Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — Seeking to strengthen its classic approach to styling and reverse declining sales trends, Talbots named Mark Shulman chief merchandising officer, filling the number-two slot in the organization.
The announcement Thursday confirmed a WWD report that day that Shulman was joining Talbots after working just four months as president and chief executive of the Des Moines, Iowa-based Younkers division of Proffitts Inc.
Shulman will also hold the titles of executive vice president and chief operating officer, and he will become a member of the board when he joins the company on Nov. 10.
Shulman said Thursday that he decided to move east to take the job at the Hingham, Mass.-based Talbots for family reasons and because of his background in private label. At Talbots, he will be responsible for all merchandising, manufacturing and sourcing for the catalog and retail stores, and he will report to Arnold Zetcher, president and chief executive officer.
“The biggest issue for Talbots is that they got off their game plan,” Shulman said. “They walked away from their core customer.”
However, he added, fall merchandise at Talbots stores seems more focused on the customer.
“The merchandise got a little too updated, too contemporary for that customer,” Shulman said. “That customer is a classic customer.”
Talbots reported a second-quarter loss of $11.5 million against earnings of $6.6 million, or 20 cents a share, a year ago. Sales gained 5.6 percent to $244.8 million from $232.1 million. Same-store sales were flat, but gross margins collapsed to 19.8 percent of sales from 30.2 percent.
For the six months, Talbots earnings plunged 81.7 percent to $5 million, or 15 cents, from $27.4 million, or 82 cents. Sales increased 4 percent to $485.6 million from $468.3 million, and same-store sales slipped 2.6 percent.
Shulman said that before he starts implementing changes at Talbots, he wants to spend time with Talbots personnel and form some ideas.
“The only preconceived idea is that we’ve got to go back to our roots — the classic customer,” he said.
He did say that Talbots could expand its product range, noting “a real opportunity in the large-size business down the road.”
Shulman has covered a lot of ground in his career. Before Younkers, he was executive vice president and chief merchandising officer of Stage Stores. But the early part of his career was spent at Bloomingdale’s, where he rose to divisional vice president, helping to launch the store’s bridge business.
Shulman was involved in buying bridge lines from the market and developing Bloomingdale’s own Beekman sportswear label.
In addition, the 48-year-old retailer was president and ceo of Ann Taylor from 1985 to 1987 and president of Henri Bendel from 1987 to 1990.
“Ann Taylor really taught me the most about private label,” he said.
Shulman also held the posts of general merchandise manager at I. Magnin, president of the dress division of Leslie Fay and president of Bonjour.

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