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Ross, TJX win the month

 New York – August was a good month to be Ross Stores or TJX, but it wasn’t much fun for anybody else.

The off-price pair were the only retailers on HTT’s month chain sales index to generate strong comp store gains for the month. Kohl’s also reported a positive comp – but barely, up just 0.2%.

Ross Stores’ comps grew 6.0% with a low double-digit increase in home. "We are very pleased with our better-than-expected sales gains in August, which benefited from healthy back-to-school traffic during the month. Said Michael Balmuth, vice chairman, president and ceo.

Home was on fire at TJX, which saw its consolidated comps rise 5.0% in August. Home comps were up 9% at both MarMaxx and HomeGoods, the company said.

“Home is doing well across the board,” said Sherry Lang, senior vp of investor and public relations. The company sees big opportunities in the department for the second half of the year, she said, “as it plays a more significant role in the second and thirds quarters.”

Elsewhere, home wasn’t much of a contributor, and for some retailers it was a drag on overall sales.

Such was the case at J.C. Penney Inc., where comps fell 7.9%, in line with the company’s guidance. While Penney executives have since spring characterized the home department as “stabilizing,” it still remained the weakest business division last month. Home also knocked Internet comps down 4.9%, the company said.

At Target, where comps declined 2.9%, home comps were down in the high single digit range, with domestics “weaker than average,” according to Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and ceo.

Overall, average transaction was down, but customer traffic in August was essentially flat to last year, he said, “marking a meaningful improvement from second quarter trends. We’re pleased with these results, which we believe reflect the resilience of both our guests and our strategy in a challenging environment.”

The department was also a problem at Stein Mart, which reported a comp decline of 8.9%. Sales in home and ladies sportswear were “the most difficult” during the month, according to the company.

Home was not singled out for comment at Kohl’s, where the 0.2% comp gain was driven by “improvements across most businesses,” according to Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and ceo. “On a regional basis, the southeast and south-central benefited from a later tax-free event this year and were the most improved regions, while the southwest continued to lead in overall performance with a double-digit comparable store sales increase. We believe this momentum will continue as we open 37 new stores later this month, mostly in former Mervyn’s locations, which will put us in a stronger position to be the retailer of choice in the southwest region, particularly in California,” he said.

Fred’s comps dipped 1.4%, falling below expectations.

"Following a strong start to the month, boosted by tax-free holidays in several states, sales in the latter part of August slowed considerably, especially during the final week,” said Bruce Efird, ceo. “Relative to last year's results, August sales also reflected a greater-than-expected impact of the first-of-the-month calendar shift this year and the benefit last year of pre-Labor Day weekend sales. Those factors should reverse in September, so we continue to look for third quarter comparable store sales that are even to up 2%."

Efird noted that Fred's also will open its first "pilot store of the future" in September, with a new look and enhanced product mix.

Across the retail industry, comps for August fell 2.7%, an improvement over drops of 5.1% and 5.0% in June and July, respectively, according to the Johnson Redbook Same-Store Index. Among the 33 retailers on the index, just 24% posted positive comps.

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