NATICK, Mass. — Consumers looking for value in food and consumables drove sales and traffic at BJ's Wholesale Club, though big-ticket items moved slowly, the retailer here said in a review of quarterly results last week.
A 5% increase in store traffic for the fiscal second quarter, which ended Aug. 2, was the strongest result since 2004, company officials said, and reflected an influx of shoppers looking for value on everyday items and food. Comparable-store sales during the period were up by 7.4% overall, reflecting gains of 10% in food and 2% in general merchandise. Total revenue of $2.7 billion, including $48 million in membership fees, was up by 17.9%.
“In addition to significantly higher sales of gasoline, strong sales of perishable foods and grocery exceeded expectations as consumers sought relief from inflation and a weakening economy,” Herb Zarkin, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a conference call.
BJ's reported $36.5 million in net income, a 0.6% gain from the same period a year ago. This reflected a sales mix skewed toward lower-margin food and consumables as well as inflation in these items that the retailer passed along cautiously, explained Frank Forward, chief financial officer.
Forward said BJ's was doing “everything we can to drive the sales of high-margin perishables.” This included the introduction of branded restaurant items from Boston Market, Cheesecake Factory and Panera Bread, Zarkin said, and replacing domestic cheeses with imported items.
Branded items in some cases are outselling private-label counterparts, Zarkin said, noting that replacing its own Wellesley Farms potatoes with Green Giant resulted in a “dramatic” sales improvement.
“At the end of the day, we put out what the members want,” he said. “I know there's an underlying assumption that there will be stronger margins from private label. There may be, and there may not be. But we have to give them what they want.”
Officials said full-year profits are now expected to be higher than initial estimates, raising annual earnings guidance by 6 cents to an expected range of $2.10 to $2.20 per share.
Analysts, however, interpreted the guidance bump as reflective of the strong quarter and indicative of caution for the remainder of the year. Shares fell by more than 7%.
“While BJ's value proposition should continue to drive traffic, we are concerned that slowing sales trends, gross-margin contraction from higher sales of low-margin consumables and pressure on [corporate expenses] could cause earnings growth to slow,” Deborah Weinswig, an analyst at Citi Investment Research, New York, said in a research note.
|Inc./Share||62 cents||56 cents|
|Inc./Share||91 cents||77 cents|
|*COMPS EXCLUDE GASOLINE|