By  on March 22, 2011

In another top executive departure in the suddenly unstable teen specialty retailing space, Betsy McLaughlin has resigned as chief executive officer and a director at Hot Topic Inc.

Lisa Harper, a member of Hot Topic’s board and the former chairman and ceo of Gymboree Corp., has succeeded McLaughlin as ceo.

Responsible for launching Hot Topic’s plus-size concept Torrid, McLaughlin, who had held the ceo spot since 2000, will assist in Harper’s transition for the next three months.

“Harper is a good merchant and that seems to be what Hot Topic needs,” said Needham & Co. analyst Christine Chen. “But I’m surprised that she’s coming back to run a business.”

For the past few years, Hot Topic has had an image problem. The perception out there is that the retailer is still “goth and grunge,” even though it sells Taylor Swift and Eminem paraphernalia, the analyst said, adding that at Torrid, stores are too reminiscent of Hot Topic and need to instead look more like boutiques.

Also on Monday, The Wet Seal Inc. tapped Ken Seipel to serve as its president and chief operating officer, effective March 28. Seipel, a former executive vice president of stores, operations and store design for Gap Inc.’s Old Navy chain, will report to Susan McGalla, who was appointed ceo of Wet Seal in January.

Management shifts have come to be the norm in the struggling specialty sector. Earlier this month, American Eagle Outfitters Inc. said it was on the hunt for a new ceo to succeed James O’Donnell. Like McLaughlin, he’d serve as ceo since 2000.

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