- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

BOSTON (AP) — Talbots Inc. will close its 78 children’s and men’s apparel stores to focus on its core middle-aged female customer, a retrenchment that follows disappointing sales at Talbots as well as other specialty women’s apparel retailers amid tough economic conditions.

Yesterday’s announcement of the closures, affecting 800 employees, came as Talbots also warned that fourth-quarter sales have fallen below expectations at its 1,157 Talbots stores, and the 271 J. Jill locations it bought in a 2006 acquisition.

The warning, following two consecutive quarterly losses, spooked investors, who sent the stock to its lowest level in nearly a decade. Shares of Talbots fell $1.22, or 11.4 percent, to $9.46. The last time the stock sank below the $10 level was in October 1998.

The stock lost about half its value last year, and the company announced a strategic review in October, leading to yesterday’s announcement of plans to close its 66 Talbots Kids stores and 12 Talbots Mens stores by September.

The 61-year-old company opened its first children’s store in 1990, and its first men’s location in 2003, departing from the Hingham, Mass., company’s traditional focus on women. While the location of many of the children’s and men’s stores adjoining Talbot’s women’s apparel stores made it convenient for female shoppers to pick up clothing for others as well as themselves, the concept hasn’t been a good fit, said Betty Chen, a Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst.

“They really weren’t complementary to the overall focus of the company, which is 35-year-old-plus female customers,” Ms. Chen said.

The closures “will greatly contribute to our ability to focus and reinvigorate our core brands and provide sustainable long-term shareholder value,” said Trudy Sullivan, who was named Talbots president and chief executive in June, replacing longtime Talbots CEO Arnold Zetcher, who retired.

The 800 job cuts to full-time and part-time positions will affect about 5 percent of the company’s work force.

BACK TO BASICS

Talbots Inc. plans to close its 78 children’s and men’s apparel stores by September, including six in the Baltimore-Washington area:

Talbots Kids & Babies

Tysons Corner Center

Talbots Mens

Tysons Corner Center

Talbots Kids & Babies

Fair Oaks Mall

Talbots Kids

Montgomery Mall (7101 Democracy Blvd.)

Bethesda

Talbots Kids

Columbia Mall (10300 Little Patuxent Parkway)

Talbots Kids & Babies

50 Village Square

Baltimore

Source: Talbots Inc.

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