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Fred’s reports strong Q3 results

BY Allison Cerra

MEMPHIS — Discount retailer Fred’s realized positive third-quarter results, thanks to "strong customer traffic, higher gross margins in its general merchandise and pharmacy departments, as well as improved management of controllable operating costs," Fred’s CEO Bruce Efird said.

Total sales for the retailer rose 2% to $444.4 million, compared with the year-ago period, while comparable-store sales were flat. Net income increased 16% to $9 million, compared with last year, while earnings per diluted share rose 20% to 24 cents.

During the third quarter, Fred’s opened seven new stores and six express pharmacy stores and currently operates 683 discount general merchandise stores, including 22 franchised Fred’s stores.

Looking ahead, the company expects total sales for the fourth quarter  to increase in the range of 2% to 4%, while comparable-store sales are expected to increase between 1% and 3%, versus an increase of 2.3% in fourth quarter 2010. Earnings per diluted share are forecasted to increase between 5% and 23% to a range of 23 cents to 27 cents.

"As the company enters the final quarter of the year, we remain confident in our ability to drive earnings improvement," Efird said. "We recognize the continuing strong economic headwinds, including high unemployment levels across our markets and a very competitive sales environment. On the other hand, we are excited about the success of our Core 5 program and other initiatives designed to drive sales and traffic, and believe our merchandising and marketing plans in place will deliver great values and exciting shopping experiences for our customers in the upcoming holiday season. On balance, Fred’s remains well positioned to provide a strong finish to 2011 and pursue our longer-term growth objectives."

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Say cheese! Walgreens offers same-day service for personalized photo gifts

BY Allison Cerra

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Photo enthusiasts that shop at Walgreens now can enjoy same-day pickup for many of its photo gifts at more than 3,000 stores nationwide.

Walgreens customers can create their gifts by utilizing Walgreens touchscreen photo kiosks in stores (or from home at Walgreens.com/photo) and pick them up within the same day at their local store. The drug store chain said its new photo technology and printing systems produce high-resolution, color-rich prints that allow photo technicians to produce some photo gifts in as little as an hour.

Products now available for the same-day store pickup option include classic photo books, wall calendars, folded cards and greeting cards, posters, collage calendar posters, board prints, banenrs and more. Prices range from $1.99 to upwards of $19.99.

"With most online photo sites, people often have to wait a week or more to get custom photo gifts delivered to their homes," said Jasbir Patel, Walgreens senior director and general merchandise manager of photo and e-commerce. "Our new service allows customers to pick up these products in their neighborhood store the same day. For time-crunched holiday shoppers, this will be a valuable service."

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Ahold reports Q3 earnings, unveils growth strategies

BY Alaric DeArment

AMSTERDAM — Dutch supermarket operator Royal Ahold reported sales of $9.3 billion and profits of $347.8 million in third quarter 2011, the company said.

Those figures represented a 2.5% increase in sales and a 15.2% increase in profits over third quarter 2010.

The company’s Ahold USA division — comprised of the Stop & Shop, Giant-Carlisle and Giant-Landover chains and the Peapod online grocery delivery service — had sales of $5.8 billion, an 8.5% increase over third quarter 2010. For the year so far, sales were $19.2 billion, a 7.1% increase over the first three quarters of fiscal year 2010.

The company operated 757 stores in the United States at the end of the quarter, compared with 746 at the end of third quarter 2010, and 751 at the end of fiscal year 2010.

At a conference with investors Monday, CEO Dick Boer unveiled "six strategic pillars" to accelerate growth in the company. These included an expansion of store formats and the company’s online business, including a test in early 2012 of a system that will allow customers in Europe and the United States to order items online and pick them up at designated locations; an expansion of the company’s geographic reach, particularly in Europe, but also in the United States; a three-year, 350 million Euro cost-reduction program; programs to increase customer loyalty; programs to develop employees’ skills and capabilities; and charitable programs.

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