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HOUSTON-Stages Stores Inc. has plans to open 40 to 50new stores in 2006, says chairman, president and CEOJim Scarborough during a presentation at Johnson Rice& Co. LLC’s Fifth Annual Consumer Conference.

The chain, which operates under the Bealls, PalaisRoyal, Peebles and Stage brands, is on track to open36 stores this year, ending 2005 with roughly 600stores. Currently, the chain focuses on small-townAmerica and has 548 stores in 31 states. The expansionwill increase the brands’ 10.3-million-sf footprint by5% to 7%.

Scarborough said that Peebles, which Stage Storesacquired in November 2003, is the company’s expansionbrand. “They’re our little growth story,” he noted,adding that bulk of new Stage Stores will operateunder the Peebles brand. He said that 30 to 40 Peeblesunits are planned for next year. “They’re our growthengine,” Scarborough said, stressing that the companyplans to boost Peebles sales per sf throughout the nextcouple of years from $96 per sf to Stage Store’saverage of $141 per sf.

The Peebles acquisition gave Stage Stores a presencein the Northern Midwest and East Coast, Scarboroughpointed out. Currently, nearly 95% of the chain’sstores are located in smaller markets with about 85%of the stores located in areas with a population less than150,000 people.

Stage Stores’ brands typically have little competitionin their markets, particularly since the chain carriesbranded merchandise such as Tommy Hilfiger, Polo Jeansand Liz Claiborne. Forty percent of the chain’s salesare from apparel, Scarborough noted, adding that StageStores plans to end 2005 with sales of $1.3 billionand profit of $52.9 million to $54.7 million.

Stage Stores hopes to drive sales and profit byexpanding its selection of women’s special sizes, homedécor and private label merchandise, Scarborough said. Moreover, the chain plans to continue to communicate extensively with its core customers–women age 25 to 59 with income of $35,000 and up–through direct mail and national advertising.

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