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Inventory Control Aids Stein Mart in Quarter

NEW YORK — Inventory management helped Stein Mart Inc. salvage increased earnings from lower same-store sales in the final quarter of 2002, but the uncertain economy prompted a slowdown in store expansion in the new year.<br><br>Fourth-quarter...

NEW YORK — Inventory management helped Stein Mart Inc. salvage increased earnings from lower same-store sales in the final quarter of 2002, but the uncertain economy prompted a slowdown in store expansion in the new year.

Fourth-quarter net income improved 15.6 percent to $10.4 million, or 25 cents a share, from $9 million, or 22 cents, a year ago.

Sales for the period ended Feb. 1 inched up 0.3 percent year-over-year to $408.4 million from $407.3 million. Comparable-store sales, though, dipped 3.3 percent.

President and chief executive Michael Fisher attributed the bottom-line improvement to stringent inventory management and store productivity initiatives.

“Additional progress can be made in these two areas in 2003 — progress that will be critical if the current retail climate continues,” he said in a statement.

Inventory management pulled average store inventories down 4 percent at year’s end, making for fewer markdowns and a better use of capital, said the firm.

Stein Mart has also been testing the bounds of its concept with a trial store format that bowed last year. The Rolling Hills, Calif., door weighs in at less than 15,000 square feet and could be the blueprint for the firm’s entry into premium and resort markets where a 36,000-square-foot full-sized Stein Mart might not work.

Stein Mart added 16 new stores in 2002 and closed four, for a total of 267 doors, and also introduced DSW Shoe Warehouse as a new lessee in 160 doors.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based firm did reduce its expansion plan for this year, though, to 14 new doors. Previously, Stein Mart had slated 25 new stores in 2003.

For the full year, earnings fattened 34.8 percent to $20.7 million, or 50 cents a share, from $15.4 million, or 37 cents, in 2001. Sales over the 12 months gained 6.7 percent to $1.41 billion from $1.32 billion during the preceding year. Comps slid 0.8 percent.

Fisher declined to provide sales and earnings guidance for the new year, “given the economic instability and geopolitical uncertainties, as well as the significant shift of Easter from March last year into April this year.”