By  on May 22, 2007

Teen retailer The Wet Seal Inc. said Monday that Joel Waller, president and chief executive officer, will step down on Feb. 1. No successor has been named.

Waller, 67, has sought to turn around the Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based company, which was near bankruptcy when he took over in 2005 after serving as ceo of Wilsons The Leather Experts Inc. for 23 years.

The company operates 448 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, including 356 Wet Seal units and 92 Arden B. boutiques. Wet Seal reported a net loss of $12.8 million in 2006 on revenue of $564 million, compared with a loss of $29.4 million on revenue of $501 million in 2005. It will report first-quarter earnings on Wednesday.

"It's the right time [to go]," Waller said in an interview. "I'm not retiring, but I have no plans. Clearly, I would like to spend a little time with my 11 grandchildren, but I will look to consult with companies that need a little help."

Waller will assist Wet Seal in finding his successor. "I have thought about what attributes they need to have," he said. "This company understands that merchandise is the engine that pulls this train. We have two great merchandisers heading up [company brands Wet Seal and Arden B.]. Do we need someone who understands merchandise? Yes. Do we need someone…who can pick styles? No.

"Our search will be easier than some others — not that it will be easy,'' Waller said. "It's a monstrous opportunity [for someone] because it's a business that will double its size in the next three to four years."

The company plans to open about 70 new units in the next year.

Waller said Wet Seal is equipped to weather a top-tier executive shift. "When I was brought [in]…this company was a disaster," he said. "We've changed the company from one that's lost its way to one that has become a growth vehicle."

Wet Seal on May 10 reported that same-store sales decreased 9.6 percent for the four-week period ended May 5, compared with the same four-week period the previous year. Net sales for the period were $39.2 million, compared with net sales of $41.7 million reported for the same period last year. "We all got a little affected by the change in when the kids are out of school" for Easter, said Waller, regarding the slowdown in sales. "So we had a great March and a weaker April. We're not concerned about the business."

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