By  on March 3, 2006

LOS ANGELES — Teen specialty retailer Wet Seal Inc. said Jennifer Pritchard, president of the company's Arden B. division since January 2004, has resigned.

Pritchard's departure is likely linked to Arden B.'s sales, said Jeff Van Sinderen, analyst with B. Riley & Co. Inc. "The Arden business...was the golden jewel of the company," he said. "Arden has been running OK, but it may not be as fully developed as a company like Bebe."

Wet Seal, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., said Pritchard resigned for personal reasons.

Before leading the contemporary unit, Pritchard was chief of Wet Seal's now-defunct Zutopia tween division after joining the company in October 2002. She could not be reached for comment.

Wet Seal on Thursday reported that same-store sales in February increased 29.3 percent versus 16.4 percent for the year-ago period, marking the 14th consecutive month of comp increases.

Analysts said Pritchard was one of the last executives from regimes that oversaw sales declines at Wet Seal that started in 2002, when same-store sales slipped 5.6 percent, compared with an increase of 4.7 percent the previous year.

The decline, which resulted in an all but total turnover of upper management, bottomed out in 2004 when the company lost $47.3 million, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Wet Seal changed course in the third quarter of fiscal 2005, when the company reported its first positive quarterly operating income since the second quarter of fiscal 2002.

The revival has been credited to chief executive officer Joel Waller, who became the second ceo in less than two years in January 2005, and to turnaround specialist Michael Gold, who was brought on in November 2004.

"A lot of us believed that the turnaround of the company would be spearheaded by the Arden B. division," said Kevin Starke, analyst for Weeden & Co. "There was even some sense that they would shut down all the Wet Seals, but it would seem that, in fact, the operation that turned around the company was Wet Seal."

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