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Rite Aid reports narrow loss

BY Michael Johnsen

CAMP HILL, Pa. What a difference three months make.

Rite Aid last quarter reported wider-than-expected losses; shares were trading at much less than $1 and the common thought then was that a reverse stock split was imminent; and worries that a tighter credit market would impact the chain’s ability to clear a significant debt hurdle only 16 months away were abundant.

On Wednesday, the chain reported narrower-than-expected losses; shares are now valued at more than $1 and climbing, a feat the chain accomplished organically; and those shares climbed above $1 in part because the credit market has become much more favorable, enabling Rite Aid executives to begin implementing a planned refinancing that will push out that debt hurdle beyond 2013.

Rite Aid very well may have turned a corner in the past three months, traveling on a road with fewer potholes. The chain expects to turn Brooks/Eckerd same-store sales positive in the near-term, at least across its pharmacy base, which will mark another pretty significant turned-corner for the chain. “On the pharmacy end … I think we’re getting very close to the crossover [into positive comps] with the Brooks/Eckerd pharmacies,” John Standley, Rite Aid president and COO, acknowledged Wednesday morning on a conference call with analysts.

In addition to the re-financing, Rite Aid has completed the rollout of its metro-market model, designed to improve performance across its metropolitan footprint, and is making progress. And the chain has optimized its SKU-base by some 10%, improved generic penetration and reduced shrink.

All of this has contributed to a posted loss of 11 cents per share, 2 cents better than analysts’ projections. Total same-store sales improved by 0.6%, and the number of prescriptions climbed 2.2%.

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Hallmark announces e-card subscription plan

BY Allison Cerra

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Hallmark Cards announced its first e-card subscription plan, which offers consumers unlimited sending of exclusive e-cards for $9.99 per year.

The plan encompasses all of Hallmark’s premium e-cards, including those featuring hoops&yoyo and Maxine, as well as licensed e-cards with hit music and such TV shows and movies as “The Office,” “Madagascar” and “Star Wars.” Premium Hallmark e-cards sell individually for 99 cents each.

Consumers can personalize the e-cards when it is convenient, and Hallmark will send them anytime during the course of the subscription. Hallmark’s reminder service and address book make it easy to remember important dates and events.

“We know people enjoy connecting with their friends and family by using e-cards featuring their favorite characters, movies and music,” noted Hallmark product manager Shelley Mathews. “This plan makes it easy and convenient to send those e-cards when they’re needed. Consumers can select and address their e-cards ahead of time, and Hallmark will send them out right on time.”

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Wal-Mart names chief diversity officer

BY Allison Cerra

BENTONVILLE, Ark. Walmart has appointed L. Mecole “Cole” Brown to serve as chief diversity officer. Brown will be responsible for the oversight and coordination of the diversity strategy for the company’s U.S. business.

Brown joined Walmart’s legal team in 2002, and has held senior positions in Sam’s Club and Walmart’s office of diversity. Brown was appointed to VP employment practices in August 2007.

Brown succeeds Charlyn Jarrells Porter, who served as the company’s first chief diversity officer from 2004 to 2009. Porter announced her retirement in March, after more than 16 years with the company.

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