• Jennifer Marks

Behind the veil

As a bona fide print hound, I get a thrill out of annual report season, otherwise known as annual shareholder meeting season. This month brings a bumper crop.

As a rule of thumb, companies that had a lousy year tend to provide more forward-looking information than those that had a good one. But each in this group provided some good info nuggets.

Federated's annual report theme: "Standing Still Gets You Nowhere."

Key initiatives: Improve the shopping experience, speed checkout, enhance value perception, narrow merchandise assortments, focus on fashion and newness.

Sears' annual report central message: "We are creating a new, unique definition of Sears in the marketplace — a broadline retailer with outstanding credit and service capabilities."

Key initiatives: Increase space for key hardlines franchises, improve apparel through private label, simplify store operations, provide consultative selling for more complex products and make merchandise selections easier to understand for self-service product areas.

J.C. Penney Inc.'s annual report theme: None perceptible.

Key initiatives: Roll out new merchandise distribution network to improve allocation and in-stocks, and reduce cost, time and handling from the distribution process; make merchandise offerings more competitively priced and fashion-right, improve in-store environment.

Target Corp.'s annual report theme: "Innovation + Discipline."

Key initiatives: Pilot Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment program to increase efficiency, improve inventory flow and provide more accurate inventory information; prepare to open two more import warehouses in 2003 to join the initial facility opened last year; complete rollout of performance tracking system that follows supply chain information from on-order status to in-store replenishment.

May Co. annual report theme: "Meeting the Needs of the Customer."

Key initiatives: Step up offerings of newness and fashion, become first with new merchandise on the selling floor, create more customer-friendly presentations, retain core Baby Boomer customer while simultaneously pursuing tweens, teens and young adults.

Kohl's annual report theme: "Successful growth through brands, value and convenience."

Key initiatives: Continue to roll out nationally recognized brands such as Oshkosh playwear for kids and Martex in home, broaden some existing national brands, such as Nine & Company, and expand, expand, expand.

Linens 'N Things' annual report central message: "Our purpose is to make people's lives more enjoyable by making their homes more beautiful, comfortable, organized and efficient."

Key initiatives: Raise in-store service levels, leverage global sourcing program launched in 2001 to expand merchandise assortment, and use upgraded technical structure to drive in-stock improvements.

In another eight weeks or so, each of these companies will start turning in their first-half reports. Get out your scorecards.

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