By  on August 5, 2005

NEW YORK — Retailers seem tuned into the student body.

School is already in session in certain cities, and stores have cleared out the summer goods efficiently, weeks earlier than last year in some cases. That's given them extra time to focus on back-to-school, which, after just two to four weeks of selling, gets a good preliminary report card from specialty chains. They're citing healthy inventory positions, faster merchandise turns, and widely accepted cowboy and bohemian styles, embellishments, and denims, particularly vintage, premium and distressed styles.

"We are turning the business more rapidly," said Tom Lennox, director of corporate communications at Abercrombie & Fitch. He said A&F cleared summer goods for a b-t-s preview during the second week of June and the selling floors were fully set by July 4.

"We have seen a very positive start to our back-to-school selling season, with end-of-quarter merchandise inventories in excellent shape," Mike Rayden, chairman, president and chief executive officer of tween chain Too Inc., said in a statement. Too Inc. expects to report on Aug. 17 earnings per share from 10 cents to 11 cents, or twice the previous forecast.

There is less optimism among department store executives. High fuel costs, terrorism fears, and a possible denim glut could slow business, and the electronics side of the season doesn't appear as healthy. Also, it remains to be seen whether consumers respond to neutrals, which are popping up, in contrast to the rainbow of colors in past seasons.

On Thursday, major retailers reported July sales and, generally, they were not impressive. As one Northeast department store executive said, "We have some strong items in the way of shrugs and embellished tank tops, but it's slow in denim and denim is the biggest single category of business for back-to-school." Consequently, "the season, overall, is starting off a little slow."

Some denim receipts are delayed, and consumers could be shying away from denim due to the heat, he added.

"As long as consumers stay high on denim, we'll have a good back-to-school season," said a department store ceo. "The kids' business is up a little for the year, and flat for the month" of July.

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