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  • Jennifer Marks

Anna's Linens Believes in 2009

Anna's Linens executives told store managers and vendors gathered here last month for its annual summit that the 260-store retailer will move aggressively in 2009 to build market share and capture consumers whose shopping habits have been re-routed by the recession.

"All of us who survived 2008 I believe will reap bounties down the road," Alan Gladstone, president and ceo, told HTT between events.

Of the year just past, he said bluntly: "I think it sucked."

Fourth quarter going-out-of-business sales by Linens 'n Things, Mervyns and Value City were "highly disruptive," he said, adding: "I have never seen GOB sales in November and December." Anna's had 200 stores impacted by LNT liquidation sales, 130 affected by the Mervyns clearance and 26 that competed with Value City.

But, said Gladstone, "The pain of those GOB sales is done. We've already seen an uptick in stores where we had Linens 'n Things and Value City."

The loss of all those retail doors also gave Anna's the choice of mountains of merchandise already in the pipeline — enough of it that some won't arrive until the summer.

At the same time, the industry shake-out has brought a crop of mid- to better-market vendors to Anna's as the field of volume retail accounts narrowed. "We are buying a lot of first-time quality goods," said Gladstone. "We see new vendors constantly."

Anna's core customer — blue collar, often ethnic and/or inner-city — was among the first demographics to feel the depredations of the economy last year, he said. But 2009 "started well," and the company is intent on boosting share in existing markets, planning to open just 10 new stores this year.

The theme of this year's summit for managers and vendors was "Believe and Achieve." A new ad slogan — "I'm a fan of Anna's" — which launched in February in a series of testimonial ads for television and radio was repeated throughout the two-day event.

Carie Doll, svp of merchandising and marketing, rallied summit attendees to a new campaign that goes straight at customers of now-defunct competitors. "If you used to shop at Mervyns and Linens 'n Things, come to Anna's for deals you never got there," reads the ad copy. Said Doll: "We really put it out there. We think there's a 20% bottom tier of the LNT customer that we can get."

Anna's is also advertising on the back of paychecks at companies that have a high proportion of female employees and are located within a three-mile radius of an Anna's store. "We see a very big spike [in store traffic] at lunchtime," Doll noted.

Regarding supply chain issues, a new operating system in three distribution centers has streamlined ordering and delivery. "The number of purchase orders and inventories are dropping dramatically," said Miles Tedder, vp of supply chain.

The company is also stepping up its direct import business, bringing in 100 containers so far and planning to bring in 2,000 containers this year. "But we don't believe you can do the home textiles business [in-house] 100%," said Gladstone. "We don't want to go there." Anna's direct imports consist of promotional items rather than replenishments, he emphasized.

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