Big 5 Sporting Goods Corp. (Nasdaq:BGFV) reported its third-quarter earnings arrived at the lower end of guidance while sales fell short of plan.

Sales inched up 1.9 percent to $270.1 million, but same-store sales decreased 0.4 percent. Comps had been expected to grow in the low-single-digit range.

Earnings in the period ended Sept. 27 slid 17.9 percent to $6.1 million, or 28 cents a share, missing Wall Street’s consensus estimate of 30 cents a share. The retailer expected earnings to arrive in the range of 28 cents to 34 cents a share.

On Wednesday after results were released, share of Big 5 fell $1.86, or 17.4 percent, to $8.82 in over-the-counter trading.

“We were unable to overcome the drag to our business from cycling against strong soccer-related sales that were influenced by the men's World Cup last year, as well as softer than anticipated sales of firearms-related products, and the continuing impact of the drought in our major markets,” said Steve Miller, chairman, president and CEO, on a conference call with analysts.

Miller also noted that Big 5 has engaged consultants to help the company evaluate growth strategies and ways to improve profitability “to help ensure that we are best positioned to succeed in the constantly evolving retail environment.”

By month, same-store sales were slightly negative in July and down by low-single-digit percentage points in August before improving to positive low-single digits in September, thanks to its 60th anniversary promotions. A low-single-digit decrease was seen in customer transactions along with a low-single-digit increase in average sales during the period.

By category, footwear comped positively in the low-single digits for the period, while apparel and hard good categories each comped down low-single digits.

Merchandise margins decreased 51 basis points due to product mix shifts along with promotional efforts to drive sales. Gross margins eroded 100 basis points to 31.5 percent of sales, also impacted by an increase in store occupancy costs.

SG&A expenses reached 27.7 percent in the quarter, down 20 basis points. SG&A expense in total increased $1.1 million year-over-year, primarily reflecting a higher employee labor expense and operating expense resulting from its increased store count, partially offset by a reduced advertising expense.

Inventories were up 3.5 percent overall and 1.6 percent on a per store basis.

The company opened one store in San Jose in the quarter and closed another, ending the period with 439 stores. Construction and landlord issues have delayed any fourth-quarter openings, which are now expected to open in early 2016. Added Miller, “We are also reevaluating certain locations that we had anticipated for store openings earlier this year, as we continue to maintain a cautious approach toward selecting the right new store opportunities for our business in the current retail environment.”

So far in the fourth quarter to date, Big 5 is comping down with sales at low-single-digit percentage points.

“While October represents the lowest volume sales month of the quarter and the holiday period is always somewhat unpredictable, we feel well-positioned from a product and promotional perspective for the balance of the quarter,” said Miller. “However, we do expect that this will be another highly promotional holiday period, and weather conditions over the winter selling season will be critical to the performance of our winter product business, and hence, our fourth quarter results.”

For the fourth quarter, same-store sales are expected to land in the low-negative-single-digit to low-positive-single-digit range and EPS to be in the range of 10 to 20 cents a share, including approximately 1 cent per share of consulting expenses related to evaluating store growth strategies and potential profit improvement opportunities. A year ago, fourth-quarter earnings reached 12 cents a share.

Miller noted that last year, weather was not particularly favorable over most of the quarter, but the chain will be comping against strong double-digit gains in the last two weeks as winter storms boosted year-ago sales.

In the Q&A session, Miller said the store-opening delays and hiring of consultants should not signal that Big 5’s growth is slowing down. Miller noted that the retailer has long focused on “growth under control” and is not fixated on opening a certain amount of stores each year.

“We've got some stores that were clearly delayed,” said Miller. He added that those will be opening in 2016 and the company has “other opportunities that we're moving forward on.”