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Retail sales get boost from home

New York — Though the month of April was somewhat soured by the shift of Easter to March this year, several retailers noted that the home category was one of the standout areas during a month that saw same-store sales increase only 1.9 percent.

Most retailers have previously mentioned that Easter would benefit March and that comparing both March and April together would create a more accurate sales picture.

Jo-Ann Fabrics was the sole retailer reporting a comp-store increase in the double digits for the month of April. With same-store comps swelling 19.6 percent in April and 13.5 percent for the first quarter, Jo-Ann attributed this strong sales performance in the first quarter to improved inventory in-stocks, and strong industry trends.

Pier 1 Imports placed second in comp-store sales increases with 9.0 percent. "We were pleased with sales in April," said Marvin Girouard, chairman and ceo. "Comp-store sales continue to be strong, and our new stores are outperforming projections. We are experiencing a very good mix of regular and promotional items sold, as well as increases in traffic throughout the United States and Canada."

Wal-Mart Stores grew its net sales 9.3 percent over the course of April, for a total of $17.6 billion. Both the Wal-Mart division and Sam's Club saw sales increases, with 9.3 percent and 9.7 percent increases, respectively. Comps were up for both as well, with Wal-Mart at 3.2 percent and Sam's at 4.0 percent. Wal-Mart's international division had sales of $2.95 billion, up 8.9 percent for the month.

As it celebrated its 100th anniversary last month, JCPenney experienced strong sales that more than offset the impact from the shift of Easter, the company said. Combining March and April, comp-store sales increased 6.1 percent.

ShopKo, which posted comp-store sales declines of 8.5 percent for the total company and 13.8 percent for Pamida, said that combining March and April would actually result in a 0.1 percent increase for comp-store sales.

May Department Stores saw same-store sales rise 3.9 percent, and noted that the shift of a major sales promotion from the last week in March to the first week in April helped sales for the month.

Target Corp., with a company comp-store increase of 0.4 percent, said that its Mervyn's division was negatively impacted by the recent openings of 12 Kohl's stores in the Houston area. Both total sales and comp-store sales slipped 4.2 percent for Mervyn's in the month.

Soft home for Target, however, did well companywide. The domestics category at Target Stores, home at Mervyn's, and textiles at Marshall Field's all placed among the top merchandise performers for the month.

In addition, the home area performed nicely for other retailers. For example, in the MarMaxx division of TJX Cos., which includes the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls chains, home fashions jumped 18 percent on a comparable-store basis.

At Ross Stores, the home businesses stood out, with comparable increases in the high teens. "We are very pleased with the solid same-store sales gains we achieved in April despite the negative effect of Easter moving from April last year into March this year," said Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and ceo.

JCPenney also listed home as one of the month's sales stars, along with men's and women's apparel.

Sears, on the other hand, said that most of its softlines merchandise categories were below expectations. "Comparable-store sales for the month were in line with our expectations of a low single-digit decline," said Alan Lacy, chairman and ceo. "We continue to be pleased with our inventory position as well as gross margin performance."

Combining March and April, Dillard's also saw the home area decrease 1 percent.

Home products at Dollar General, which include both hard and soft categories, decreased 1 percent for the month to 14 percent of sales.

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