The executive suite is seeing another change at J. Jill Inc., which is rolling out new features online and reducing its clearance rack.
The women’s apparel company said Wednesday that its chief financial officer and executive vice president David Biese is stepping down, effective April 30. The search for a new cfo will begin immediately.
This marks the second executive change-up for the company recently. Earlier this year, Linda Heasley took over as chief executive officer after Paula Bennett retired.
The company would not comment further on Biese’s departure, but in a statement Biese said he was “very proud of the many accomplishments” of his team over the past nine years, including helping to take the company public in March 2017.
J. Jill’s stock surged more than 22 percent during midday trading after J. Jill released third-quarter earnings, beating Wall Street’s expectations. The stock closed up 18.6 percent to $5.63 a share.
Sales increased 7.5 percent to $174.1 million, up from $162 million a year earlier. Income increased to $13.9 million from $13.3 million.
While gross margins were down in the first half of the year, the company credited strong performance in September and October to cleaner inventory levels and said it would reduce the amount of promotional sales during this year’s holiday season.
The retailer also opened two stores during the quarter and expects to open eight more this quarter, bringing the total number of stores to 282 by the end of the fiscal year.
Still, Heasley said the company needs to focus on speed and delivering a larger assortment of products to the consumer — such as jeans — by way of digital and social media channels.
“Good news for us, our customer isn’t always first to a trend,” Heasley said during a conference call with analysts. “But increasingly the marketplace is shrinking relative to her access to the Internet…so we know we need to respond a lot more quickly.”
New features, such as allowing customers to make purchases with PayPal, are just the start of the company’s redesigned web site. Heasley said additional applications and capabilities are on the way.
“We’re not using the online store as a clearance vehicle only, which is where we got caught last year,” she said. “We’re feeling really good about the responsiveness to this site, [but] we’re still not out of the woods right now.”
Other cost-saving measures include reducing J. Jill’s production in China “in a meaningful way,” Biese said.
The U.S.-China trade war has already seen higher duties at the U.S. border for many goods, and costs could go even higher if a resolution isn’t found soon.
Biese said the company has approximately 30 percent of its production in China, mostly in its sweater business. In addition, J. Jill is looking at ways to offset costs for the production that does remain in China — which could include raising prices for consumers.
“We expect that to be, frankly, very manageable for us,” Biese said.
Still, J. Jill’s fourth-quarter outlook isn’t so bright.
The company anticipates next quarter’s margins to be flat to slightly negative as it trims back on its clearance selection. Comparable in-store sales are also expected to be flat, while e-commerce sales are expected to be negative, compared with the same period last year. J. Jill anticipates sales will decrease between 10 and 12 percent in the fourth quarter.