Early Comp Sales Lay an Egg

The onset of war and the shift of Easter into April this year conspired to reduce March same-store sales results for a handful of early filers.

NEW YORK — The onset of war and the shift of Easter into April this year conspired to reduce March same-store sales results for a handful of early filers.

This story first appeared in the April 4, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While most retailers will report March comparable-store sales results on April 10, those reporting this Thursday all registered comp declines, and Dress Barn and Deb Shops finished last month with double-digit dips in their numbers.

However, jewelry retailer Friedman’s reported an increase in quarterly sales on both a net and same-store basis.

Christopher & Banks, a Minneapolis-based chain of 449 stores, said March same-store sales slid 6 percent, but total sales increased 15 percent to $26.8 million.

Bill Prange, chairman and chief executive, said in a statement that March comps, while negative, were better than expected given the shift of pre-Easter business into April this year versus being in March last year.

Andrew Moller, chief financial officer, said in a telephone interview, “Certainly, what we saw in the first half of the month was business was impacted by snowstorms in many of our market areas. Business was strong in the third week when the weather turned nicer, but in the fourth week, the Easter impact was felt causing about a 4 percent decline.”

Looking ahead to the first quarter ending May 31, Moller said he anticipates comps to decline in the mid-single-digit range, but noted April’s results should positively benefit from the calendar shift.

Suffern, N.Y.-based The Dress Barn, a 770-unit specialty chain, said its March comps slid 11 percent and overall sales eroded 10.2 percent to $63.7 million.

In addition, Deb Shops, a Philadelphia-based specialty retailer focused on juniors, said its comps decreased 15.2 percent in March and total sales fell 10.8 percent to $24.8 million.

Los Angeles-based Guess said late Wednesday its March comps fell 4.5 percent, comprised of a 6.1 percent decrease at its full-priced retail stores and 0.2 percent pullback in its factory outlets. Total sales, including new stores, for the month rose 3.1 percent to $29.2 million.

The company blamed the Easter holiday shift for the decrease, noting comps for the first three weeks of the fiscal month increased 1.3 percent.

However, Savannah, Ga-based Friedman’s said comps for its second quarter ended March 29 rose 1.4 percent and total sales increased 4.3 percent to $98.4 million. In addition, its Crescent Jewelers affiliate said comps for the three-month period rose 6.7 percent and net sales increased 10 percent to $31.8 million. Friedman’s is expected to announce its quarterly earnings on April 24.