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Retailers Report Modest Jan. Sales

New York — Chain stores reported moderate sales gains in January, aided by Super Bowl-driven sales of flat-panel TVs and other non-electronic items.

Among specialty retailers, Conn’s, the regional brown- and white-goods chain, said net sales for its fiscal fourth quarter, ended Jan. 31 spiked 6 percent to $200.6 million on the strength of consumer electronics. Same-store sales rose 1.9 percent for the critical three-month period, however, as volume slowed after a record Thanksgiving weekend.

“Consumer electronics drove our sales growth again this quarter,” said chairman/CEO Thomas Frank, Sr. But following Black Friday weekend, “the pace of sales slowed as we encountered a difficult retail environment during the quarter,” resulting in same-store sales growth at the lower end of the company’s projections.

Conn’s said its CE business enjoyed solid growth propelled by sales of LCD TVs, video game hardware, notebook computers, extended-service contracts and GPS devices, which were a recent addition for the chain. Those gains helped offset a 5.8 percent decline in the company’s major appliance business for the quarter.

For the full year, ended Jan. 31, Conn’s net sales rose 8 percent to $731 million and same-store sales grew 3.2 percent. The company opened seven new locations over the 12 months, including three in the fourth quarter.

While Circuit City doesn’t report monthly revenue, the retailer’s senior management availed itself to major news outlets Wednesday, the day before national chain sales were released. CEO Phil Schoonover said the company would resist any acquisition attempts as it continues to execute its turnaround plan, backed by a new $1.3 billion credit line. The strategy calls for rolling out upwards of 60 new-format The City stores over the next fiscal year while continuing to slash expenses. Executives also said the chain would expand a test of selling used video games in its stores.

Among full-line chains, Wal-Mart said net sales at its flagship discount stores rose 3.5 percent in January to $16.9 billion and same-store sales edged up 1.9 percent, below company expectations. The company said sales of Super Bowl-related products like flat-panel TVs remained strong, but noted that consumers were holding onto gift cards longer, and are using them more often for food and other consumables rather than discretionary purchases.

At Target, net sales rose 5.4 percent in January to $4.1 billion and same-store sales slipped 1.1 percent, near the lower end of its planned range, as a decrease in foot traffic helped offset an increase in average transaction size, the company said.

Among the wholesale clubs, Costco’s net sales grew 11 percent in January to $5.1 billion and domestic same-store sales rose 5 percent. The company said its CE, A/V, PC and white-goods businesses came in slightly below plan for the month.

At Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club unit, net sales rose 6 percent in January to nearly $3.2 billion and same-store sales edged up 2.8 percent, driven by increases in average ticket and strength in CE and video games.

Northeast-based BJ’s benefited from the participation of two regional teams in Super Bowl XXII. Net sales increased 11.2 percent in January to $652 million, and rose 8.1 percent for the full fiscal year, ended Feb. 2, to $8.8 billion. Same-store sales soared 7.8 percent in January and increased 3.7 percent for the 12 months. The company cited TV and video games among its strongest January sales gainers, and PC equipment and prerecorded video among its weakest.

Elsewhere, specialty retailer The Sharper Image said net sales fell 23 percent in January to $22.2 million and same-store sales declined 11 percent. For the full fiscal year ending Jan. 31, net sales declined 26 percent to $374.9 million and same-store sales fell 13 percent.