FINE JEWELRY SHINES FOR HOLIDAY

Byline: Jennifer L. Brady

NEW YORK--Fine jewelry chains chalked up robust gains in holiday selling, but for the couple of accessories specialty chains reporting results, the performance was mixed.
Zale Corp., based in Dallas; Barry's Jewelers, Monrovia, Calif., and Reeds Jewelers, Wilmington, N.C., all reported substantial hikes in same-store sales for December. At Tiffany & Co., same-store sales were strong in the U.S. for the combined November-December period, but disappointing in the Japanese market, which makes up about 25 percent of Tiffany's sales.
At accessories chains, the appeal of sunglasses as gifts gave December a boost at Sunglass Hut International, based in Coral Gables, Fla. Same-store sales at Claire's Stores, Pembroke Pines, Fla., dipped.
Tiffany's same-store sales in Japan increased 4 percent in November and December, following a 22 percent hike in that area in the third quarter ended Oct. 31. Analysts blamed the shortfall on recent price cuts on more than half of the items at Tiffany's Japan stores. Overall, Tiffany's international sales rose 18 percent in the holiday period, with gains in most markets. In the U.S., Tiffany's same-store sales rose 10 percent, with strong growth in Tiffany's New York and branch stores. That marked a slight slowdown from a 12 percent U.S. gain in the third quarter.Direct marketing sales were up 11 percent.
William R. Chaney, chairman of Tiffany's, said he expected the company would show "solid sales and earnings in fiscal 1994" and opportunities for growth in 1995 "remain very substantial."
Shares of Tiffany & Co. on the New York Stock Exchange continued to fall on Friday, down 1/4 to 33 7/8, after dropping 5 7/8,to 34 1/8 on Thursday, following the report of the slowdown in Japan.
Same-store sales at Zale Corp. surged 15.2 percent. Thomas E. Whiddon, vice president and treasurer, noted that the strong sales gains were achieved without additional promotions or discounting. He highlighted diamond tennis bracelets as hot items. Total sales grew 15.2 percent to $280 million.
Barry's Jewelers racked up its third consecutive year of double-digit same-store sales gains, jumping 13 percent in December, according to Terry L. Burman, president. Total sales climbed 25 percent to $32.5 million. Burman added, "Although it was a highly competitive and promotional holiday season, which impacted our gross margin, our strong sales increase will more than offset the effect on our profitability."
At Reeds Jewelers, sales were up in all categories, led by strong sales in diamonds. Alan M. Zimmer, president,said. Same-store sales grew 8 percent, which "exceeded internal projections." Total sales rose 14 percent to $20.6 million .
While same-store sales fell 4 percent at Claire's Stores Inc., Rowland Schaefer, chairman and president, said the company "finished the Christmas season in a strong position+our inventories were well controlled, and seasonal markdowns this year have not exceeded last year's by any measurable amount." Total sales at Claire's rose 7 percent to $61.95 million.
Sales of sunglasses brightened late in the month at Sunglass Hut International, Inc., where same-store sales advanced 10.4 percent. Jack B. Chadsey, president and chief executive officer, noted that despite less than expected mall traffic in the first few weeks of December, "our business strengthened the last two weeks as customers began purchasing sunglasses as gifts." Total sales gained 34.1 percent to $34.7 million.
--Fairchild News Service

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