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Hurricanes, Gas Prices Hurt Some Retailers; Others Going Strong

Two devastating hurricanes and rising gas prices hampered the performance of only a few multichannel merchants reporting last month's sales results yesterday. Many saw gains for the month.

After nine consecutive months of comparable-store sales gains, The Talbots Inc., Hingham, MA, said same-store sales decreased 5.1 percent for the five weeks ended Oct. 1. Company sales in the period rose just 1 percent to $185.9 million. In the direct segment, however, sales increased in the low double-digit range.

Talbots conducted its annual benchmarking survey of 2,000 customers and non-customers in September, and preliminary results indicate that the softness in the brand's retail segment comes from factors such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita rather than the stores' merchandise.

“Our research indicates that concerns about rising fuel prices and the economy have created a more conservative mindset among the vast majority of those surveyed,” Talbots chairman/president/CEO Arnold B. Zetcher said in a statement. “In addition, many reported that they would also delay their fall spending on apparel.”

Also laying the blame for less-than-stellar sales on the weather and gas prices were Federated Department Stores, Sharper Image and The Bombay Company Inc.

On a same-store basis, Cincinnati-based Federated's September sales were up 1.3 percent. Total sales, which include the Aug. 30 acquisition of the May Co., totaled $2.58 billion, an 89.6 percent gain.

Bombay, Fort Worth, TX, said revenue for the five weeks ended Oct. 1 declined 3.5 percent to $46.7 million. Same-store sales dropped 1.6 percent.

Sharper Image Corp., San Francisco, said company sales fell 21 percent to $36.6 million. Same-store sales also dipped 21 percent. Catalog/direct marketing sales dove 34 percent to $9.9 million, and Internet sales decreased 18 percent to $5.4 million.

One retailer, however, turned around what could have been a dismal month for sales through its marketing efforts. JoS. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., Hampstead, MD, said sales increased 25.5 percent to $40.3 million for the fiscal month ended Oct. 1. Also, comparable-store sales rose 12.9 percent while combined catalog/Internet sales jumped 17.4 percent.

“The double-digit sales gains were driven primarily by aggressive promotional activity that was set in place to offset any potential impact of the hurricanes that affected the country in September,” JoS. A. Bank CFO/executive vice president David E. Ullman said in a statement.

Other companies reporting results:

· Limited Brands, Columbus, OH, saw a comparable-store sales decrease of 2 percent for the five weeks ended Oct. 1. This result excludes the effect of stores closed as a result of the hurricanes. Net sales increased 1 percent in the period to $687.3 million.

· Chico's FAS Inc., Fort Myers, FL, said sales increased 34.5 percent for the five weeks ended Oct. 1 to $143.1 million. Same-store sales climbed 15.8 percent in the period.

· Abercrombie & Fitch, New Albany, OH, posted a 31 percent gain in sales for the five weeks ended Oct. 1 to $228.3 million. Same-store sales rose 21 percent.

· The Neiman Marcus Group Inc., Dallas, reported revenue totaling $397 million for the five weeks ended Oct. 1, a 9.2 percent gain over last year. Comparable revenue in the specialty retail stores segment during the period increased 10.5 percent while comparable revenue at Neiman Marcus Direct rose 10.4 percent.

· J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Plano, TX, said companywide sales increased 1.6 percent for the five weeks ended Oct. 1 to $1.51 billion. Comparable-store sales climbed 1.4 percent. Also, sales in the direct segment rose 0.4 percent while sales for jcpenney.com increased nearly 30 percent.

· Nordstrom Inc., Seattle, generated a 6.4 percent increase in sales for the five weeks ended Oct. 1 to $636.7 million. Same-store sales rose 4.1 percent.

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