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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.