Stage Stores Inc. narrowed its loss in the first quarter on a same-store sales decline of 1.1 percent, but reported robust direct-to-consumer sales, which increased 31 percent.

Sales for the quarter fell 0.8 percent to $369 million from $372 million in the same period last year as the net loss was reduced to $8.6 million, or 27 cents a share, from $18.8 million, or 38 cents. The gross margin rate gained 180 basis points to 21.9 percent.

In the quarterly report, Michael Glazer, president and chief executive officer, said “despite difficult market conditions and a marketing calendar shift, we are pleased with the 29 percent earnings improvement over last year. We delivered expanded merchandise margins and grew our direct-to-consumer business by 31 percent, while controlling our expenses.”

The brands operated by Stage Stores include Stage, Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal and Peebles. The retailer operates 853 stores, which are primarily located in rural and tertiary markets in 40 states. The company’s strategic approach is to deliver well-known, national and global brands to these markets. It offers men’s, women’s and children’s apparel, beauty and footwear brands such as Adidas, Nautica, Levi’s, Lee, Skechers, Dockers, Nike, Elizabeth Arden and Chaps, among others.

The retailer reiterated prior guidance, which reflects continued challenges in the markets that it serves. The company said same-stores sales are pegged at flat to a 2 percent gain for the year with earnings per share to be in the range of $1.20 to $1.28.

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