LOS ANGELES -- Smart & Final here said it expects to accelerate new-store growth over the next few years.
15 new stores this year, compared with two in 2003 and five in 2004. "We've identified additional sites for 2006, and we're working to make sure our pace of new-store growth will continue with at least 15 stores a year for the next few years."
Rick Phegley, senior vice president and chief financial officer, said 15 stores annually is a minimum goal. "Depending on the mix of opportunities, we can see it going as high as the low 20s on an annual basis," he said.
Snollaerts and Phegley made their remarks during a conference call with securities analysts to discuss financial results for the 53-week year and 13-week fourth quarter ended Jan. 2.
For the quarter, sales rose 6% to $471.2 million, and comparable-store sales -- adjusted for the extra week -- fell 1.3%. Net income fell 47.1% to $4.2 million. Sales for the year rose 13% to $2 billion, and comps -- adjusted for the extra week -- were up 11%. Net income was $30.2 million, compared with a loss of $60.2 million in the prior year.
Executives said they were satisfied with the relatively small drop in comps for the quarter, given the 21% increase the company enjoyed during last year's fourth quarter, when Smart & Final and other operators in Southern California benefitted from new business picked up during a 141-day labor dispute involving Albertsons, Kroger and Safeway. They said comps on a two-year compounded basis grew at an annual rate exceeding 9%.
According to Phegley, fourth-quarter comps outside Southern California were positive, while comps in Southern California, which represents 60% of the company's sales base, were down more than 1.3% during the quarter. "But it's clear we are retaining a healthy percentage of the sales we picked up last year, which is a great base from which to grow in 2005 and beyond," he said.