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Conn’s Withstands Rita

Beaumont, Texas — Conn’s, whose hometown was among the hardest hit by Hurricane Rita, is up and running with only minimal damage and no injuries, the company reported this morning.

The regional brown- and white-goods chain said that 50 of its 55 stores throughout Texas and Louisiana were operational as of yesterday, and that all of its distribution and service centers, except for its Beaumont facility, are up and running.

Conn’s corporate headquarters building, in Beaumont, was evacuated and sustained minimal damage, and its computer and telecommunications facilities are intact, with an emergency generator powering air conditioning to maintain equipment.

All facilities in the affected areas will be returned to full service as soon as essential city services in Beaumont are restored, the company said.

According to chairman/CEO Tom Frank, the chain began preparing for the storm last Thursday by switching to its backup computer and telecommunications system in Dallas, and transferring all store operations, merchandising, distribution and other corporate functions to its facilities there. The precautions allowed uninterrupted service to all stores, along with other information technology functions, and precluded any significant disruption in operations, he said.

Credit underwriting has also been transferred to Dallas, and a call center has been brought online in Austin, Texas, for credit collections. Personnel have been temporarily relocated to the Houston, Dallas and the Austin markets to provide operational and support services, and additional capacity will be added in the next several days.

Frank projected that the company will experience a “positive sales impact” once all stores in the affected areas resume operations, ostensibly in replacement sales. Prior to Rita, Conn’s enjoyed a 25 percent increase in net sales and a 12 percent spike in comparable store sales in August, while net September sales through Saturday of $40 million exceeded volume for all of September 2004, Frank said.

In other Rita-related news, Wal-Mart reports that 51 facilities remain closed — down from an initial 155 — including three distribution centers, three Sam’s Clubs, two Neighborhood Markets and 43 Wal-Mart stores. In addition, 12 stores impacted by Hurricane Katrina remain closed.