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March ends like lion with same-store drops

David Gill -- Home Textiles Today, April 16, 2001

NEW YORK — In reporting Ames' sales results for the month of February, chairman and ceo Joe Ettore spoke of the necessity to meet what he called "the March challenge." Judging from Ames' March results, the chain failed — in a big way — to meet its boss' call to arms.

But Ames was not alone.

The major U.S. retail chains went into March like a lamb and came out like a diseased snail. Among the chains tracked by Home Textiles Today in its monthly chain sales report, 13 (or about half) posted same-store sales declines last month.

Ames was the top loser in the comp-store race, reporting a 13.4 percent plummet in its same store numbers. Dillard's was a close second, toppling out of March with 13 percent drop in comp-store checkouts.

Ettore said, "March sales were negatively affected by poor weather. It is a fact we have long known that our core customer shops by the weather and not by the calendar.

"We estimate that the impact of heavy snowstorms on total sales in our operating areas in March was approximately $24.5 million. Had it not been for that impact, our comps would have been improved by 6.7 percent," he continued.

Only four chains in Home Textiles Today's listing managed to beat the 5 percent mark in same-store sales gains in March. Topping this list was Dollar General with a 6.5 percent increase, followed by ShopKo stores (up 6.1 percent), Gottschalks (a 5.3 percent increase) and May Co. (up 5.2 percent).

Along with these generally sour figures, the month of March had a topsy-turvy quality to it. JCPenney stores actually recorded a same-store gain last month, boosting its number by 2.7 percent. The company attributed its gain to strong sales in home furnishings, women's apparel and women's accessories.

In the process, the department store giant (which has posted mostly red comp-store figures for several years) actually beat Kohl's, a consistent champion in this listing. Kohl's, in fact, posted its first same-store loss in many years, shedding 1.9 percent from its comp-store results last month.

Larry Montgomery, Kohl's ceo, offered this spin on what was a shocking result for the chain: "While we are disappointed with March sales, the spring buying period spans both March and April. We have always looked at these two months combined. We feel very good about our spring merchandise assortment."

All three of the national mass-merchant chains finished March in the black in same-store sales, but the gains were unspectacular. Target led the mass merchants with a 3.4 percent pickup, followed by Wal-Mart's gain of 3.3 percent and Kmart's 1 percent increase.

JCPenney's spurt of same-store prosperity contrasted with Sears' March result, a 5.3 percent comp-store drop. "March retail sales fell below expectations, with the slowing economy and colder than anticipated weather having an impact on both our hardlines and softlines businesses," said Sears' chairman and ceo, Alan Lacy.

May Co.'s strong March was easily better than that of its closest competition, Federated Department Stores. The latter limped saw a 3.2 percent decline in its comp-store sales.

"We are very disappointed with March sales," said James Zimmerman, Federated's chairman and ceo. "Weather was a factor in many parts of the country, but we think deteriorating consumer confidence in the wake of current economic uncertainty is also having a significant impact on our sales."

MARCH SALES FOR MAJOR RETAILERS - Period ending 4/7/01a(sales in $000s)

COMPANY 2001 SALES 2000 SALES TOTAL % CHANGE SAME STORE % CHANGE
Ames $304.1 $346.3 -12.2 -13.4
Costcob 3,080.0 2,830.0 8.8 3.0
Dillards 720.4 826.0 -12.8 -13.0
Dollar Generalc 461.3 384.0 20.1 6.5
Elder-Beerman 54.3 53.7 1.1 -0.8
Family Dollar 326.0 291.5 11.8 1.0
Federated 1,431.0 1,520.0 -5.9 NA
Dept. stores 1,317.0 1,348.0 -2.3 -3.2
Gottschalks 64.1 49.1 30.5 5.3
JCPenney 2,872.0 2,877.0 -0.2 NA
Dept. stores 1,212.0 1,196.0 1.3 2.7
Catalog 355.0 396.0 -10.4 NA
Kmartd 3,132.0 3,156.0 -0.8 1.0
Kohls 609.0 538.6 13.1 -1.9
May Co.e 1,237.3 1,119.8 10.5 5.2
Pier 1 Imports 122.9 113.6 8.2 2.5
Ross Stores 272.0 261.0 4.2 -3.0
Saks Inc. 546.5 589.8 -7.3 -6.9
Dept. stores 306.1 330.6 -7.4 -4.4
Sears U.S. sales 2,563.4 2,701.0 -5.1 -5.3
ShopKo 295.9 272.3 8.7 3.1
ShopKo stores 227.3 NA 7.7 6.1
Pamida 68.6 NA 11.8 -7.6
Target Corp. 3,205.0 2,956.0 8.4 2.4
Target 2,588.0 NA 11.3 3.4
Mervyns 330.0 NA -0.9 -0.1
Marshall Fields 262.0 NA -3.3 -3.3
TJX 890.0 835.0 6.6 -1.0
Value City 207.1 183.1 13.1 -5.4
Value City stores 137.1 138.6 -1.1 -6.5
Wal-Martc 18,770.0 16,868.0 11.3 3.5
Wal-Mart stores NA NA NA 3.3
Sams Club 2,587.0 2,431.0 6.4 4.1
Nine weeks to date
Ames 533.9 573.9 -7.0 -10.1
Costcob NA NA NA NA
Dillards 1,344.2 1,468.1 -8.4 -8.0
Dollar Generalc 828.5 691.2 19.9 5.7
Elder-Beerman 94.0 92.8 1.3 -0.2
Family Dollar NA NA NA NA
Federated 2,579.0 2,732.0 -5.6 NA
Dept. stores 2,396.0 2,432.0 -1.5 -2.5
Gottschalks 109.3 83.2 31.4 6.2
JCPenney 5,088.0 5,113.0 -0.5 NA
Dept. stores 2,068.0 2,088.0 -1.0 0.5
Catalog 628.0 704.0 -10.8 NA
Kmartd 5,579.0 5,569.0 0.2 1.9
Kohls 943.5 799.0 18.1 1.3
May Co.e 2,174.3 2,028.8 7.2 2.4
Pier 1 Imports NA NA NA NA
Ross Stores 453.0 437.0 3.7 -3.0
Saks Inc. 960.7 1,004.2 -4.3 -4.5
Dept. stores 545.1 577.5 -5.6 -4.0
Sears U.S. sales 4,530.8 4,697.6 -3.6 -3.9
ShopKo 543.6 NA 10.3 4.6
ShopKo stores 419.6 NA 9.6 8.0
Pamida 124.0 NA 12.4 -7.6
Target Corp. 5,565.0 NA 8.0 2.0
Target 4,516.0 NA 11.0 3.2
Mervyns 565.0 NA -2.3 -1.6
Marshall Fields 438.0 NA -3.9 -3.9
TJX 1,537.0 1,440.0 6.7 -1.0
Value City 347.0 289.3 19.9 -5.9
Value City stores 230.1 224.1 2.7 -7.1
Wal-Martc 33,655.0 30,184.0 11.5 3.9
Wal-Mart stores NA NA NA 3.6
Sams Club 4,578.0 4,269.0 7.2 4.8

a: Reporting periods vary from store to store. Total store sales reflect the fact that fiscal year 2000 was a 53-week year, as opposed to fiscal 1999, which was 52 weeks.

b: For the period ending April 8.

c: For the period ending April 6.

d: For the period ending April 4.

e: Excludes sales from stores that have been closed and not replaced.

TOP 3

STORE % CHG.
Dollar General 6.5%
ShopKo Stores 6.1
Gottschalks 5.3

BOTTOM 3

STORE % CHG.
Ames -13.4
Dillards -13.0
Pamida -7.6

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