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Talbots Sets Three-Year Plan

Talbots Inc., seeking to shed its dowdy image, increase relevancy in the misses' market and restore profits, on Tuesday unveiled a three-year strategic program touching almost all areas of the company.

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Talbots Inc., seeking to shed its dowdy image, increase relevancy in the misses' market and restore profits, on Tuesday unveiled a three-year strategic program touching almost all areas of the company.

Much of the strategy entails efforts to refine and modernize the approach to the classics that the 61-year-old chain has clung to, even in recent times when contemporary offerings with a youthful verve have far outsold more mature, traditional offerings across the industry.

Streamlining of the Talbots Inc. head count, store count and inventories are in the works. But so are plans to carve out more space for stronger categories, i.e. plus sizes, accessories and Collection merchandise, which is considered "the design umbrella" for the Talbots brand. Within Talbots' misses' stores, 900-square-foot "boutiques" selling plus sizes, as opposed to the current 250 square feet allocated for the category, will be created.

Also on tap: opening 35 additional Talbots Woman stores over the next five years, and launching a "premium" outlet concept with potentially 40 units operating in three years. Top outlet centers across the country, such as Woodbury Common in New York, are being contacted.

Over the past nine months, Talbots has undergone an upheaval. New top management was installed, including a new chief executive and division heads, and other changes were made, such as shutting down the kids', men's and U.K. divisions, representing a total of 78 locations and 5 percent of the workforce. The downsizing should be completed by September.

In addition, the company intends to slash $100 million out of the cost structure over the next two years, and will examine the corporate offices in Hingham, Mass., and other parts of the company for further head count reductions. Officials said it was too soon to specify how the cuts will be accomplished.

In other significant shifts already triggered by the new regime, Talbots this year has gone from four big sales a year to monthly markdowns and instituted smaller monthly deliveries, rather than a handful of large seasonal deliveries.

Moving forward, the company intends to restore a "good, better, best" pricing structure at the Talbots brand to offset what's described by executives as price deflation and an overreliance on opening price points. The company recently completed a strategic review that forms the basis for its recovery plan and determined the strengths and weaknesses of the business and what its shoppers wanted and weren't getting.
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