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J.C. Penney Reports Uptick in Home

J. C. Penney Company Inc. said the pulse of its home business started to pick up during the second quarter, particularly in the bath, housewares and gift categories.

"It is fair to say that home has been soft for most home retailer for now over a year … but we're starting to see some life in all aspects of our home business, but the strength is still in our bath area, and in housewares and in gifts," said Mike Ullman, chairman and ceo, during the 1,048-unit department store's quarterly conference call last week.

Big-ticket home categories, noted president and cmo Ken Hicks, experienced "softer trends."

In general, JCP's private brands continue to outperform the store average, benefiting from the success of newer brands, such as the retailer's own Studio by Home Collection.

The back-to-school season, while still early in the game, is "off to a good start." While apparel and shoes for kids, teens and college-bound students is front and center in the assortment, the Dorm Shop is seeing expanded product category offerings, especially in bedding, Hicks said.

The channel that continues to be JCP's fastest growing is its website, www.jcp.com, albeit having increased 17.4% in the second quarter compared to the 24.5% increase the site experienced at the same time last year.

Overall direct sales decreased 2.3% for the second quarter, "below our expectations, primarily as result of challenges in catalog," Hicks said. "This was impacted by soft sales in our spring and summer big book. But we are encouraged by early results of our fall and winter book and recent sales trend in the home category."

Real estate developments over the quarter remain in line with long-term plans. JCP opened 15 new/relocated stores in the quarter, with 13 of those in the off-mall format. Traffic in these latter formats is seeing strong traffic and are "off to a good start," Hicks said.

During the third quarter, JCP will open 28 new/relocated stores, with 22 grand openings scheduled Oct. 5. This will bring the company's total new store count to 50 — "in line with plans we announced at our April analyst meeting," Hicks said. "We continue to plan for 50 new/relocated stores annually for the next four years to bring the total to 250 new/relocated stores by 2011."

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