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Value chains advance   

New York – All you need to know about September retail performance is that the top gainers in comparative store sales – the top three – were all warehouse membership clubs: Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s.

Even the corporate comp gain of 1.4% by Wal-Mart – considered the big winner today – was mainly driven by the Sam’s boost of 4.1%. U.S. Wal-Mart store comps rose just 0.8% over Sept. 2006.

The only other retailers that reported a 1.0% comp gain or better, among the 16 publicly traded retailers tracked by Home Textiles Today, were off-pricer TJX, upscale discounter Target and small-scale discounter Fred’s.

Where were the department stores? Check the Losers table, where Dillard’s, Bon-Ton, and Stein Mart each posted 7% or steeper comp declines, while the bigger chains also sang the blues: JCPenney, down 4.6%, Kohl’s, down 3.2%, and Macy’s, off 2.7%.

September was sluggish indeed, with the August back-to-school same-store surge of 3.0% followed by a rather dismal 1.1% comp uptick in the latest month, according to the Johnson Redbook.

A bit more than half the 52 companies surveyed by Redbook reported at least a minor comp gain. Still, aside from the 1.7% decline for the month of April 2007, September’s dip was the worst performance in 12 months. The comp gain a year ago in September 2006 had been 4.1%, Redbook reported.

As far as merchandise categories, the message at Wal-Mart was clear: “Overall, apparel and home remain soft,” the company said. Similarly, at JCPenney, “Sales were softest in the home and children's divisions,” said chairman and ceo Mike Ullman.

Macy’s said the weather was warm and last September’s strong comp performance was too much for this month to overcome – even though chairman, president and ceo Terry Lundgren remarked, "Consumers responded positively to the launch of our exclusive Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's in September.”

Department store operator Dillard’s, with 330 locations in 29 states, reported, “The sales performance trend in the juniors' and children's apparel category and the home and other category were significantly below trend.”

There was good news here and there for home.

“Cosmetics, hard home and soft home were the best performing categories,” said Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president - merchandising at 279-unit department store operator Bon-Ton.

“The top-performing merchandise categories during September continued to be dresses, with same-store sales up about 20%, and home, with gains in the mid single digits,” said Michael Balmuth, vice chairman, president and ceo of 869 store off-price operator Ross Stores.

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