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Retail Sales Improved In January

New York — Sales trends continued to improve through January for specialty CE player Ultimate Electronics and national full-line retailers.

Ultimate reported sales of $242.3 million for the quarter ended

Jan. 31 and $711.9 million for fiscal 2003. Both results were virtually flat, compared with the prior-year periods, while comp-store sales were down 9 percent for the quarter and 10 percent for the year.

CEO Dave Workman said that despite the disappointing results, same store sales are improving, with January comps down 5 percent, compared with a 12 percent decline in December.

Workman attributed the weak comparisons to Ultimate’s exit from the computer category, which accounted for 50 percent of January’s decline and 28 percent of the quarterly decrease. Also impacting fourth-quarter sales were inventory shortages in key categories, a problematic changeover to a new management information system and faulty marketing.

Following a sweeping review of its business, Ultimate plans to implement a range of initiatives designed to return the company to profitability in fiscal 2005. These include enhanced value-added customer services, improving the in-store experience, pressing new sales opportunities such as DVD software and the home-builder channel, optimizing inventory to reduce stock outages, and reducing costs through head-count reductions and marketing efficiencies.

Elsewhere, Sears said January sales and comp sales both rose 4.6 percent, with total revenue hitting $1.6 billion. CEO Alan Lacy cited majaps and CE as key contributors to the monthly gains.

Among discounters, Wal-Mart’s January sales rose 13.5 percent to $12.1 billion at its flagship stores and comps rose 5.3 percent. At Target’s namesake stores, total revenue rose 12.4 percent in January to $2.7 billion and comps rose 5.8 percent.

Among wholesale clubs, Costco’s sales soared 16 percent in January to $3.4 billion and domestic comps grew 12 percent. Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club division saw sales rise 10.4 percent to $2.5 billion and comps grew 7.9 percent. BJ’s reported a 14.4 percent gain in total January revenue to $475.8 million, while comps grew 8.8 percent, led by ‘strong sales increases’ in TVs, the company said, which helped offset weakness in audio and video game hardware.

At specialty niche player Sharper Image, total company sales grew 40 percent in January to $47.3 million, while same store sales increased 21 percent. Founder and chairman Richard Thalheimer said increased multimedia advertising helped the company build on strong sales trends early in the fourth quarter.