Retailers — at least those still reporting sales monthly — provided a mixed bag of results for January.
In a continuation of December's dynamic, discount chains enjoyed the sharpest revenue gains last month while business seemingly remained soft for the balance of retail.
Lone among CE specialists reporting last week, after RadioShack shifted to a quarterly cycle, was Ultimate Electronics, which posted figures for its fourth quarter and full fiscal year. Sales for the four months ended Jan. 31 were up 26 percent to $214.7 million, while same store sales edged up 2 percent, representing the chain's first positive quarterly comps in a year. Sales for the full year ended Jan. 31 rose 20 percent to $580.3 million and comp sales slipped 2 percent.
CEO Ed McEntire said the company was pleased with its results in light of Sept. 11 and the soft economy and attributed the fourth quarter comp gains in part to the Super Bowl's shift to February. On the product front, president/COO Dave Workman said digital devices and DVD home theater packages enjoyed continued growth during the quarter, and that Ultimate was also pleased with its year-end inventory levels.
The company plans to enter the Dallas/Ft. Worth market with five to six stores by September, when it will also open two new stores in St. Louis.
January was less forgiving for Sears. Despite solid sales of projection TVs and high-efficiency laundry products, total revenue fell 2.3 percent to $1.69 billion while comps decreased 3.4 percent for the month. Chairman/CEO Alan Lacy attributed the downturn to improved year-end inventory levels, resulting in "a decrease in promotional and clearance activity."
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart said its discount stores enjoyed a 16.5 percent spike in January sales to $9.6 billion and an 8.6 percent gain in same-store revenue. The performance was mirrored by Target, whose discount stores saw sales rise 16.8 percent to $2.2 billion while same-store sales grew 7.6 percent over the comparable four-week period last year. Kmart, which is reorganizing under Chapter 11, said it would not report monthly sales until it emerges from bankruptcy.
Among the warehouse clubs, Costco's January sales rose 13 percent to $2.73 billion, while comps at domestic stores grew 9 percent. Similarly, Wal-Mart's Sam's Club saw sales rise 12.3 percent for the period to $2.1 billion as comps grew 7 percent. No. 3 contender BJ's said January sales rose 8.9 percent to $364.3 million while comps grew 2.7 percent. Strength in pre-recorded media was offset by weakness in computers, the company said.