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Some retailers still report sales in black ink

While retailers of every stripe languish thanks to tapped-out consumers and tight credit — minus Wal-Mart, February sales slipped 4.3 percent — a hardy few have been defying gravity. They’re posting sales gains even in hard-pressed categories. Who are these guys? Turns out there are common themes.

Mega retailers

At Wal-Mart, U.S. same-store sales rose 2.8 percent in the quarter ended Jan. 31. But when you're the world's biggest store, that's a yearly increase of $10 billion, a gain equal to what KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut generate in total sales yearly. Retailers' February sales performance including Wal-Mart fell only 0.1 percent, instead of 4.3 percent. That's why former CEO Lee Scott calls bad times "Wal-Mart time."

Online retailers

Amazon, the grandparent of the dot-com retailers, reported a shocking 7 percent increase in U.S. business (18 percent internationally) during the holiday quarter. This while sales among all online retailers dropped 3 percent and traffic at eBay was down 2.5 percent. Experts credit Amazon's industry-leading customer satisfaction rating, sharp pricing and an ever-growing array of goods and services.

Dollar stores

Not everything's a dollar at dollar stores anymore. But it's cheap enough — especially paper, party and cleaning supplies — to beat Wal-Mart. Once stocked for lower-income families, dollar stores now draw bargain hunters of all incomes. Sales in stores open more than a year were up 2.1 percent at Family Dollar, 6.2 percent at Dollar Tree and 9.4 percent at Dollar General, which plans to remodel or open 400 stores this year.

Big-volume grocers

Some limited selection grocers that sell big volumes of low-margin goods have been on a roll. Same-store sales at BJ's Warehouse rose 9.4 percent in the year ended Jan. 31. German budget grocer Aldi's little no-frills stores have been a mob scene since making landfall in Florida in September. Costco rebounded from a soft holiday in February with sales up 5 percent excluding gas.

Teen apparel

Budget-priced teen apparel is tricky. But rock 'n' roll and Goth-inspired T-shirts work for Hot Topic, where fourth-quarter sales were up 6.5 percent. At Aeropostale, copies of pricier teen brands propelled same-store sales 17 percent in the most recent quarter. Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, which cater to the teen-to-hipster crowd, were up 8 percent. Bolstered by brands bought at distressed wholesale, Bealls Outlet rose "mid single digits."

Buy, sell, swap

Stores that also buy, sell and swap used goods have a built-in hedge against recession. Sales at GameStop soared 10.2 percent during the holiday quarter, where a third of the business is used games. Apparel reseller Plato's Closet pushed a 10 percent gain during the quarter while same-store sales at Goodwill Industries Suncoast rose 5.8 percent the past seven months. Sales are soft at Play it Again Sports, but profits are the same; used goods jumped from 22 percent to a third of sales.

Some retailers still report sales in black ink 03/05/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 9, 2009 8:57am]

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