gain for August -- on top of the "very strong" 9% comp gain by the unit in August 2009, pointed out Sherry Lang, TJX senior vp of global communications. Seriously sizzling, however, was the action at the big MarMaxx Group (Marshalls and T.J. Maxx), where home fashions were up 10% for the month, actually pulling along a weak apparel performance, to produce an overall divisional comp gain of 3%. The overall corporate comp gain for August: 2.0%.

Ross Stores comps climbed 5% in August, to maintain 2010's steady year-to-date 7.0% comp gain rate. "Dresses, home and shoes were the strongest merchandise categories," said Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and ceo. He added that Ross continues "to forecast same store sales of up 1% to 2% for September and flat to up 1% for October."

"Sales of new product in our reinvented home area were strong," reported soft lines specialty chain Stein Mart, where comps grew by an impressive 8.5% in August. This continued the trend as the 264-store chain re-establishes its home business. Stein Mart also noted that sales were helped "by a clearance event accelerated into the last weekend of the month."

With an August comp gain of 7.0%, warehouse membership club titan Costco completed its 2010 fiscal year with a consistent 7.0% comp increase. Adjusting for gasoline price inflation as well as foreign currency impacts, Costco U.S. division results were a 5.0% comp gain both for August and the full year.

Eastern regional club BJ's posted a 2.4% August comp gain - or 1.9% in merchandise comps when subtracting the impact of gasoline sales.

Neighborhood discounter Fred's Inc. kept adding incrementally to its 2010 comp sales gains, posting a 3.6% rise in August, resulting in its year-to-date comps edging up from 2.3% at the beginning of summer to 2.6% in the current results. At the same point in 2009, Fred's was tracking a y-t-d comp gain of just 0.5%.

Rural general merchandiser Duckwall-ALCO Stores saw comps slip 0.8% in August, with year-to-date comps at the 257-store chain down 3.5%, an improvement from early summer.

The 30-company Johnson Redbook Same-store Sales Index (SSI) for August was up 3.2%, which followed a 2.8% gain in July and a 3.1% gain in June. Two-thirds of the merchandisers posted positive comps for August, with warehouse clubs, up 6.4%, and department stores, up 3.3%, the leading formats. Overall results were temperate: there were no double-digit laggards, and only one double-digit gainer, apparel purveyor Limited, which scored a comp store gain of exactly 10.0%.

 

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