By  on December 21, 2000

NEW YORK -- Coldwater Creek Inc. reported earnings jumped 36.2 percent in the third quarter, and also announced that Georgian Shonk-Simmons will succeed founder Dennis Pence as chief executive officer on Jan. 1.Shonk-Simmons is currently president of Coldwater catalog and retail sales.Earnings for the quarter jumped to $7.1 million, or 64 cents a share, from $5.2 million, or 49 cents, a year ago. Sales for the period ended Nov. 25 ran up 22.2 percent, to $123.7 million from $101.2 million.About 67.4 million catalogs were mailed in the latest quarter versus 55.6 million a year ago. Its catalogs, which target baby boomers aged 35 to 55, include Northcountry, Spirit of the West, Home and Natural Elements.Internet sales shot up 222.2 percent to $31.9 million, accounting for 25.8 percent of the company's net sales. Retail sales soared 233.3 percent, to $11 million, reflecting nine full-line stores in operation versus four a year ago. The company currently has 10 stores open. On a conference call Wednesday, the company reiterated its plan for operating 80 stores across 29 states in the future.The gross margin rate increased to 52.9 percent from 52.5 percent a year ago, and Shonk-Simmons noted that the improvement was primarily due to "efficiencies gained through a combination of overall improvements in catalog operations and a higher percentage of the company's disposition sales being transacted over the Internet."The changing of the guard was foreshadowed in the company's 1999 annual report, in which Pence said he was looking forward to letting his executive team take over "day-to-day operations" of the company. On the conference call, he told analysts, "that day has come."He will remain chairman and continue to set overall corporate strategy. His wife and co-founder, Ann Pence, will continue as vice chairman and creative director, retaining responsibility for the brand image.Dennis Pence noted on the call that "it has been our life's work to build the brand and will continue to be so."Along with taking on the responsibilities of ceo, Shonk-Simmons will serve on the board of directors. Pence said Shonk-Simmons "has been instrumental in strengthening our position within the industry." Shonk-Simmons joined Coldwater in 1997, after serving as executive vice president of the Newport News division of Spiegel.The company also promoted Tom Scott, chief operating officer, to executive vice president, and Don Robson, chief financial officer, to executive vice president.

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