SAN DIEGO-In tandem with an aggressive store remodeling program, Charlotte Russe Holdings Inc. plans to grow from 392 units at the end of 2006 to “beyond 600″ in the next three to five years,” said Mark Hoffman, CEO of the locally based juniors apparel chain, during a first-quarter conference call. Plans call for the addition of “at least” 50 new stores in fiscal 2007.

Asked how much “lift” resulted from remodeled units, he said that on average, sales increased 15% at those stores. One reason why is the expansion of accessories, including jewelry and footwear, he said.

Meanwhile, comp store sales rose 1.5% chain-wide for the company in its first fiscal quarter of 2007, which included the holiday season. This compares with a 16.3% comp store increase in the same quarter a year ago, and Hoffman projected low single-digit comp-store gains in this year’s second quarter.

The best performing first-quarter categories were dresses, woven tops, the company’s “refuge” denim collections and its “Blue Chic” intimate apparel brand, especially in sleepwear. Knit sweaters were a lagging sales category for the chain.

Plans call for an increase in exclusive product, particularly through an Import Penetration program the retail chain recently instituted. Hoffman said the sourcing initiative is “on or ahead of schedule,” and accounts for 15% of product. In addition to exclusivity, he said, these products provide a markup that is from 8% to 10% above other merchandise.

“We’re very pleased with customer response to early spring product,” he added. Dress business; rings, necklaces and bracelets in the accessories category, and bright colors, including flip flops in the footwear arena, were cited in particular.

Net sales for first quarter increased 17.2% to $209.2 million, compared with $178.5 million for the same quarter of the previous year. After-tax net income from continuing operations was $13.9 million, up 46.8% from $9.5 million for the corresponding quarter of the prior year.

Shares of CHIC on the Nasdaq closed at $29.07 a share on Jan. 24. This compares with a 52-week low of $15.66 a share and a 52-week high of $33.92 a share.

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