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Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

Anna-Rama 2013: Slower Start, Faster Finish

LAS VEGAS - Equal parts merchandise show, business conference and full-tilt evangelical rally, the annual Anna's Linens Conference was held here earlier this month, giving the specialty retailer the chance to show its stuff once again.
     Alan Gladstone, founder, ceo and the universally acclaimed cultural ringleader of the 315-plus store operation, presided over the four-day event that brought together nearly 800 Anna's executives, store managers and suppliers.
     Acknowledging that the Anna's year had gotten off to a slower start as its budget customer struggled with increases payroll taxes and fuel prices, Gladstone told Home Textiles Today that things had picked up significantly since then. "We just had our biggest April ever and we're very optimistic about the rest of the year."
     Several factors have been driving the Anna's business over the past year, led by the opening of the Puerto Rico market one year ago this month. There are now seven stores on the island and all rank within the company's top 10 in sales. "Puerto Rico has exceeded our wildest expectations so far," he said, adding that Anna's will look to open additional units there this year.

Alan Gladstone, left, of Anna’s with Carl Goldstein of Lichtenberg at the Anna’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas in front of the Bellagio fountains. See pages 12-13 for more photos from Anna’s Vegas fete.
Alan Gladstone,
Jenny Zhu
Jenny Zhu and Jared Cohen of Triangle Home Fashions, which was named new vendor of the year by Anna’s.

     The retailer, which bases its operating strategy around opening price points across the product spectrum, has also been doing a bit of trading up more recently. "We have 5.2 million fans on our website and those customers are telling us they want us to raise our price points and expand our assortments."
     For Anna's that means more $25 and $30 window panels and bedding sets that break through the $100 retail price point. The store is also adding more upscale products such as duvet covers and down bedding. "I didn't foresee there ever being duvets at Anna's when I started."
     There will also be more hard goods going forward, an expansion path Anna's has been pursuing for several years. Eventually housewares and tabletop will account for twice as much of the company's sales as they do today, he said.

Executives at the event included, from left, Tom O'Connor of Springs and Frank Snow of Royale Linens.

Executives
The vendor reception
The vendor reception was held at the Hyde Club where a highlight was the Bellagio fountain show set against the Paris Hotel’s Eiffel Tower.

     Anna's is also investing in its online business and has seen a 50% comp increase in web sales, though the base remains somewhat modest. "Online should be 10% of our overall sales within three years."
     Other investments have come in an increased merchandising team - Anna's added two "seasoned members" to its buying roster this past year - new inventory management software and a new ad agency.
     All of this means Gladstone will continue on his path to keep expanding the Anna's store count. While still holding out 1,000 units as the holy Anna's grail, over the next 12 months the company should get close to 350 with 20 brand new stores as well as 15 complete remodels and seven relocations. St. Louis was a new market for the retailer so far and there will be one more additional territory by the end of the year.
     One of those 300-plus Anna's units will be especially important: Gladstone said the company is working on a new prototype that it will unveil sometime later this year. The store may veer from the 10,000-square-foot size that is the Anna's traditional footprint, but he declined to reveal any other details in the works.
     Gladstone laid out much of the Anna's game plan to employees and suppliers alike during the conference here, held at the Planet Hollywood hotel. More than 50 vendors displayed their wares for store managers and all joined in for the highlight of the week, the awards banquet where best performing stores and suppliers were honored.
     Anna's also called attention to its support of the St. Jude Children's Hospital, its favorite charity. This year, the company made a $715,000 donation to the facility, bringing its total over the past four years to $2.5 million.
     The dinner, Gladstone said, "is the heart and soul of Anna's." That could also be said about Gladstone, who founded the retailer a quarter of a century ago and shows no signs of slowing down. "I've still got some more work to do."

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