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Oct. Comp-Store Sales Mostly Neutral

With the holiday selling season about to move into high gear, October sales results at CE and major appliance retailers neither foreshadow the dire economic consequences of higher energy costs, nor mirror the strength of the waning days of a record-setting economy.

Given this relatively neutral ground, the doors of a successful year-end quarter remain open to the allure of digital CE products, which are expected to help keep holiday sales at least on an even keel. For October, sales results were nominally positive.

Hardline sales at Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears, for one, helped boost October comp-store revenue 3 percent. “Hardlines continued to show solid increases,” said president/CEO Alan J. Lacy, “led by strong increases in appliances and solid performance in electronics.” Total store sales climbed 4.1 percent to $2.11 billion.

Strength in digital product sales was the main reason for a 12 percent comp-store increase at Ultimate Electronics during the three months ended Oct. 31. This Denver-based chain, which reports sales on a quarterly basis, enjoyed a 28 percent jump in total sales for its fiscal third quarter, hitting $117 million. The company cited the strength of digital TV sales for much of the rise.

Although heartened by DVD sales, Musicland Stores recorded a slight decrease in monthly sales during October, with comp-store numbers dropping 1.4 percent in the four weeks. “However, we are encouraged that our DVD sales continue to grow, and for the first time, DVD sales exceeded 40 percent of our overall video sales,” said Keith Benson, vice chairman/chief financial officer. During October, total sales at Minneapolis-based Music-land remained flat at $116 million.

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, registered a 4.5 percent climb in same-store sales during October, but this figure fell short of the 6.5 percent rise recorded in October 2000. Total sales were up 10.1 percent at the Bentonville, Ark.-based giant, hitting $14.3 billion for the month.

Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart’s warehouse segment, enjoyed a 6.8 percent rise in comp-store sales during October, compared to 4.9 percent the previous year. Total sales for October at Sam’s increased 9.5 percent to $2 billion.

BJ’s Wholesale Club, a regional warehouse operation based in Natick, Mass., said its October sales performance benefited from strong demand for video and audio recordings, among other categories. Comp-club sales increased 4 percent for the month, while overall sales for the four weeks jumped 14.5 percent to $365 million.

Driven by stronger sales at its weaker sister Mervyn’s division, Target Corp. boosted comp-store sales 3.5 percent in October. Total Target sales for the month were $2.6 billion, a healthy increase of 9.1 percent for the period.

K-mart, on the other hand, saw its same-store sales in October drop 2 percent, excluding the impact of store closings and inventory liquidation. At the same time “regular sales were cannibalized by the significant volume of clearance merchandise,” said chairman/CEO Chuck Conaway. The Troy, Mich.-based discounter said net sales for the month were flat at $2.5 billion.

Regional discounters Ames and Bradlees reported decreases in comp-store numbers for October.

Rocky Hill, Conn.-based Ames’ same-store sales dropped to $274 million, a 2.7 percent decrease. Net sales, however, rose 1 percent to $332 million for the period.

Citing an impact from higher gas and heating oil prices in October, Braintree, Mass.-based Bradlees registered a 9.2 percent decrease in same-store sales. Total sales for the four weeks were off 8.7 percent to $110 million.

Canada’s Future Shop, a CE retailer and e-tailer, found that sales of Sony’s PlayStation2, as well as wireless communications products, digital cameras, DVD players, satellite TV and computers were what was needed to send comp-store sales up 14 percent for the four weeks. Total sales at Burnaby, British Columbia-based Future Shop climbed 17 percent to $142 million in October.

Even the U.S. heartland’s Duckwall-ALCO discount chain said it was helped by strong sales in electronics during October, with the Abilene, Kan.-based retailer registering a 2.4 percent run up in comp-store sales to $25.2 million. Overall sales for the four weeks were $28.1 million, a rise of 5.4 percent.