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Retailers Say Sales Roared During March

March went out like a lion for most publicly held merchants selling CE and/or major appliances, who reported solid gains against easy year-ago comparisons.

Among CE specialists, total revenue for Tweeter Home Entertainment Group rose 4 percent to $189 million for its second fiscal quarter, ended March 31, while comparable store sales returned to positive territory with a 3 percent gain.

“It feels good to once again have a positive comp quarter under our belts,” said president/CEO Jeff Stone.

Chief financial officer Joseph McGuire attributed the gains to new supply chain initiatives, which are beginning to yield improved turns and in-stocks, while reducing discontinued inventory. However, he indicated that gross margins were impacted by the mix and sales rate of TVs, Tweeter’s core category, and that the company is “working on attachment strategies” to offset the loss.

Total inventory levels and outstanding debt have also declined, McGuire noted.

Stone also reported that the company’s 400-technician in-home services division — which he described as “a critical link to our divergent future” — enjoyed a record quarter, up 30 percent in dollars year-over-year, and now representing 3.5 percent of total Tweeter revenue.

He added that comp store sales would have been even higher, save for a decision to scrap a private customer sale in February.

“We believe that the decisions that we are making around managing inventory, changing internal process and brand repositioning, although having negative short-term impact [on earnings], are in the best interest of the future of our franchise,” McGuire said.

Tweeter will release its second quarter earnings on April 27.

Ultimate Electronics, in its fourth quarter report, noted that total revenue in February and March fell 6 percent year-over-year while comp store sales fell 15 percent (see story, p. 4). Total sales were up 9 percent for the first six days of April and comps were essentially flat.

Among full-line merchants, Sears said total sales for the five weeks ended April 3 slipped 1.3 percent to $2.4 billion while comp store sales were flat. CE sales were up by the high single digits, the company said, while major appliances, including plumbing, were down by the mid-single digits.

By contrast, March sales at Wal-Mart’s flagship stores rose 12.3 percent to $16.7 billion and comps rose 5.6 percent, while Target’s titular stores saw sales rise 14.5 percent to $3.8 billion as comps gained 7.8 percent last month.

At the wholesale clubs, Costco’s March sales climbed 14 percent to $4.4 billion, and comps at U.S. stores grew 10 percent; Sam’s Club revenue rose 9.3 percent to $3.4 billion as comps gained 8.3 percent; and BJ’s sales grew 12.6 percent to $620.3 million with comp gains of 7 percent.

Costco said it “saw strength” in PCs, A/V and white goods, among other categories, while BJ’s cited computers and TVs among its strongest March performers.

Elsewhere, proprietary and novelty CE seller Sharper Image said total sales grew 38 percent to $54.8 million last month while same-store sales grew 3 percent.