By  on October 10, 2007

Talbots Inc. said Tuesday that it retained a business consulting firm to help management with the company's brand positioning.

Separately, the firm also said that Philip H. Kowalczyk, president of Talbots' J. Jill Group Inc., will become the chief operating officer of Talbots, a newly created position at the parent company that oversees the Talbots and J. Jill businesses. Kowalczyk joined Talbots in 2004 as its chief administrative officer, and then worked on integrating the chain's J. Jill acquisition. Kirk Palmer & Assocs. Inc. is conducting a search for Kowalczyk's successor as president for J. Jill.

"The decision to evaluate the positioning of our brands in the marketplace is one of the important initiatives that our team is undertaking," said Trudy F. Sullivan in a statement. Sullivan became president and chief executive officer of the specialty chain Aug. 6. The retailer did not disclose the name of the consulting firm.

Sullivan said the company will develop a "comprehensive strategic plan" for profitable growth and enhancement of the performance of its business, and added the retailer will share information gleaned from the consulting firm and its own internal assessments with shareholders and associates "in the future."

The consulting firm, in addition to positioning of the Talbots and J. Jill brands, will address operating issues, store growth, productivity and distribution channels. The process is expected to be completed by the first quarter of fiscal 2008, Talbots said.

"Talbots remains a strong brand that resonates powerfully with our customers, and the insights derived from these efforts will help us to build on that strength to keep our brand relevant, fresh and consistent," Sullivan said.

A spokeswoman for the specialty chain emphasized that the company is "definitely not for sale."

"We anticipate a number of changes as a result of the study, as management will seek to reinvigorate Talbots. However, the real challenge, in our view, remains as the top merchant job is still unfilled, and strategic changes will likely not solve Talbots' problems if the product isn't right," wrote Richard Jaffe, analyst at Stifel Nicolaus.

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