Q4 2011 Earnings Call Transcript

Transcript Call Date 02/21/2012

Operator: Greetings and welcome to the Saks Incorporated Fourth Quarter and Year-End Earnings Conference Call. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode, a brief question-and-answer session will follow the formal presentation.

It is now my pleasure to introduce your host Steve Sadove, Chairman and CEO of Saks Incorporated. Thank you, sir. You may begin.

Stephen I. Sadove - Chairman and CEO: Thanks a lot. Good morning. This is Steve Sadove, Chairman and CEO of Saks. I'm joined on the call today by Ron Frasch, our President; Kevin Wills, our CFO and Julia Bentley, our SVP of IR. I'd like to thank each of you for taking the time to join us.

First, let me note that some of the comments on the call today as well as some of the information presented in our release related to future results or expectations are considered forward-looking information within the definition of the federal securities laws. The forward-looking information is premised on many factors and actual consolidated results might differ materially from projected information if there are any material changes in our assumptions or in the various risks related to our industry and our Company. For a description of the risks and assumptions related to these projections, please refer to the release and our filings with the SEC, including our most recent Form 10-K.

Today, we're going to discuss the financial results for the fourth quarter and fiscal year ended January 28, 2012, our outlook for 2012, and update you on certain other business matters. At the end of the call, we will be glad to respond to your questions.

Before I turn the call over to Kevin to discuss the financial results, let me take a couple of minutes to give you my overall assessment of the year. 2011 was a year of great progress for Saks. We made strides in differentiating ourselves in the marketplace and delivering on our promise to provide our customers with the distinctive service experience and product offering. Our customers responded to our edited merchandise assortments, our enhanced service levels whether shopping in the store or online and our creative and compelling marketing campaigns. As a result, we were able to drive continued improvement in our financial results through strong comp store sales growth and historically high gross margin rate performance while also continuing to make the necessary long-term investments in the business.

Allow me to highlight some of the 2011 accomplishments that our team is most proud of. We posted a 9.5% comp store sales increase in 2011 on top of the 6.4% increase achieved in 2010. We posted 26 consecutive months of comp store sales increases. We managed our inventory, reduced our promotional activity and generated more full-price selling which enabled us to achieve a year-over-year 70 basis points improvement in gross margins.

We continued our focus on growing exclusive differentiated and limited distribution product at Saks. We're especially pleased with the progress we made with the Saks Fifth Avenue men's collection. We remain committed to the (9 bucks grid) and our good, better, best model and balanced our inventory to customer trends by store. We made strategic inventory commitments in high potential growth areas such as shoes, handbags and men's private brand. We improved the Saks Fifth Avenue in-store customer experience with enhanced sales associate training and the execution of individual associate business development plans.

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