MEMPHIS, TN-As part of a strategic plan to improve profitability, Fred’s will close 75 underperforming locations and slow new store openings to focus on a higher return on investment, the chain announced. However, the company will open 18 stores, 15 with pharmacies, in 2008, and expansion could begin again in 2009.

“This new approach to growth will enable us to validate the units,” said Bruce Efird, president. “After that validation, we anticipate accelerating our store growth to historic levels.”

The company declined to give specific geographic locations of the units to be closed, but they will be shuttered during the first three quarters of the year. The move is part of an overall revitalization plan that also includes a greater focus on private label, re-introduction of children’s merchandise and reducing corporate overhead.

Sales for the fourth quarter were $494.4 million, down 8% from the same period last year, which included one extra week. Excluding the extra week, sales dropped 2%. Comparable store sales for the fourth quarter fell 2.5%.

Total sales for the full year increased 1% to $1.78 billion. Excluding the effect of the extra week in 2007, sales increased 2% for fiscal 2007. Comparable store sales increased 0.3%.

Fred’s operates 716 discount general merchandise stores, including 24 franchised units, in the southeastern United States.