By  on December 2, 1994

NEW YORK -- Apparel sales surged Thanksgiving weekend, but overall November was a disappointing month for many chains as warm weather hurt sales, major retailers said Thursday.

Outerwear and sportswear were hardest hit, they said. Specialty apparel chains, regional discounters and off-pricers reported the weakest results, while department stores generally managed modest gains. Ann Taylor Stores Corp. and The Talbots Inc. beat the trend. Ann Taylor's same-store sales jumped 18.4 percent and total sales leapt 40.7 percent to $58.5 million. Talbots, continuing its strong sales momentum this year, reported same-store sales up 9.1 percent, led by its petites division. Total sales grew 17 percent to $66.4 million. At The Limited Inc., same-store sales fell 4 percent, despite some improvement in the second half of the month. Total sales gained 4 percent to $657.4 million. Weakness in women's apparel continued to offset strength in other areas. Among Limited's women's chains, only Express beat management's plans, with same-store sales moving up in the mid-single digits and merchandise margins "up nicely," the company said.

The other divisions showed same-store sales declines -- The Limited Stores tumbled to the low 20s, Lerner New York was off in the high teens, Lane Bryant was off in the low-single digits and Henri Bendel was down in the low-single digits.

Victoria's Secret stores' same-store sales were up in the mid-single digits, Victoria's Secret's catalog sales climbed in the low 30s and Bath & Body Works sales jumped in the mid-30s.

Same-store sales at The Gap Inc. nudged ahead 1 percent, while total sales increased 14 percent to $332 million. Banana Republic's same-store sales rose in the mid-teens to offset declines at both Gap and GapKids.

J.C. Penney Co.'s same-store sales were up only 1.5 percent, trending well behind its year-to-date 6.6 percent gain. Total sales increased 2 percent to $2 million. Warm weather slowed sales of sportswear and outerwear, but junior sportswear, career apparel and handbags were hot. Dresses and pantsuits did "OK," a spokesman said. At the catalog division, women's sportswear was strong.

Sears Roebuck & Co. said its domestic same-store sales rose 4.9 percent and total sales increased 6 percent to $2.34 billion. "November finished with the best Thanksgiving weekend in the company's history, although unseasonably mild weather got the month off to a slow start," said Arthur C. Martinez, chairman and chief executive officer of The Merchandise Group. Sears said cosmetics, fine jewelry and men's apparel "drove the soft side" while hard lines, including computers and major appliances, had double-digit gains.May Department Stores Co. showed a 2.3 percent same-store gain, with department stores up 3 percent and PayLess ShoeSource down 2.2 percent. As reported, same-store sales at Federated Department Stores Inc. moved ahead 6.2 percent, while Dillard Department Stores Inc.'s same-store sales rose up 3 percent.

At Neiman-Marcus Group Inc. comparable-store sales rose 0.3 percent while total sales dipped 2.1 percent to $190.6 million. Same-store sales at Neiman-Marcus stores advanced in the low single digits and Bergdorf Goodman was up in the mid-single digits. Contempo Casuals was off in the high-single digits and NM Direct mail-order sales dipped in the low-single digits. Spiegel Inc. reported total sales rose 5 percent to $291 million, but same-store sales at Eddie Bauer slid 3 percent. Spiegel said sales continued to be hurt by "weakness in apparel and accessories geared to cold weather."

Other specialty store chain with significant same-store sales declines were Chico's FAS Inc., 19.3 percent; Clothestime Inc., 12 percent; The Cato Corp., 11 percent; Charming Shoppes Inc., 11 percent, and Designs, Inc., 10 percent. At U.S. Shoes' women's apparel group, which includes Casual Corner and Petite Sophisticate, same-store sales sank 7.8 percent.

Off-price firms were also hit hard. Same-store sales at Value City Department Stores were off 6.4 percent, TJX Cos. Inc. lost 3 percent and Filene's Basement Co. and The Dress Barn fell 4 percent, Target Stores, a division of Dayton Hudson Corp., was the top discount performer, with same-store sales jumping 9.9 percent. Dayton Hudson's overall same-store sales rose 8.7 percent, with total sales up 14.3 percent to $1.95 billion. Women's casual apparel performed well at Mervyn's, where same-store sales increased 8.4 percent; department stores' same-store sales were up 4.7 percent.

"These results reflect significant increase in promotional intensity after Thanksgiving, which helped boost sales across all three operating companies," Robert Ulrich, DH chairman and ceo, said in a statement. Wal-Mart Stores discount stores' same-store sales climbed 8.1 percent. Overall same-stores increased 5.4 percent, dragged down by a 4.1 percent slide at Sam's Club. Total sales jumped 21 percent to $7.85 billion. Kmart Corp.'s U.S. discount stores posted a 4 percent same-store sales gain. Joseph E. Antonini, chairman and ceo, cited improved fashion apparel sales in the last week of November. Overall, U.S. discount sales improved 8.5 percent to $2.4 billion from $2.3 billion.Discounters showing same-store declines included Bradlees, 6 percent; Caldor Corp, 2.7 percent, and Venture Stores Inc., 3.2 percent.

-- Fairchild News Service

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