Which Clothing Store Just Had The Best Q3?

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After Black Friday came earlier than ever (on a Thursday night no less), several clothiers announced their results for the past quarter. Three in particular, Guess (NYSE: GES  ) , Express (NYSE: EXPR  ) and New York and Company (NYSE: NWY  ) , target the same twenty-something demographic and announced their calls on the same day. While the economic terrain for retailers is trickier to navigate than usual, one of these three stores still managed to generate impressive growth over the quarter.  Who did it, and what's their secret? 

Guess whose sales are shrinking
The usually stylish Guess just suffered a quarter that was far less than appealing. You could name any metric, and it probably sunk during the last thirteen weeks. Overall revenue dropped 2% for the quarter and 1.4% for the past nine months, with sales in almost every international segment falling by at least 1%. Guess's wholesale business even contracted in Italy, one of the company's primary markets.

Farther down the income statement, things didn't improve much. Operating income was down 17.5% because of product markdowns and negative same store sales , and its profit margin dropped from 9.2% of revenue to 7.8%. Net profits were also down by 7%, making up 5.7% of sales as opposed to last year's 6%. Still, during a recent conference call, management maintained optimism. CEO Paul Marciano detailed progress in Europe, with Spain, Portugal, and Germany reporting positive comparable sales. Marciano also noted that denim, makeup, and handbags received particular response, and that, while many figures were dropping, they were in line with expectations.

Don't expect things to get dramatically better for Guess any time soon. Despite Marciano's positivity, he also warned that going into the next quarter, his company would "continue to plan our business cautiously given the uncertain environment ."

Slipping sales, shabby profits
New York and Company is known for bringing uptown flair into everyday professional clothes, but the company's financial statements weren't especially stylish this quarter. However, it's evident that the company is taking an effort to rectify them.

Sales took a slight dip this quarter , from $219.2 million to $217.6 million, and both operating and net incomes were firmly in the negative. However, those losses have narrowed since the same time in 2012. The company's loss from operations has risen from $3.8 million to $3.1 million, while net loss narrowed from $3.8 to $3.4 million.

One bright spot on New York and Company's latest report is its comparable store sales, which were up 3%, thanks to positive comp sales in each of the company's business segments- brick-and-mortar, eCommerce, and outlet stores. That, however, wasn't enough to keep the clothier's stock from dropping from an already meager $5.10 per share to just $4.06.

And the winner is...
So who's the fairest retailer of all this quarter? That would be Express. The popular retailer's sales were up 21%, because in the words of Michael Weiss, the company "made real strides in terms of offering and presentation." It didn't hurt that the company's eCommerce division was up 29% for the quarter, having grown 21% this time last year.

Even though Express spent more on SG&A for the quarter, its operating margin went up to $36.7 million, a $2.3 million increase from Q3 in 2012. Seven stores opened last quarter and none closed, even during what many of Express's rivals have described as a difficult climate for retail.

Express is also in the midst of a reinvention plan to boost store productivity and margins. The company is eliminating overlaps between its casual and dressy sections, expanding it store base in both domestic and international markets, and working full-speed to get optimum revenues out of its eCommerce division. For now, all systems appear to be operating on all four cylinders.

Express yourself
Even in a difficult macro-economic climate for retail, some retailers have managed to weather the storm and continue sailing along. Express's commitment to updating its storefronts and product lines is certainly an asset, as is its ability to retain higher profit margins while doing so. If this retailer can keep it up, the holiday season could be merry and bright.

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