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Dealers Report Q4, Feb. Sales Gains

New York — The past three months were either the best of times or the worst of times for retailers, depending upon whose sales report one was reading.

Planted firmly within the “best” category is Best Buy. The chain reported a 9.9 percent spike in comparable store sales within its U.S. division during its fiscal fourth quarter and the addition of 78 new stores over the past year. Total domestic sales hit $7.6 billion for the three months ended Feb. 28, representing a 19 percent gain year over year.

For the full fiscal year, total U.S. sales rose 15 percent to $22.2 billion and comp sales grew 7.4 percent.

Commenting on the quarter, vice chairman and CEO Brad Anderson said traffic accelerated during the last two weeks of December and remained at that pace throughout the balance of the period. He attributed the traffic flow to effective advertising and promotions, post-holiday redemptions of gift cards and loyalty certificates, and improved in-stock levels.

Broken out by division, fourth quarter comps for Best Buy’s flagship stores rose 9.9 percent, reflecting market share gains in computers, digital cameras and DTVs, the company said. Its Magnolia Audio Video chain enjoyed a 3.4 percent comp store gain, while the Canadian operations, comprised of Best Buy and Future Shop stores, saw same store sales rise 7.9 percent for the period.

For the entire company category sales breakouts showed MP3 players enjoying triple-digit comps for the quarter, while major appliance comps grew by the mid-single digits.

At Circuit City, total revenue for the fiscal fourth quarter, ended Feb. 28, grew 2 percent to $3.6 billion and comps grew 1 percent. Full year revenue fell 2 percent to $9.6 billion, and same store sales slipped 3 percent.

Chairman, president and CEO Alan McCollough, said fourth quarter comps improved as the period progressed, entering positive territory in January. “The improvement in part reflects the weak results from last year,” he said, in a reference to the chain’s 6 percent comp sales decline in fourth quarter 2003.

McCollough said categories showing exceptional fourth quarter strength included music and movie software, digital imaging, notebook computers and monitors, and high-tech TVs, and that the online channel enjoyed strong growth throughout the year.

Texas-based CE and majap regional Conn’s said total product sales for its fiscal fourth quarter, ended Jan. 31, grew 22.6 percent to $117.7 million while comps grew 11.7 percent. Full year product sales grew 14.6 percent to $398.6 million for the NATM Buying Corp. member, and same store sales grew 2.6 percent.

Chairman/CEO Tom Frank said comps grew each month of the fourth quarter, and attributed the chain’s strong holiday sales to the stores’ new racetrack design and its lawn, gardening and bedding offering.

Among full line retailers, Sears said February sales slipped 0.5 percent to $1.7 billion while comps edged up 1.1 percent. Chairman/CEO Alan Lacy said majap sales “improved slightly, led by solid increases in the cooking, cleaning and laundry categories.” CE sales also enjoyed moderate growth in the low single-digit range, the company said.

At Wal-Mart, February flagship sales grew 12.6 percent to $13.6 billion and comps gained 6 percent, while Target’s flagship sales soared 14.5 percent and comps grew 8 percent. The latter also announced the opening of 25 new Target stores on March 7, bringing the total store count to 1,249.

Among the warehouse clubs, Costco said net sales soared 16 percent to $3.4 billion in February while U.S. comps rose 12 percent. Sam’s Club revenue rose 10.4 percent to $2.7 billion against a 7.5-percent comp gain. And BJ’s February net sales climbed 13.6 percent to $488.9 million as comps grew 7.9 percent. The latter reported strong sales gains in TVs but weakness in batteries, film and video games.

Sharper Image, the novelty CE chain, said total sales grew 47 percent last month to $51.9 million, buoyed by a 63 percent increase in Internet sales, a 45 percent increase in catalog sales and 20 percent gain in comp store sales.