The regional managers we spoke with last week were nearly giddy with the way business has grown since the Nike / Foot Locker spat delivered unto The Finish Line key Nike marquee product that until this last quarter resided mainly at its mall competitor’s storefronts.

As the resumes from Foot Locker store managers start to pile up on its DM’s desks, the retailer has seen its fortunes shift in the blink of an eye with the first six feet of the two retail formats almost flip-flopping in the last 90 days.

The Finish Line’s fourth quarter same-store sales rose an unbelievable 10%, with February up a stunning 16%, prompting the company to raise earnings guidance for the period to between 47 cents and 49 cents, from a prior range of 35 cents to 37 cents. Finish Line said total sales in the fourth quarter ended March 2, 2003 rose 16% to $234.4 million.

FINL said Q4 sales were ahead of plan due to renewed strength in footwear, where comparable sales rose 7%, and continued strength in apparel and accessories, where same-store sales rose 18%. The gain is on top of last year’s solid Q4 performance, when footwear comps grew 10% and apparel comps gained 2.0%. Product margins improved slightly from last year.

Nike was cited as the driver of footwear comps and Licensed product was key to the apparel increase.

Fiscal Year same-store sales rose 3.0%, on a total sales increase of 8%, to $757.2 million from $701.4 million.
FINL expects fiscal 2003 earnings of between 85 cents and 87 cents a share, or between 82 cents and 84 cents a share excluding a benefit from repositioning charges. The First Call estimate saw EPS of 73 cents from the retailer.

The Finish Line offered guidance for fiscal 2004, putting revenue at $837 million, same-store sales growth at 4%, and EPS at 96 cents to $1. The First Call consensus expects earnings of 90 cents a share from the retailer.

>>> While it is way too early in the game to call winners and losers from Nike’s re-distribution decision, it is clear that FINL is a HUGE beneficiary of the additional Nike allocated product. Bet they’re glad they don’t have to count on “2/$89” to drive topline sales…

>>> And just think if it hadn’t snowed on President’s Day weekend…