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GumDrop pacifiers hit retail

BY Michael Johnsen

OAK BROOK, Ill. — RC2 Corp. on Thursday extended its The First Years brand with GumDrop pacifiers and coordinating pacifier accessories.

Manufactured under a license from Natus Medical, GumDrop pacifiers feature the same nipple shape as the Soothie pacifier and are used by hospitals nationwide.

“GumDrop pacifiers are the perfect example of building on what moms and babies love about Soothie, and creating a brand-new retail offering with a unique product design,” stated Pete Henseler, RC2 president. "All of Mom’s top needs have been addressed: low-profile design easily attached to a clip and a one-piece design for safety."

GumDrop pacifiers also feature an innovative contoured shape, letting more of a baby’s face show.

The new pacifiers are available in two sizes, newborn (0 to 3 months) and infant, and come in green, blue, orange, pink and purple. In addition to GumDrop pacifiers, The First Years is introducing a line of coordinating pacifier attachers and cases.

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Spartan Stores’ Q3 a mixed bag

BY Allison Cerra

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Net sales for Spartan Stores slightly declined nearly 0.6% to $782.3 million during the third quarter.

During the quarter, which ended Jan. 1, Spartan also experienced a rise in operating earnings, which increased from $13.7 million in third quarter 2009 to $16.6 million. Third-quarter earnings from continuing operations improved 42% percent to $7.5 million, or 33 cents per diluted share, from $5.3 million, or 23 cents per diluted share.

The company’s retail segment experienced a 1.8% decline in net sales to $435.4 million. In its distribution segment, Spartan said its net sales rose to $346.9 million from $343.6 million, thanks to an improvement in pharmacy-related sales.

Commenting on its third-quarter results, Spartan president and CEO, Dennis Eidson, said, “Although the Michigan economy appears to have stabilized, … market conditions remain challenging. We will continue to work diligently to further improve our sales trends and manage controllable aspects of our business."

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Fred’s falls short of January expectations

BY Michael Johnsen

MEMPHIS — Fred’s on Wednesday reported a fiscal 2010 sales increase of 3% to $1.8 billion for the year ended Jan. 29. Comparable sales were up 2.2%, versus an increase of 0.4% in the prior year.

January comp increases of 2.1%, however, fell well short of the 3.9% analyst consensus tallied by Thomson Reuters, a factor that may have had more influence in driving the company’s stock down 37 cents to $13.31 on Wednesday’s trading. Winter weather played a role in those not-as-good-as-expected results, the retailer reported.

"While we were pleased to see customer traffic continue to improve in January, along with stronger pharmacy department comparable scripts and sales, overall sales for the month were below plan,” said Bruce Efird, Fred’s CEO.

“Poor weather and the inability of our customers to get early tax refunds in January were critical factors contributing to the sales shortfall. We experienced sharp sales increases early in January, but as the month progressed, spending dropped significantly and customers placed increased focus on sale items,” Efird added.

Taking the sales and mix effect into account, Fred’s estimated that earnings per share for the fourth quarter will be in the range of 19 cents to 22 cents.

During January, Fred’s opened two new stores and one additional pharmacy. For the year, Fred’s added a net of eight new locations, consisting of 12 new stores and three new pharmacy express stores, which were offset by the closing of seven store locations. The company also opened 23 new pharmacies in 2010 and closed 15, for a net addition of eight pharmacies during the year.

Fred’s operates 677 discount general merchandise stores, including 24 franchised Fred’s stores, in the Southeastern United States.

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