ST. LOUIS — Although Venture Stores sees fashion as one of its strongest suits, the chain was trumped last year when consumers moved their dollars from soft goods to durables.
With an improved economy and clearer fashion trends this season, the discounter is projecting sales gains at 8 to 10 percent for 1994, said Gene Caldwell, chief financial officer.
Caldwell, addressing a recent meeting of the St. Louis Association of Financial Analysts, said sales in 1993 rose 8.4 percent from 1992, but same-store sales were flat. He attributed the poor business to last year’s extreme weather, including the Midwest floods and a lack of clear fashion direction. He called spring 1993 apparel business “horrible.”
Now, apparel sales are picking up, with such spring offerings as bodysuits at $8, short, flippy skirts at $17, and silk noile tunics at $11.99.
Venture said same-store sales grew 9.9 percent for March.
According to Caldwell, 39 percent of Venture’s total sales, $1.8 billion in 1993, were generated by women’s and men’s apparel.
The chain also tries hard to be first with key looks.
“We view speed as a competitive advantage,” Caldwell said. The chain brought long vintage dresses to its floors in January 1993, for instance, and bought into other key looks, like rib tunics and broomstick skirts, through last spring and fall.
Other vehicles of growth for Venture include:
An emphasis on promotional advertising, mainly through its weekly circular insert in newspapers. The circular helps the chain communicate sale items for the week as well as important fashion looks and gift ideas, Caldwell said.
Improved logistics. The company spent $12 million in 1993 installing more advanced point-of-sale and back-office equipment, Caldwell said, which has enabled Venture to reduce the two-to-three-week cycle from order placement to delivery by an average of four days. It has also helped stores maintain better in-stock positions and fine-tune their regional offerings.
“For example, we now recognize the average shoe size in Texas is smaller than in the Midwest,” Caldwell said.
Continued expansion. This year, 10 stores are set to open, one each in Chicago and Edmond, Okla., and eight in Texas. Venture currently operates 104 stores in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.
The company opened five stores in Indianapolis in 1992 and 11 in Texas last year. Despite intense competition in those areas from Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target, the Indianapolis stores increased their sales by 11.2 percent in 1993, and the Dallas and Houston stores were ahead of plan 13.4 and 12.5 percent, respectively, said Caldwell.
In the Chicago market, where Venture was somewhat hammered by the simultaneous opening of 11 Target Greatland stores last spring, Venture is showing signs of recovery, Caldwell said.
“We expected them to take between 3 and 8 percent of our business, and that’s what happened. We also expect to get those sales back,” he said, adding that business in the Chicago market had stabilized.
Venture said it has regained some of the business through aggressive price cutting, designed to match Target’s prices, on “highly identifiable items,” such as health and beauty aids.