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EL SEGUNDO, CA-Sporting goods retailer Big 5 expects to end the year with 20 new locations, company executives said in their conference call with financial analysts on Thursday for the third quarter ended Sept. 30. Big 5 has already opened three new stores in the fourth quarter after opening six in the third quarter, and it will open seven additional stores before the end of the year to hit its goal of 20 new locations for fiscal 2007.<p.With the three new stores already opened in the fourth quarter, the company's tally stands at 356 total locations, with the stores averaging 11,000 sf. The company is expanding in what CEO Steven G. Miller called "a challenging consumer environment." Miller, also Big 5's chairman and president, said that the retailer faced "particular headwinds in certain of our markets," meaning that its gains in the bottom line during the quarter were that much more significant. He called the results "solid earnings that exceeded both the top end of our guidance and analysts' expectations."

The company reported that diluted earnings per share increased nearly 9% to 37 cents on total net income of$8.4 million, with sales climbing $8 million to $231.3 million and a same store sales increase of a tenth of a percentage point. The net was up from $7.8 million and 34 cents per share in the third quarter of last year.

Looking ahead, Miller said that Big 5 expects that economic conditions will remain challenging in the fourth quarter, but that it has “a strong merchandising and promotional plan in place to drive business through the important holiday season.” The fourth quarter got off to a slow start, Miller said, in part because of the wildfires in California, which exacerbated the already slowing sales trend. None of Big 5′s stores were damaged by the fires, but several were closed for a few days and access to a few was restricted because of the fires. Miller noted that the unhealthy air quality resulting from the wildfires also reduced outdoor activity considerably for a while, another contributing factor to slowing sales.

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