CE Retailers Report Great Holiday Sales

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While it's no secret that holiday sales were strong for consumer electronics, just how strong became clearer this week with the release of seasonal sales numbers by major reporting retailers, with particularly hefty growth shown by specialty dealers.

Best Buy reported record December sales of $2.27 billion, up 23%, and said same-store sales rose 9.8%. CFO Allen Lenzmeier said "sales of digital products, including TVs, cameras, camcorders, satellite systems, wireless phones, and DVD hardware and software, exceeded 10% of our sales mix, more than double last year. In addition, sales gains in music and movies and large-screen TVs contributed to our record sales performance for the period."

Circuit City said its retail consumer electronics/appliance sales rose 12% in December to $1.63 billion, and same-store volume was up 6%. "In December, we continued to see strong sales of newer technologies and highly featured products," said chairman Richard Sharp, with such products as DVD, DirecTv, digital camcorders and big-screen TVs particularly robust.

The Good Guys reported sales for the quarter ended December 31 dropped 10.9% to $262.2 million, with the falloff "primarily due to the discontinuation of computers and home office products as of September 30," while sales of ongoing products rose about 1%. Same-store sales of continuing categories dipped 1%.

CEO Ronald Unkefer said the quarter's sales of digital and high-tech entertainment electronics "were extremely brisk and delivered an increase in average product margins of approximately 5%." Also up were inventory turns on ongoing products, sales of extended warranties, and month-to-month comparable store sales.

Unkefer said the chain will report improved first-quarter earnings and predicted "that sales of continuing product categories will continue to increase and that Good Guys will have a profitable fiscal 2000."

Roberds had sales of $26.7 million in December, down 20.9% from last year. All stores were comparable. It reported total-1999 sales of $287 million, off 9.9%.

Ultimate Electronics, which normally reports sales on a quarterly basis, said volume in the November-December period rose 18% to $96.7 million, with comparable stores posting a 15% rise.

President Dave Workman said, "We realized significant increases in all of our major categories. Digital products in all categories continued their trend of strong sales gains led by HDTV, digital camcorders, digital still cameras and DVD." He noted that "DVD led all products, with an increase of 134% over last year." Also during the period, Ultimate opened stores Davenport, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, S.D., raising its outlet count to 31.

Tandy reported December sales at its RadioShack division rose 9% to $638.0 million, with comparable stores posting a 9% increase. In the fourth quarter total sales were up 14% to $1.36 billion, to put volume for the year at $4.04 billion, up 15%.

Same-store sales were up 10% for the quarter and 12% on the year. CEO Len Roberts said that during the month "we sold half-a-million wireless phones, sold out of many toy and gift items, and increased satellite dish unit sales by more than 50%." The chain also "experienced strong sales in its new RCA-branded product line, specifically in DVD."

Among other reporting retailers:

CompUSA said sales for the quarter to December 25 decreased 21% to $1.38 billion, and sales at comparable retail stores declined 1.8%. Commenting on the retail sales performance, CEO James Halpin said the chain was "less promotional" during the holiday season, "especially on retail desktop computers." At the same time, he noted, "we experienced a significant increase in unit sales of notebook computers, cameras, and video games."

Kmart chairman Floyd Hall said December sales "were on plan with a strong finish to the month" and home electronics among product groups showing strength.

Sears said sales from ongoing domestic stores rose 1.2% for the month to $4.52 billion, and that while same-store volume dipped 0.6%, earnings were up because of a lower level of promotion. Chairman Arthur Martinez cited consumer electronics and appliances as among areas in which "sales were particularly strong." He also predicted that earnings for the fourth quarter will be up as much as 20%, and exceed analyst expectations.

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