Hechinger sees 11 percent increase in March sales as favorable omen

April 08, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

Helped by warming weather and pent-up demand from cabin-fever sufferers, sales at Hechinger Co. rose by 11 percent in March for those stores open for more than a year.

"The feel of the business is quite good," said W. Clark McClelland, executive vice president and chief financial officer for the Landover-based home center chain. "Going into April, business is as strong as we've seen it," he said.

The increase appeared especially strong when compared with March 1993, when sales fell 9 percent because of a mid-month blizzard that hit the East Coast. But that did not dampen the enthusiasm of Mr. McClelland, who expects business to pick up more because of the strengthening economy and a possible rush to buy houses before interest rates go higher.

"People who were on the sidelines will get in the game," he said about home sales, noting that people make more house repairs just before selling or after buying a home.

Same-store sales at the company's Home Quarters Warehouse subsidiary rose 15 percent, compared with an 8 percent increase for its Hechinger stores. The company, which has 72 Hechingers and 55 Home Quarters, has been expanding its warehouse unit to meet competition from retailers like Home Depot.

Same-store sales are considered a better measure of performance because they are not affected by the addition or subtraction of new stores in the last year.

Total sales for Hechinger increased by 26 percent to $214.2 million from $170.1 million during March. The company has added five new stores in the last year.

Taking the previous March's decline into consideration, the results show the chain has improved a "smidgen," said Kenneth M. Gassman Jr., a retail analyst for the Richmond stock brokerage firm of Davenport & Co. of Virginia Inc. "They still have a long way to go, but it appears that boosted by March sales, the turnaround is at hand," he said.

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