NEW YORK — Jones Apparel Group annual meetings are known for being brief, but this year’s gathering could have been a record-breaker.
Peter Boneparth, chairman and chief executive officer of Jones, began the company’s seven-minute meeting at the J.P. Morgan Chase Conference Center here by telling shareholders, “I am going to be especially short this morning since we are going through a process that limits what I can say.”
Boneparth, who would refer to the company being up for sale only as “the process,” continued, “The overall tone of our company is quite solid, our business is healthy and I am excited about the future of this company.”
After his concise remarks, Boneparth opened up the meeting to questions. David Benjamin, manager of corporate affairs for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, described in a prepared statement the suffering of Australian merino sheep, calling for Boneparth to take the lead and help end the mutilation in the wool trade. This is the second year in a row that a member of PETA has appeared to talk about the issue.
“Is Jones Apparel Group ready to do what other companies have done by offering Australian farmers a premium to guarantee that the wool it buys doesn’t come from sheep who are subjected to mulesing or live exports?” Benjamin asked.
In a short answer, Boneparth thanked Benjamin for his remarks, saying the company is “very involved in trying to help.”
“That was the shortest and most dismissive answer I’ve received,” Benjamin said after the meeting. “But I am still hoping to work something out with this company.”
With no further comments from audience members, Boneparth briefly answered some questions from attendees following the meeting.
“As we continue into the second and third quarters, the bulk of the consolidation at retail [will be] felt with the movement and changing of nameplates,” he said. “We are appropriately cautious.”
Gas prices at the pump have been surging in recent weeks, raising some concern that consumers may elect to stay closer to home for their summer vacations. Since most outlet locations are located in remote areas, consumers will have to decide if it’s worth the price of gas to get there, and it could cause a slip in sales. Boneparth noted that Jones’ outlet business has been doing well, despite the cost of feeding the tank.
For the next few weeks, Jones has elected not to participate in some of the upcoming investment banking conferences.
“We feel that, because of the [sale] process, it would not be a good use of our time,” Boneparth said.
In his letter to shareholders, Boneparth detailed the company’s Strategic Operating Review, which will increase speed to market and, in turn, lead to $100 million in cost savings.
“We also realigned senior management in our wholesale apparel businesses to provide greater speed and consistency in responding to our wholesale customers’ needs,” the letter read.
Those realignments included the promotions of Jack Gross to ceo of the denim and junior businesses; Wesley R. Card to chief operating officer; Howard Socol to ceo of Barneys New York; Lynne Coté to ceo of wholesale sportswear, suits and dresses; Andrew Cohen to ceo of wholesale footwear and accessories, and Heather Pech to ceo of company-owned retail footwear and apparel.