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Cecile Corral

Extra Week Plumps January Sales

NEW YORK - What a difference a week makes - 168 little hours.
     Last month's five-week calendar, compared to a four-week span in January 2012, resulted in strong sales growth for many retailers.
     Fred's Inc., which has taken some hits recently, racked up the highest comp benefit, posting 28.6% jump, including the fifth week. By comparison, an even four-week comparison resulted in flat comps.
     Bruce Efird, Fred's ceo, credited the addition of tobacco as well as programs to drive higher ticket amounts and continued increases in pharmacy script growth.
     "Discretionary sales at the end of the month were pressured to some extent by delays in finalizing tax forms for 2012 that prevented our customers from receiving early tax refunds," he said.
     In 2013, the regional retailer is expanding its specialty pharmacy and clinical services, and accelerating its pharmacy acquisitions, expanding new auto and hardware product initiatives, and rolling out new concepts such as the smaller drug and dollar stores.
     Another unexpected twist in January came from regional retailer Alco Stores, which enjoyed the month's second highest comp increase for five weeks - 21.4%. Still, Rich Wilson, president and ceo, described January sales as "somewhat soft."
     Cooler temperatures in January drove Alco's business in economy with the fiscal cliff, payroll tax increase, and other issues in the period," he said.
     Posting the third highest comp for January was Kohl's, which has had its share of troubles in recent months. All lines of business, except footwear, achieved double- digit comparable store sales increases. Footwear had a high single digit comp gain, according to Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and ceo.
     January at Macy's Inc. was "simply put ... an outstanding month," said Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo.
     The consolidated comp gain of 11.7% was driven by the company's strategy to flow-in more fresh fashion goods in December to serve post-holiday shoppers seeking new merchandise, he continued.
     "This exceptional January performance capped our company's third consecutive year of top line sales growth of more than $1 billion, which began in 2009 when we restructured Macy's into a national retailer with a local focus," Lundgren said.
     Online sales for macys.com and bloomingdales.com combined jumped 48.9% for the month.
     Among retailers with comp gains in the low single digits. Stein Mart posted the best - up 4.6%, thanks largely to strong sales in linens and men's furnishings.
     Target's 3.1% comp increase was in line with the retailer's expectations, according to chairman, president and ceo Gregg Steinhafel. Shoppers responded to clearance prices, but "continue to shop with discipline in the face of a slow economic recovery and new pressures, including recent payroll tax increases."
     Ross Stores reported a better than- expected 4.0% comp improvment; and TJX Cos. came in with 3.0% - "which was above our plan and achieved over 7% growth last year," noted Carol Meyrowitz, ceo. "Customer traffic once again drove this month's comp increases across the board."
     The Bon-Ton Stores reported a slight decline of 0.4%.
     Brendan Hoffman, president and ceo, said throughout January and the fourth quarter, the company managed inventory to drive more profitable sales and reduce the level of clearance inventory. The approach "should benefit our fourth quarter gross margin. We will continue with this strategy as we enter the new fiscal year."

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