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  • Cecile Corral
  • Thomas Russell

Retailers See Slow Start to Holiday

New York — Domestics launched into the holiday selling season with performances that were at best modest in some stores and weak at others.

However, within individual departments, several retailers reported standout items, many of them special promotions and "door busters," that kept the category buoyant and players optimistic about textiles' performance for the season.

Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears, which reported for the month of November a comparable-store sales increase of 2.8 percent, also boasted "high double-digit increases over the (Thanksgiving) weekend in home fashions," said Steve Ryman, vice president, general merchandise manager.

"On the day after Thanksgiving, we had several promotions and very hot door buster items, including flannel, downs and towels that all worked very well for us," Ryman said. "Seasonal goods were spotty. Some sold extremely well for us, while some others were dogs. But we are expecting big things for the Christmas season and some good numbers in the end. We have every indication that we'll have good, solid results for the season."

At Sears' specialty store division The Great Indoors, results were also encouraging. Jim Whitehead, chief merchant of soft home, admitted that its textiles business was "somewhat softer from our business overall, but it was still good. Across the board (in all soft home categories) it went well."

The store offered several "Friday-Only" promotions the day after Thanksgiving, like a down comforter and gusseted pillow, which both performed "extremely well for us. I guess it's getting cold, and people are worrying about their energy bills," Whitehead said.

He added that "holiday-type stuff did well. They weren't a huge piece of the textile business, but they did do well." Key items here included some holiday-themed bath rugs, fingertip towels and table linens.

"Business has been OK so far this year, but the (Thanksgiving) weekend gave us a nice little bump up," Whitehead said. "Textiles definitely are seeing an increase over last year. Our business has been relatively healthy over the last several months, and our expectation is that the trend will continue."

While parent company Federated Department Stores reported lackluster November sales results, New York-based Macy's Home proved to be a bright spot over the Thanksgiving weekend, said Lester Gribetz, senior vice president of creative/fashion.

"The original plan was very ambitious — a double-digit increase for the week — and we met it," he said. "And textiles met its plan."

Highlights came from bedding collections, led by the store's proprietary Hotel Collection. Other hits in the category were Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

"The Hotel Collection was the strongest of all in our (bedding) collection business," Gribetz explained. "It was the collection that had the largest increase over plan." Other highlights included down and regular comforters and bath towels, the latter led by Hotel Collection branded offerings.

But seasonal goods, including flannel and table linens, were less popular at Macy's Home over the period.

Alan Gladstone, president, chairman and CEO of Anna's Linens, said the holiday kick-off weekend rang in results that were "beyond all expectations," with its new South Florida stores — which opened earlier this year — leading the pack. "We were up with double-digit comps (in our South Florida stores), and we saw the same results across the country," he said.

Gladstone said customers were drawn in by the store's weekly advertisements and circulars. "The customers came in for the advertised specials but then shopped broadly throughout the store," he said. "Our advertised specials turned out to be terrific as well as our seasonal goods, and our day-in, day-out basics were very good. We advertised a three-piece bath set that was a sell out, assorted comforters, a promotional polyester bed pillow, dining room chair covers that were a huge success and downs that did excellently."

Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., reported that for the four-week period ended Nov. 26, its "above average" category performers were bedding, especially juvenile bedding, foam pillows and seasonal bedding, as well as food and pet supplies. For the day after Thanksgiving, the strongest selling categories included bedding, cameras, hardware and boys' wear.

Conversely, Minneapolis- based Target Corp., the domestics and home décor categories were among several poor category performers for the four-week period.

Framingham, Mass.-based off-pricer TJX Companies said that it was "generally pleased" with its sales over the Thanksgiving weekend, particularly on Black Friday, even though, "The Thanksgiving weekend is typically not as important to us as it is to other retailers who participate in heavy promotional activity during that time," the company said in its November sales call.

At Dallas-based Tuesday Morning, an advertised 600-count sheet set for $49.99 — both queen and king sizes — "did extremely well for us," said Bill Kendall, vice president, textiles.

A National Retail Federation survey conducted by BIGresearch found that total Thanksgiving weekend spending hit $22.8 billion — a sum which should represent more than 10 percent of the $220 billion expected in total holiday sales this year.

And the latest Nielsen/NetRatings Holiday eShopping Index, which tracks shopping activity at 109 key retail and shopping sites across 10 categories, found that Black Friday saw 26 percent more shoppers, or 13.3 million people, visiting online stores on Nov. 26 than the previous Friday, Nov. 19. Among the top 10 sites over the weekend were eBay, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target and Sears.

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