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April Showers Sales On CE Retailers

Consumer electronics chains enjoyed double-digit sales hikes in April despite the wet weather that dampened business for apparel-dependent general merchandisers.

Nonetheless, reading signs of an economic slowdown in their more tempered same-store gains, the financial markets sent shares of CE retailers sharply lower following the release of last month’s figures.

Among the major CE chains reporting, Circuit City said sales rose 18 percent to $784.8 million last month while comparable store sales were up 14 percent. According to chairman and CEO Richard Sharp, same-store sales were buoyed by brisk business in the home office and software segments, and by products featuring new technologies and better features. He added that April sales also benefited from the month’s extra weekend.

But even with the usual four-weekend complement, Circuit’s sales could get some added oomph this month from a new ad campaign the company broke in late April. Under the tagline “Imagine that,” the TV effort is designed to help consumers “imagine” the exciting possibilities that new CE technologies are opening up for their lives, explained president Alan McCollough.

RadioShack reported a 13 percent hike in total store revenues to $327.6 million, while sales at Tandy-owned stores open at least a year grew 7 percent over the year-ago period. Sales for the quarter were up 15 percent to $1.16 billion, while comp-store sales grew 11 percent year-to-date.

Chairman, president and CEO Len Roberts said that while last month’s same-store gains were on plan, they had a tough act to follow given the 18 percent comp-store gains realized in April 1999. He added that same-store revenues do not reflect sales to dealers, which were “exceptionally strong” in advance of next month’s launch of RCA’s in-store shops.

Ultimate Electronics, which reports sales quarterly, said net for the first four months soared 21 percent to $95 million, while comparable store sales rose 18 percent during the period. President Dave Workman said the chain “continues to benefit from strong sales and margins in all new digital technology products,” including digital TVs, camcorders and DVD. He added that sales of projection TVs were up 48 percent compared to the year-ago quarter — with DTV comprising half of all projection TV sales — while DVD was up a whopping 86% for the period, representing more than 5 percent of Ultimate’s total sales. Also leading the charge was a 40-percent increase in installation services for the four months.

Sales at home furnishings chain Heilig-Meyers fell 2 percent to $134.9 million, and comparable store sales were off by 2.8 percent. Sales from its divested divisions, which include Rhodes, Mattress Discounters and 18 Chicago-area stores, were excluded from the April and year-ago figures, although revenue from the company’s Puerto Rico-based Berrios division, which was sold mid-April, was included in last month’s and last year’s totals.

Among mass merchants, Sears saw sales edge up 3.9 percent to $2.21 billion in April, while same-store net inched up 2.4 percent. Chairman and CEO Arthur Martinez said “particularly strong increases” in home electronics and kids’ apparel helped carry the month.

Revenues at Wal-Mart were up 28.4 percent to $14.14 billion in April, and same-store sales were ahead 4.6 percent, while year-to-date sales spiked 23.6 percent to $44.01 billion and comp-store net grew 6.6% for the period.

At BJ’s Wholesale Club, sales of computers, computer accessories and pre-recorded videos helped push April revenue up 22.5 percent to $328 million and comparable store sales ahead 9.1 percent, while for the quarter net grew 18.9 percent to $1.02 billion and comp-store sales gained 6.9 percent.

At the mall-based chains, Sharper Image saw its store, catalog and Internet sales rise 41 percent in April to $20.6 million while comparable store sales grew 30 percent. For the quarter, total sales rocketed 45 percent to $58.8 million and same-store sales soared 32 percent.

Noodle Kidoodle, which is on track to merge with Zany Brainy, saw its fiscal first quarter sales grow 5 percent to $24.1 million while same-store net fell 15 percent due to declines in Beanie Babies sales.