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Mixed comp results among key retailers in August

New York - Hurricane Irene took part of the blame for some of the comp declines a handful of major retailers reported in August, but was credited by others - particularly the wholesale clubs - for driving up sales late in the month.

The back-to-school season, which got off to a slightly later start than in the prior year, also impacted results in some categories during the four-week period

BJ's Wholesale Club lead HTT's list of 13 key retailers with a 7.9% increase in comp club sales. The Northeastern regional chain experienced sales increases throughout the month but saw its strongest gain in the last week from Hurricane-related sales. Sales of food grew by about 10; sales of general merchandise increased by 4%.

BJ's closest competitor, Costco Wholesale Corp. had the second best comps in August, up 6.0%.

Macy's generated a 5.0% comp gain - despite closing more than 100 of stores temporarily because of the hurricane, including some of the largest-volume locations in the company.

"We estimate that same-store sales for the month of August, which ended on Saturday, would have been approximately 1.5 percentage points higher if not for the store closings and reduced customer traffic caused by the hurricane," said Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo.

"Sales on Sunday, the first day of the September reporting period, also were impacted by about 130 hurricane-related store closings," he added. "Our business over the past three days has been strong, and we have rescheduled our Shop For A Cause event to this coming Saturday in disrupted markets. Thus, we expect the hurricane's effect on sales will be substantially offset as we move through September and the third quarter."

Stein Mart - which posted the largest comp dip in HTT's roster for the month, down 7.5% - said Hurricane Irene for disrupted the retailer's largest promotional event of the month. The company tested a new media mix supporting the event, "which was not as effective in generating customer traffic and sales during the promotion compared to the prior year."

Bon-Ton Stores, too, said it took a hurricane hit. But the regional department store did not specify how much of its 4.7% comp decline was the result of the storm.

"We believe there was a negative impact on our eastern stores from Hurricane Irene, however, it is difficult to quantify the lost sales caused by the disruption to our customers' shopping patterns," said Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president - merchandising.

He said the start of the back-to-school season began slowly, with related apparel categories below last year's sales. "We begin September with inventories well positioned in support of merchandise initiatives we believe will drive top line sales in the second half," said Buccina.

JCPenney and Kohl's also reported comp declines in the month.

JCP said its sales during the last week of August were negatively impacted by by Hurricane Irene. Comps fell 1.9%.

Kohl's said its 1.5% same-store sales slip was driven by lower customer traffic. "We are aggressively increasing our marketing as well as sharpening our pricing focus for the remainder of the fall season to reverse this trend," said Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and ceo.


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