Memphis-based Fred’s Inc. sees drop in December sales, blames ‘economic headwinds’

Memphis-based Fred’s Inc. on Thursday reported a drop in December sales, blaming the unexpected shortfall on “economic headwinds” near the holidays.

Total sales for the five-week fiscal month that ended Dec. 29 were $209.9 million, a decrease of 1 percent from year-ago sales of $213 million.

Same-store sales – a key measure of retail performance – fell 4.2 percent. That compared unfavorably to a year-earlier decline of 0.4 percent in same-store sales.

Year-to-date sales for the first 11 months of the company’s fiscal year are up 2 percent, to $1.782 billion. Same-store sales for the period are down 1.4 percent.

In a prepared statement, Bruce A. Efird, company CEO, said, “Looking ahead, we begin 2013 with many new programs and initiatives designed to improve customer traffic. We will accelerate pharmacy growth through expanded programs in specialty drugs and clinical services, as well as by increasing the pace of pharmacy acquisitions.

“In general merchandise departments, we expect a positive impact from discount tobacco programs and our new Hometown Auto and Hardware program, which will grow from 80 to 200 stores in 2013. We also are expanding the merchandise assortment in our seasonal departments, designed to complement the new hardware program, and we are upgrading the Home categories of our Core 5 Program.

“We expect that 2013 will be a springboard year for Fred’s with the expansion of specialty drugs and clinical services, accelerated pharmacy acquisitions, new auto and hardware product initiatives, the rollout of a smaller drug and dollar store concept, and the beginning of the relocation of approximately 125 stores. Our team is confident these programs will get Fred’s back to positive comparable sales and traffic in the upcoming year.”

During the month, Fred’s opened four new stores and one Xpress pharmacy and closed two Xpress pharmacy locations.

Fred’s, Inc. operates 712 discount general merchandise stores, including 21 franchised Fred’s stores, in the southeastern United States.

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