NEW YORK — Limited Stores, the weak link in the specialty chains operated by Limited Brands, has a new chief executive, Charles Turlinski. He succeeds Jeff Sherman, who resigned Thursday after 18 months at the helm.

Turlinski is an operations executive with a long history of specialty store turnaround experience, as opposed to Sherman, whose background was largely working at Bloomingdale’s, where he served for many years as president. When Sherman joined Limited Stores in March 2002, the move was considered a career stretch and a challenging assignment, considering Limited Stores hadn’t turned a profit since the mid-Nineties.

Recently, the division has been in a holding pattern. Its future remains uncertain. On the other hand, much work has been done to push growth at Express, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret, which are considered the core divisions of Limited Brands.

Turlinski reports to Leslie Wexner, chairman and ceo of Limited Brands. Retail experts have speculated that Wexner has been reluctant to dismantle or sell off Limited Stores since it was the first store he founded and it remains close to his heart. But they don’t discount the possibility. Limited Stores peaked at close to 800 units in the early Nineties and $1.2 billion in sales, but last year posted $638 million in sales with 351 stores. The business has been losing market share to such stores as Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic and even possibly Express, though it has a somewhat older appeal.

Turlinski provides some new hope. “He’s a turnaround expert and has great back-of-the-house skills,” said Jennifer Black, president of Jennifer Black & Associates, a consultant to large institutional investors. “This division has never had anyone with his kind of specialty store skill set. It’s been always focused on merchandising. Chuck is going to pick out sweaters.”

The average Limited store has 6,200 square feet and posts $284 in sales per square foot. Black estimated that Limited Stores will lose at least $25 million this year, and possibly as much in 2004.

Wexner said that Turlinski will provide leadership and direction for the operational aspects of the business, including stores, finance, planning, sourcing, marketing and human resources. Diane Holtz, who was named president of Limited Stores in February 2002, will retain oversight of merchandising and design and will report to Turlinski.Previously, Turlinski was executive vice president of operations and administration for Express, overseeing finance, planning and allocation, manufacturing and operations. He was involved in integrating the former Structure men’s wear division into Express to create Express Men’s. Turlinski began his career with Limited Brands in 1996 as executive vice president and chief financial officer for Lerner New York, and joined Express as executive vice president of operations and administration in 1998.

Prior to joining Limited Brands, Turlinski was ceo of Phoenix Ltd., The Forgotten Woman, Cotton Ginny, and Topps and Trousers/ACA Joe. He also held strategic and operations jobs at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bermans, Buttrey Stores and Dayton Hudson, now called Marshall Field’s.

Before Limited Stores, he was ceo of Federated Direct, which ended up unraveling, with Macy’s By Mail discontinued, no longer selling merchandise and the ailing Fingerhut business getting sold off in pieces. Prior to that, he spent 30 years at Bloomingdale’s, holding many positions of increasing responsibility before rising to president.

Limited Brands also operates White Barn Candle Co., Henri Bendel and the Victoria’s Secret catalog and dot-com businesses.

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