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Department stores take comp lead in February

New York - The major department stores got their new fiscal calendars off to a strong start in February, with most of them posting mid- to high-single digit comp increases, followed by off-price chains and discounters, which saw more modest low-single digit gains in comps for the month.

Of the 13 key retailers tracked monthly by HTT, only two - regional department store chains Dillard's and The Bon-Ton Stores - suffered losses, although only minor declines of 1.0% and 0.5%, respectively.

The home category could take credit for just a few retailers' successes in February, when shoppers opened their pocketbooks more often for apparel and accessories.

In an unexpected turn of events, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Stein Mart, which operates 264 units nationwide, took the lead in comp results, posting an 8.2% increase. The retailer noted that all of its major categories posted positive sales comparisons for the month. The strongest performers were ladies' career sportswear, men's sportswear and the home category, and geographically, its monthly sales were strongest in the Southeast and Northeast.

All divisions reported comp increases at Plano, Texas-based JCPenney, which generated the month's second highest comp gain at 6.4%. Driving the performance were woman's apparel and accessories, children's apparel, and fine jewelry. The company also credited it "compelling Valentine's Day gift assortments for all ages, lifestyles, and budgets, fresh spring merchandise and industry-leading customer service" with aiding February sales results.

Home along with fine jewelry and children's took the lead online at, where sales were said to be strong throughout the month, increasing 11.8%.

"This reflects enhancements to the merchandise mix on as well as ongoing improvements to the online shopping experience," JCP explained.

Macy's Inc.'s 5.8% comp increase was helped by a significant 30.9% increase in online sales from and combined.

"Consumer reaction to new spring merchandise has been encouraging," said Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo.

Cincinnati-based Macy's same-store sales in the combined March-and-April period are expected to be up by approximately 3%, consistent with full-year guidance. March same-store sales are planned to be down, with April planned to be up, given a calendar shift in which the pre-Easter period and a planned cosmetics promotion fall into April this year versus March last year.

Home was among the lines of business that achieved low- to -mid-single digit increases in February at Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl's, said Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and ceo.

"All lines of business reported positive comparable store sales for the month," he added, citing men's, women's and children's at the period's best, outperforming the company with high-single digit comp gains.

Not even the impact of inclement weather during February's first two weeks could dampen comp results for general merchandise 23-state chain Duckwall-ALCO.

Rich Wilson, president and ceo of the Abilene, Kan.-based retailer, said its performance "represents a solid start to the new fiscal year. We continue to achieve positive momentum as a result of several key initiatives that include enhancing the shopping experience for ALCO customers, improving product selection, and integrating the ‘Best Choice' and ‘Always Save' private label brands."

Off-price competitors Ross Stores and TJX Companies each reported 3.0% comps

For Pleasanton, Calif.-based Ross, these results exceeded its original forecast for a flat to 1% increase.

"While we are encouraged by our solid start to the year, the much more important March/April holiday selling period is still ahead. As a result, our forecast for same store sales to be down 2% to 3% in March and up 4% to 5% in April remains unchanged," noted Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and ceo. He cited dresses and juniors as the month's strongest merchandise areas.

Framingham, Mass.-based TJX Cos. continued to see its customer traffic grow in February, "signaling to us that great value remains a top priority for consumers. We're pleased to be off to a good start in the new year, well positioned to capitalize on the great fashions and brands that we see in the marketplace," said Carol Meyrowitz, ceo.

Comps in the home area at Minneapolis-based Target Corp. declined in the low- to mid-single digit range. Housewares and seasonal were the category's strongest performers, but decorative home was the softest.

Overall, Target's February comparable-store sales were in line with expectations, said Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and ceo.

Because the Easter holiday will be three weeks later than last year, "which is expected to cause pre-Easter sales to move from March into April this year," he added, Target expects a mid- to upper-single-digit declines in its March comparable-store sales, followed by a mid-teens increase in its April comparable-store sales. These two results would lead to a low single-digit increase in Target's comparable-store sales for the combined March and April 2011 period.

At Little Rock, Ark.-based Dillard's, sales in the home and furniture category and the men's category were significantly below trend during the four-week period.

Bon-Ton Stores was "pleased with customer response to our spring merchandise, despite February sales being hampered by snow storms in our markets throughout the month," said Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president - merchandising.

Businesses that performed well at the York, Pa. regional department store included soft and hard home and furniture as well as fine jewelry, shoes, ladies' better sportswear and men's sportswear.



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