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Mixed Bag for First Aug. Comps

NEW YORK — The mature woman’s disenchantment with department stores helped two women’s specialty stores — Chico’s FAS and Christopher & Banks Corp. — report positive comparable-store sales in August.<br><br>However,...

NEW YORK — The mature woman’s disenchantment with department stores helped two women’s specialty stores — Chico’s FAS and Christopher & Banks Corp. — report positive comparable-store sales in August.

However, Ann Taylor Stores felt an early chill in August as it reported a 7.6 percent drop in its August comps. Still, the New York-based firm said sales were improving heading into September. It also reiterated Wall Street’s average earnings estimates for the second quarter.

Marcia Aaron, a specialty store analyst at Pacific Growth Equities, said women’s specialty apparel stores “are still gaining even in a difficult market because department stores continue to give up market share. There is so much market share to be had from department stores, so specialty stores can generate positive monthly comps.” She also noted that last year, this customer spent money either on her children or her home; now, she appears more apt to spend on herself, especially with the newer feminine fashions.

Late Wednesday, Nordstrom reported that it eked out a same-store sales increase of 0.2 percent last month despite a 0.8 percent drop at its full-line stores. Teen retailers Hot Topic and Aeropostale checked in with August comp increases of 5.3 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively, but troubled off-pricer Factory 2-U Stores suffered a 10.7 percent same-store sales decrease. Most retailers will report their August sales today.

Fort Myers, Fla.-based Chico’s, which operates a chain of 341 stores, said August same-store sales increased 13.7 percent on a total sales increase of 39.8 percent to $39.5 million.

Charles Kleman, chief financial officer, said August sales were helped by a catalog mailing at the end of the month compared with the first week of September last year, an additional week of television advertising as well as having the “right offering.” The customer, he noted, “was not into fall in July, but she is into buying fall right now.” Chico’s posted an uncustomarily low 4.9 percent comp increase in July.

Christopher & Banks, which is based in Minneapolis and operates 408 stores under the Christopher & Banks and C.J. Banks nameplates, said comps extended 5 percent last month on a 24.5 percent increase in total sales to $23.4 million. It expects second-quarter earnings in the range of 25 to 26 cents a diluted share, versus earnings of 20 cents in the year-ago second quarter, when, on Sept. 24, it reports results for the three months ended Aug. 31.

Categories which performed well in August included sweaters, woven shirts and bottoms, according to Bill Prange, chairman and chief executive, in a statement.

Ann Taylor’s comps declined 7.6 percent versus a decrease of 3.5 percent during the same period last year. Total sales advanced 2.4 percent to $88.6 million. By division, comps were down 8.7 percent for the Ann Taylor division, compared with an 8.2 percent decrease last year, and down 5.4 percent for the Loft division, compared with an 11.8 percent increase last year.

Still, Ann Taylor chairman J. Patrick Spainhour said in a statement that August full-price sales grew stronger as the month progressed at AT stores, signaling approval of its early fall product. “We are pleased to be entering September, a month that epitomizes our core brand equity heavily marketed through our Suit Authority campaign, with good full-price selling momentum,” he said.

Despite its August sputter, AT said it remains comfortable with current third-quarter earnings-per-share guidance in the range of 50 to 51 cents with quarterly comps expected to be up in the low-single digits. September and October comps are projected to rise in the mid-single and low-single digits, respectively. For the fourth quarter, AT said it is also comfortable with earnings guidance in the range of 32 to 33 cents a share with comps in the quarter flat to last year. Full year earnings are forecast in the range of $1.66 to $1.68 per share.

Also reporting, Claire’s Stores, the Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based specialty accessories and costume jewelry retailer, said its comps increased 5 percent in August. By division, comps were up in the mid-single digits at Claire’s Accessories North America and up in the low-single digits at Icing by Claire’s, but down in the low-single digits at Claire’s Accessories Europe.

“Even though the retail environment remains challenging, we continue to produce positive same-store sales by converting sales into higher average transactions. This validates that our brands remain strong,” Rowland Schaefer, chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.