By  on March 11, 2005

NEW YORK — For some of the regional retailers such as Dillard’s and Bon-Ton Stores, the fourth quarter of 2004 was spent on fine-tuning merchandise mixes as a way to differentiate themselves in the market. Based on quarterly results of these companies Thursday, most succeeded.

Meanwhile, specialty retailers kept up their dizzying pace of delivering robust sales and earnings.

After the bell, for example, Aeropostale Inc. said net income in the quarter ended Jan. 29 soared 28.4 percent to $35.3 million, or 62 cents a diluted share, from $27.5 million, or 47 cents, in the prior year, on sales that rose 20 percent to $327.1 million from $272.6 million.

Julian Geiger, chairman and chief executive officer, said the firm’s “continued focus on gross margin improvement and operating margin expansion enabled us to translate our 20 percent gain in sales into a significantly higher increase in earnings per share.”

In the department store sector, Dillard’s Inc. said for the three months ended Jan. 29, income swelled 112 percent to $108.6 million, or $1.30 a diluted share, from $51.2 million, or 61 cents, in the same year-ago quarter. Soaring profits were mostly from an aftertax gain of $53.7 million in connection with the retailer’s sale of its private label credit card business to GE Consumer Finance for $1.1 billion. The quarter also included an $8.6 million aftertax impairment charge. The prior year’s quarter included $11.3 million aftertax asset impairment charges as well. Sales were essentially flat at $2.3 billion.

Management at Dillard’s reiterated its “strong belief that merchandise differentiation with special emphasis on becoming a more upscale retailer” is crucial to the retailer’s success. “The company seeks to build and maintain customer loyalty by presenting more exciting fashion choices reflective of a younger-focused and more upscale attitude,” the retailer said in a statement.

The company has also been eliminating underperforming lines. Dillard’s said it will use information technology capabilities to tailor the assortments to local demographics. So far, exclusive brand merchandise has gained slightly as a percentage of sales, reaching 23.1 percent in 2004 from 20.9 percent in 2003. It plans to open eight more stores and replace one store in 2005.

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