April Showers Sales On Retail Chains

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Reigning consumer electronics specialty retailers Circuit City and RadioShack posted solid same-store sales gains in April, while sales of CE products helped goose revenue for mass merchant competitors Kmart and Bradlees.

Sears softer side, apparel, hurt its April sales while electronics/appliance sales were strong. Results were also mixed for computer category killer CompUSA, whose comp-store sales were down single digits for its fiscal third quarter ended March 27.

Circuit City's electronics/appliance division enjoyed a 17% hike in sales to $666.3 million last month, while comp-store revenue rose 11% for the period.

According to chairman/CEO Richard Sharp, sales strength extended across all categories, but was led by new or fully featured technologies including DirecTv, big-screen TVs, wireless communications and DVD and Divx. Circuit City opened three Superstores in April, including its 11th in Detroit, 26th in the New York market and its first in Clarksburg, W.Va.

CompUSA by contrast, which reports sales quarterly, said revenue for its fiscal third quarter was up 16% to $1.69 billion, buoyed by the addition of some 37 Computer City stores. But minus the benefit of the former Tandy division's plus business, CompUSA's same-store sales slid 7.2% for the period. Similarly, net sales increased 19% to $4.86 billion for the first nine months of fiscal 1999, while sales at comparable stores fell 4.7%.

President/CEO James Halpin said the superstore's disappointing performance stemmed from aggressive third-quarter pricing due to "less-than-anticipated customer demand," as well as continued year-over-year declines in average selling prices. To improve performance, the merchant is slowing the rate of store expansion, improving in-store service and transitioning CompUSA Net.com, its mail order, Internet and third-party fulfillment sales operation, to e-commerce only.

RadioShack sales shot up 19% to $289.6 million while same-store sales soared 18%, said Tandy, the retailer's corporate parent. President/CEO Len Roberts attributed the glad tidings to continued "robust" consumer spending and a "favorable" product cycle, and predicted strong second quarter earnings based on those trends.

Meanwhile, on the mass merchant front:

Bradlees said sales grew 6.9% to $99.7 million for the four weeks ended May 1, and rose 10.7% to $324.8 million for the 13-week first quarter. By comparison, comparable store sales were up a respectable 7.8% for the month and 12.6% for the first quarter.

Chairman/CEO Peter Thorner said double-digit increases in sales of consumer electronics and other hardline categories contributed to the robust revenues, as did the loss of regional competitor Caldor. "The former Caldor customers we are attracting provided a substantial sales lift," he said, "and we are establishing Bradlees as a value-oriented, discount department store of choice."

Kmart said total store sales increased 7.3% to $2.75 billion for the four weeks ended April 28, while comp-store sales rose 5.7% for the period. Chief executive Floyd Hall pointed to consumer electronics as one of a handful of categories that showed "particular strength" for the month.

Sears said sales fell 5.6% to $2.2 billion for the four weeks ended May 1, while comp store revenue was off 0.9% compared to a 3.9% increase during the year-ago period. Chairman/CEO Arthur Martinez said hardgood results in Sears' full-line stores were led by "solid sales of home appliances and electronics, with washers, dryers, refrigerators and big-screen TVs being top performers." But their strong performance was offset by softer apparel sales due in part to an earlier Easter, he said.

On the software side, Musicland chairman/CEO Jack Eugster said "continued strength in the CD, video game and electronics categories" could not offset the impact of the early Easter, which contributed to a 0.9% slowdown in sales to $110.5 million for the four weeks ended May 1. Comp-store sales were similarly down 0.2% for the period. By contrast, total sales for the store's fiscal calendar month of April, which included three pre-Easter shopping days, had a comparable increase of 4.8%, Eugster said.

Elsewhere, specialty niche retailer Sharper Image said total store sales increased 17% to $10.3 million and comparable store revenue rose 11% last month, thanks to its high-margin proprietary products. Factoring in sales from its catalog and Internet operations, total sales at Sharper Image grew 21% to $14.6 million.

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