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LNT store managers take control

Significant in-stock improvements and the spinning off of sku responsibility to store managers are two of the initiatives taking place at Linens 'n Things.

During its second quarter conference call, the retailer said that 10 percent of its 367 locations now take part in its program to give store managers more authority over merchandise decisions so as to improve in-stocks as well as to respond to local market trends. Participating locations have already seen more than a 5 percent jump in comp-store sales performance, said Norman Axelrod, chairman and ceo, which he attributed to this initiative and a number of other programs.

In fact, all of its proposals, outlined earlier this year, are having a "direct and positive influence" on performance, said Axelrod.

In its effort to decentralize merchandise decisions, LNT gives store managers the ability to impact all active, non-import skus, he said, which most likely include driving business with products at the high end as well as items that the manager would like phase out. Stores were selected for this program on more of a "capability basis" as opposed to a geographical one.

"As you can imagine, it's been well received at the store level," Axelrod said. "We've had unusually consistent performance here — good performance almost across the board. The results are more consistent that I expected."

It is important to note that these initiatives are in their early stages, he said. However, "culturally, on a more long-term basis, we are committed to adding more resources and authority at the store level, and expect this to lead to improvement to execution on an individual store basis." He added that the company hopes to double the number of stores in the program by the end of the year.

LNT also had its best in-stock levels in two years, he said, which have improved almost 10 percent since the beginning of the year. "We are operating on a significantly better level on an overall basis and individual store basis." And its plan to increase its staff on the selling floor by 10 percent has also been achieved for the most part, he added.

Its initiative to improve its textiles business moves ahead as well, said Steve Silverstein, president, as it continues to introduce new brands, differentiated quality and increased value. Its Nautica program has expanded, and two new patterns are highlighted for its Back-to-School selling season. The retailer has also repositioned many core solid-color textiles programs, upgrading the quality while either keeping the same or better prices. Consumer demand for specialty bedding, especially quilts and duvets, he added, has resulted in developing exclusive product for its stores. The soft window business, which is largely underpenetrated by the company, he said, has also performed well, due to new fashions.

"The textiles business has begun to gain strength," Axelrod added.

Silverstein also said that the company's third distribution center, located in Kentucky, is now operational and serving one-third of the chain.

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