WILSON TRIMS ITS LOSSES, EYES FURTHER EXPANSION

NEW YORK — A greater focus on more fashionable leather goods geared toward the younger customer helped Wilsons The Leather Experts Inc. reduce its first-quarter net losses by about two-thirds.
In the first quarter ended April 29, Wilsons posted a net loss of $1.4 million versus $4.2 million in the year-ago period. The 2000 quarter’s losses include a $623,000 charge for early extinguishment of debt, while the 1999 quarter’s loss reflects a $1.4 million charge for changes in accounting. Excluding all charges and taxes, operating losses were $1.7 million in the quarter versus $3.4 million during the 1999 period.
The Minneapolis-based company said sales increased 11.1 percent to $90.3 million in the quarter from $81.3 million in the year-ago period. Comparable store sales increased 7.2 percent.
Joel Waller, chairman and chief executive, said, “We are making substantial progress toward improving the seasonality of earnings in our business. The strong sales performance of our young-women’s merchandise, up more than 40 percent from last year, is a direct result of our strategy to better serve the younger, more fashion-conscious customer.”
The company said its gross margin rate improved significantly over last year due to increased sales of higher-margin fashion goods and fewer clearance markdowns on prior-season merchandise due to strong sales in the fourth quarter of 1999.
He added that he was pleased with the Wilsons outlet business, which he labeled one of the company’s key growth areas.
Waller said Wilsons is on track to open roughly 50 new stores during fiscal 2000.
Wilsons, a specialty retailer of leather outerwear, apparel and accessories, operates 536 retail stores in 44 states, Canada and England.