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Apparel Gives Sales a Boost in a Slow April

NEW YORK -- Apparel was again a strong contributor to many stores posting April sales gains, as the bestsellers included dresses, intimate apparel, handbags and swimwear.<BR><BR>Strong gainers in same-store sales were Spiegel's Eddie Bauer division,...

NEW YORK — Apparel was again a strong contributor to many stores posting April sales gains, as the bestsellers included dresses, intimate apparel, handbags and swimwear.

Strong gainers in same-store sales were Spiegel’s Eddie Bauer division, up 24 percent; Sears, Roebuck’s Merchandise Group, 12.3 percent, and Wal-Mart Stores, 8 percent.

Losers in same-store sales comparisons included Clothestime Inc., down 23 percent; Limited Inc., 8 percent; Woolworth Corp. domestic stores, 8.9 percent; Mercantile Stores, 9.5 percent, and Venture Stores, 5.1 percent.

“We continue to see strengthening demand in women’s apparel, with dresses performing particularly well across all our business units,” said John J. Shea, Spiegel’s vice chairman and chief executive officer. The company’s overall sales rose 28 percent, to $168.6 million from $131.6 million.

Robert J. Ulrich, Dayton Hudson’s ceo, noted continuing improvement in the women’s wear-to-work and dress categories at the Mervyn’s division, where same-store sales rose 1 percent. A spokesman said shorts, shorter lengths in dresses and skirts, knits and mix-and-match swimwear were all strong at the division.

In DH’s department stores division, comparable-store sales were up 7 percent. Hot sellers included shorts at all price points, T-shirts and tank tops, textured knits, printed rayon separates and casual rompers. Linen was strong across all areas. In intimates, the Wonderbra was a hot seller. In dresses, Empire waistlines were popular, as were sheer fabrications and baby doll silhouettes.

At the Target division, comparable-store sales increased 1 percent.

Overall, Dayton Hudson’s sales rose 7.6 percent, to $1.3 billion, from $1.23 billion, and comparable-store sales increased 2 percent. Federated Department Stores posted a 3.3 percent sales increase, to $523.8 million from $507.1 million, with comparable-store sales up 1.2 percent.

Allen I. Questrom, chairman and ceo, said the April sales were below expectations. He speculated that a higher tax rate and the early Easter hurt volume, but concluded, “We don’t really know whether these factors actually were significant in depressing April sales.” A spokeswoman for Federated cited strength in handbags and watches.

At the Neiman Marcus Group, sales rose 2.5 percent, to $151.6 million from $148 million, and same-store sales were also up 2.5 percent. Comparable-store sales at the Neiman Marcus division increased in the mid-single digits, and Bergdorf Goodman’s were up in the high single digits. Contempo Casuals’ comparable-store sales continued to be in the negative double digits, a spokesman said.

At Neiman Marcus stores, in the leisure category, David Dart and Free Wear have been extremely popular. Other strong performers were casual trousers in prints with drawstring waists, and foundations, especially the Wonderbra. In designer sportswear, Emanuel and Ellen Tracy have been hot sellers. Suits at all price points from bridge to designer have also been selling well. Evening wear and handbags, particularly designer handbags, were also strong. Apparel generated strong growth at Sears, which posted a 12.4 percent sales gain to $2.4 billion, from $2.2 billion.

J.C. Penney Stores, however, posted a 1.8 percent sales decline to $1.01 billion from $1.03 billion. Same-store sales declined 2.1 percent. However, hot sellers were lingerie, misses’ casual sportswear and athletic apparel. At Penney’s catalog unit, sales rose 11.8 percent to $228 million, with children’s apparel a standout.

Sales at The Limited declined 2.9 percent, to $459 million from $472.6 million, with continued weakness in women’s apparel.

In April, Express, Limited and Lerner all posted lower comparable-store sales. Express was down in the low 20s, Limited was down in the high 20s and Lerner was down in the high single digits.

The company said it cut back on promotions to regain price credibility at Limited and Express. While this policy dented women’s apparel sales, it should strengthen the integrity of its brands, the company said.

The Limited’s Victoria’s Secret stores reported same-store sales up in the low double digits, and the catalog was up in the mid 20s. The Gap posted a 10 percent sales gain to $251 million, but comparable-store sales were flat. Ann Taylor Stores sales advanced 13.1 percent, with same-store sales up 1.3 percent.

Wal-Mart posted a 24 percent sales gain, to $6.3 billion from $5 billion. Kmart Corp. posted a 2.9 percent sales gain, to $2.6 billion. Same-store sales fell 1.6 percent.