Sat, Mar 31, 2001 EST
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OfficeMax Scales Back
By John Affleck   Associated Press
CLEVELAND — Office products retailer OfficeMax Inc. said Monday that it is moving ahead with plans to close 50 superstores across the country and will scale back new store openings to fewer than 25 -- about half the number previously announced.

The Cleveland-based company said 46 of the superstores being shut down will close within 90 days. The company will announce the closing dates for the other stores later, OfficeMax spokesman Steve Baisden said.

About 1,250 employees will be affected by the closings but some will be given the option of transferring to other OfficeMax stores, Baisden said.

The company also said it expects to post a loss of more than 5 cents per share for its fourth quarter, which ended Saturday. OfficeMax blamed the "far-reaching consumer slowdown" and winter storms in the Northeast and Midwest for its poor performance.

In a news release, the company said that fiscal 2000 was the most difficult since Michael Feuer started OfficeMax in 1988. Besides the slowing economy, the company said it also has been hurt by the development of several new, internal programs.

The company has long been known for its strategy of relentless growth, and still expects to have roughly 975 stores open in 49 states plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands by the end of fiscal 2001.

But the company won't expand so aggressively any more, said Feuer, the company's chairman and chief executive.

"The halcyon days of growth are now behind us but sustained store expansion will continue for many years to come," he said.

The company said last fall it expected to close around 50 stores but also planned to open about 50 new stores. The number of new openings has now been reduced to fewer than 25.

Nine of the stores being shuttered are in California, and another six are in New York. Two are in Ohio. The company did not provide the exact locations of the stores.

The company said it would take a one-time, after-tax charge to its fourth-quarter earnings of about $69 million to pay for the closings.

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