Riding the discount retail wave, Big Lots, Inc. (NYSE: BLI) says its sales in March shot up nearly 30% compared to the previous year. The Columbus-based company raised its first quarter earnings guidance from a range of between -2 cents to 1 cent to a range of between 7 cents to 9 cents.

The company said its sales for the four weeks ended March 30, 2002, were $283.8 million, a 29.7% increase compared to $218.9 million for the same period in 2001.

Comparable store sales for all stores open two years at the beginning of the fiscal year increased 24% in March with the number of customer transactions increasing 15.3% and the value of the average customer basket increasing 8.7%, Big Lots said.

"One year into our strategic repositioning, we have made significant progress towards our No. 1 objective of increasing customer visits and attracting new customers to our stores," said Chairman and CEO Michael J. Potter.