By  on December 7, 2006

It's been a wild ride for retailers over the past year. Initial public offerings, acquisitions, management changes and restrategizing gave way to some impressive gains in share prices. "The flurry of M&A activity, which started in late 2005, is expected to continue through 2007 for the retail and apparel sector," WWD reported in November. Even the recent dip in retail stocks hasn't slowed some companies. Retailers are also hoping the holiday season will help to buoy numbers. Here, WWD focuses on specialty retailers leading the pack with their skyrocketing stock prices since July.

Change in stock price since July: 55.9 percent
In October, Maurice Marciano, co-chairman and co-chief executive officer of Guess, told WWD, "Our retail business has grown tremendously, and for the first time this year, we are passing the $1 billion mark." The Los Angeles-based company has witnessed a remarkable turnaround over the past couple of years, thanks in part to its strategy to focus more on retail — the company is unveiling a new retail format that will roll out in North America next year called G by Guess. The company attributed record recent third-quarter results to its denim business, store growth.

46.4 percent
This specialty apparel retailer's same-store sales in November grew 8 percent, helped by high demand for dresses, sportswear and accessories. Caché owns and operates some 300 specialty stores in shopping malls in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The company closed all of its Lillie Rubin shops in 2006 and launched a new format called Caché Luxe. These stores offer more sophisticated daytime apparel, dresses, sportswear and accessories, targeting women between the ages of 35 and 55.

46.2 percent

By targeting teens with its contemporary Wet Seal shops, along with an older clientele with its Arden B. stores, Wet Seal is watching its stock price increase at a fast clip. The Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based company opened 10 new stores during the third quarter ended Oct. 28. For the same period, chief executive Joel Waller said in a statement, "At Wet Seal, our summer offering was powerful and was followed by a fall selling season that is exceeding our expectations. At Arden B., new collections provided strength in sales that we have not seen in this business for some time."J. CREW
45.1 percent

Despite a 7.1 percent dip in price on Nov. 28, J. Crew has been on a streak this year, following a successful IPO this past summer. For the three months ended Oct. 28, the company saw increased sales across its women's, men's and children's businesses — operating profits soared 51 percent for the period, while sales jumped 23 percent. Millard "Mickey" Drexler, chairman and ceo, said during a call with Wall Street analysts, "We remain confident as we enter the holiday season and expect continued strength from our third-quarter drivers, while layering on our important gift-giving and cold-weather assortment."

39.7 percent

During the third quarter ended Oct. 28, Warrendale, Pa.-based American Eagle's sales increased by 20 percent to $696.3 million. The company also launched its intimate subbrand aerie and the new retail concept Martin + Osa, which targets 25- to 40-year-olds. The specialty retailer opened 19 American Eagle stores and remodeled nine others during the period. "We expect American Eagle to be one of the strongest retail performers this holiday season," said Jennifer Black, of Jennifer Black & Associates, in a note. "American Eagle has a growing, loyal following with teens and parents as well."

39.7 percent

Though Talbots is still adjusting to its acquisition of J. Jill, the Hingham, Mass.-based women's specialty retailer must be pleased with its increasing stock price. Total sales for the company increased by 33 percent to $569 million for the third quarter ended Oct. 28 compared with last year — but that includes extra sales from J. Jill, which Talbots did not own in the prior period. Arnold B. Zetcher, chairman, president and ceo, said sales of Talbots-brand merchandise were healthy in August. He attributed the change to a well-balanced assortment of updated modern, classic merchandise.

38.3 percent

Following a series of "missed fashion opportunities and the failure to comprehend the trends of core customers," according to company executives, Urban Outfitters is on the rise again. In November, Urban Outfitters reported depreciated third-quarter earnings but beat Wall Street expectations, causing shares to jump. "I see significant opportunity for our brands in the coming quarters. More customers are embracing the new fashion silhouette and we continue to make headway on improving our fashion offering," Richard Hayne, chairman and president, said in a statement.NEW YORK & CO.
34.5 percent

This retailer has had a little help from the cast of "Grey's Anatomy" as of late: During its third quarter ended Oct. 28, the women's specialty apparel chain launched a national marketing campaign featuring celebrities Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey. New York & Co. is continuing to improve its assortment of casual and wear-to-work apparel and accessories, which includes pants, jackets, knit tops, blouses, sweaters, denim, T-shirts, activewear, handbags and jewelry. During the third quarter, the company opened 20 New York & Co. doors, remodeled 12 locations and opened six new JasmineSola stores.

30.3 percent

After some management changes — Rodney Carter was named group senior vice president and chief financial officer, effective Oct. 16 — and an announcement that an SEC probe related to accounting issues had been called off, Dallas-based Zale Corp. has experienced a healthy increase in its stock price. Sales for the jeweler were up 1.1 percent to $432.5 million for the quarter ended Oct. 31. It remains to be seen whether "Blood Diamond," the Warner Bros. thriller that hits movie theaters Friday, hurts demand for diamonds during the key holiday shopping season.

28.9 percent

Selling accessories and fragrance lines from superstars like Hilary Duff, Britney Spears and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen has helped keep Claire's Stores in the spotlight. For the third quarter ended Oct. 28, net sales for the Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based company increased 6 percent to $347.6 million. The company is currently working to increase its store performance overseas, namely in Europe. Co-chairman and co-ceo Marla Schaefer also noted, "Over the past four years, we have created a robust jewelry business as increasing levels of consumer demand for fashion jewelry drove sales."

28.9 percent

Formerly the retail division of Alloy Inc., Delia's comprises three brands that target tweens and teens. Its three brands — Delia's, Alloy and CCS — encompass apparel, accessories, footwear, home furnishings and sports equipment through its stores and direct-mail catalogue. For the six months ended July 29, revenues increased 14.4 percent to $100.7 million. Robert Bernard, ceo, stated, "We are confident that both our retail and direct segments will deliver a strong fall season."CHARLOTTE RUSSE
27.2 percent

This mall-based specialty retailer said Wednesday that it has begun a search for a new chief financial officer. WWD reported in November that Charlotte Russe posted robust fourth-quarter earnings, with net income more than tripling due to a successful back-to-school season and the exiting of Rampage stores. The San Diego-based company sells fashionable, value-priced apparel and accessories targeting young women in their teens and 20s.

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