By  on March 8, 2005

NEW YORK — After six consecutive years of losses, Marithé & François Girbaud’s U.S. licensee, I.C. Isaacs & Co., swung back into the black in 2004, reporting a $6.2 million profit.

Coming off his first year as chairman and chief executive officer of the company, Peter Rizzo said the changes that allowed Isaacs to return to profitability are the start of his plans to reinvigorate the Girbaud brand in the U.S.

Next up is a super-premium contemporary line called Marithé & François Girbaud Redline, which Isaacs plans to start shipping in limited quantities for fall retailing, with a full rollout for spring.

“It will be the key initiative for women’s growth,” Rizzo said during an interview at the brand’s new showroom on the West Side of Manhattan. “We have our work to do, though, we really have to begin merchandising it so that we live up to the international reputation of the brand when it comes to being a denim innovator.”

The $6.2 million profit for the year ended Dec. 31 compared with a $1.7 million loss in 2003. Sales were $80.6 million, up 25.4 percent from $64.3 million.

For the fourth quarter, the firm posted a $1.5 million profit, compared with a $979,000 loss a year ago. Sales were up 14.2 percent to $18.3 million. Earnings per share for the year came to 55 cents, compared with a loss of 15 cents per share a year ago. For the quarter, the profit of 13 cents a share compared with a 9 cent loss.

Rizzo, who joined the firm as ceo in December 2003 and was named chairman in July 2004, said his primary focus early on was improving margins. To do that, he said, “We sourced better, we raised prices marginally, we remerchandised price points that we thought were key price point drivers at the opening and middle.”

Gross profit in 2004 came to 38.5 percent of sales, up from 32 percent of sales a year earlier, while general and administrative costs dropped to 31.3 percent of sales compared with 32.6 percent.

Rizzo said the firm also changed the way it handles shipments, adopting an “optimum calendar” that allows it to ship merchandise more regularly. In January 2004, the firm shipped 70 percent of monthly deliveries during the final 10 days of the month. A year later, Rizzo said, more than half of deliveries go out in the first half of the month.The more regular shipments have also enabled Isaacs to improve its sales forecasting — which Rizzo learned the importance of during his years as president of Bergdorf Goodman.

“One of the great things about going through retail, corporate retail, is the disciplines established,” he said.

The company has also restructured its design department, splitting it into separate women’s and men’s teams, and creating a dedicated technical design team to handle details such as choosing trims and handling size variations.

Women’s has historically been a weak point for the Girbaud jeans line in the U.S., and in 2003 represented just 10 percent of Isaacs’ total sales. Rizzo said last year sales of women’s products rose to represent 20 percent of revenues and called the women’s business “a huge opportunity for us.”

The Redline group will target contemporary shoppers in better department stores, with a core wholesale price range of about $60 to $90. By comparison, jeans in the primary junior line sell for about half that.

On Friday, Isaacs’ shares closed at $8.20 in trading on the over-the-counter bulletin board, off 13 cents from the 52-week high of $8.33 set Thursday. That’s a huge hike from the 52-week low of 36 cents set in April.

One emblem of Rizzo’s changes to Isaacs is the firm’s new 18,500-square-foot showroom and office space on the ninth floor of 475 10th Avenue. The space features separate showroom spaces for the teen and contemporary lines, which Rizzo said allow the brand to make a more vivid presentation than it could in its former space in the Empire State Building.

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