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Cindy Davis to headline IRI Summit

BY CSA STAFF

Walmart Executive Vice President of Global Customer Insights and Analytics Cindy Davis has been confirmed as a featured speaker for IRI’s upcoming Summit.

The annual event, to be held April 20-22 in Austin, Texas, is focused on helping senior manufacturer and retailer executives find growth in the consumer packaged goods world. According to IRI, the Summit is a broad-based industry share-group designed to address the major business challenges facing retailers and manufacturers and to bring to light strategies for finding growth opportunities with shoppers via cutting-edge content and analytics, technologies and retail best practices.

Given that focus, Davis is an ideal retail executive to headline the conference. She leads an organization that helps Walmart and Sam’s Club understand broad customer trends, provide insight into customers’ needs across the world and create advanced analytical tools to support the business.

She joined Walmart in 2007, initially serving as senior vice president of Sam’s Club membership and marketing.Before joining Walmart, Davis was president of global development and communications at Rapp Collins Worldwide. She also served as vice president of brand marketing for the Pizza Hut division of YUM! Brands. Earlier in her career she held roles with leading companies in the hospitality industry and agency world.

In addition to Davis, notable speakers at from the CPG world at the IRI event include Tom Greco, CEO of Frito-Lay North America and Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup Company. For more information, click here.

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Lumber Liquidators fighting back

BY CSA STAFF

Rocked by a "60 Minutes" exposemore than a week ago, Toano, Virginia-based Lumber Liquidators emphasized “Our products are safe,” during a business update conference call on Thursday.

Tom Sullivan, the company’s founder and chairman who was grilled by Anderson Cooper on the CBS news program, did not participate in the call. But president and CEO Rob Lynch took the offensive.

“First and foremost, I want to reassure all of you, all of our customers and the general public that we are confident that all of our products are safe and none of our products pose significant health or safety issues,” Lynch said.

While "60 Minutes" accused the company of excessive levels of formaldehyde in its laminate flooring, Lynch’s defense of the company included a deep dive into the role of fromaldehyde. “As lamination actually helps seal-in the formaldehyde from the core, as '60 Minutes' acknowledged, formaldehyde emissions arising from our products are a small fraction of the levels the media has discussed.”

"… we are confident that all of our products are safe and none of our products pose significant health or safety issues.”

Lynch also hammered home five steps the 350-store retail company takes that go above and beyond the regulatory requirements:

“First, CARB regulates products sold in California, but we require all of our suppliers to comply with CARB standards regardless of what state or country the product is being sold in,” he said.

“Second, Lumber Liquidators is one of the only flooring retailers that we know of to invest in, install and operate a lab with emission-testing capabilities. This is a state-of-the-art facility. It includes two temperature and humidity controlled conditioning rooms, and two formaldehyde emission chambers that mirror the capabilities of CARB and other state of the art emission testing facilities. The type of chambers, ASTM International D6007, correlate to a CARB-approved Third Party Certifier.

"Third, we test products as they are actually used in a consumer’s home — in their finished state. CARB considers the emissions of the core MDF, but we do this testing to make sure that the entire product is also safe. Fourth, we perform supplier site audits. This means that we show up at our suppliers’ facilities on an announced and unannounced basis, and perform our own testing to make sure the cores are compliant. CARB doesn’t require this, but we do it anyway.

“Lastly, we perform quarterly invoice and supplier document reviews to verify CARB compliance. During these reviews we look at the documentation from our suppliers and verify that CARB’s standards are being met."

[The company posted a transcript of its conference callhere.]

Lend added that Lumber Liquidators’ most popular products — hardwood floors and vinyl flooring — are untouched by the recent allegations.

He spoke at great length about the CARB emission standards, and the difference between deconstructive testing, the kind that "60 Minutes" used, and the kind of testing that measures how a product will perform in a house.

Meanwhile, the company continues to face lawsuits orchestrated by short sellers, he claimed.

From a financial perspective, the company said comp-store sales following the broadcast of the "60 Minutes" episode fell about 13%. The company’s stock price has dropped about 50% in the last month.

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Kirkland’s keeps profit streak alive

BY CSA STAFF

The strong sales momentum at Kirkland's during the holidays apparently held through January, as the retailer just reported a big jump in same store sales for the fourth quarter.

The company increased net income during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014 26% to $15.6 million, from $12.3 million in the year-earlier period. Net sales increased 14.5% to $178.7 million, from $156.1 million. Same-store sales, including e-commerce sales, increased 8.2%.

"As we look to the longer term, our goal is to grow sales at a double-digit rate and return our operating margin to the high-single-digit range,” said Mike Madden, president and CEO. “To achieve these targets and deliver the returns we expect for our shareholders, we will be executing initiatives over the coming quarters to increase in-store productivity, optimize real estate growth, improve our e-commerce channel and tighten the focus on capital allocation."

The company posted profitable growth as it makes plans to expand store and e-commerce channels. Madden said the company’s strong momentum to end 2014 — marked by record sales and increased earnings guidance — is a tangible outcome of investments to fortify our technology and deepen our team.

"As we look to the longer term, our goal is to grow sales at a double-digit rate and return our operating margin to the high-single-digit range. To achieve these targets and deliver the returns we expect for our shareholders, we will be executing initiatives over the coming quarters to increase in-store productivity, optimize real estate growth, improve our e-commerce channel and tighten the focus on capital allocation."

Kirkland's opened 11 stores and closed 4 during the fourth quarter, bringing the total number of stores to 344 at quarter end.

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