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Shakeup at Talbots

Talbots Inc. is looking to reinvent itself. Long known as your mother's favorite store, the fashions have become too “dowdy” in the words of new CEO Trudy Sullivan, with recent studies showing that women over the age of 65 saying the clothes are meant for someone older than them. Sullivan, who took over just last summer, announced in April a three-year turnaround plan designed to make the clothing appeal to middle-aged women seeking to look their age.

In a presentation with investors in April, Sullivan said Talbots will stick to the classics like suits, pants and jackets while creating more signature styles. Customers will likely see menswear patterns like black and white houndstooth, pinstripes and tweeds and more red, which figures prominently in the Talbots logo. Colored paisleys and plaid jackets with a feminine fit could also fill the racks. Kim Picciola, a retail analyst at Chicago-based Morningstar, says the changes are sorely needed. “Certainly the brand has struggled in recent years,” she says. “It's encouraging to see some change.”

The style change comes after the retailer had a rough Christmas and after it announced in early January it was scrapping its men's and children's concepts. Many apparel retailers who cater to an older demographic have struggled recently to find a way to keep women looking both stylish and age-appropriate. Chico's, Ann Taylor and Talbots have all seen sales slide. The economy may bear some of the responsibility for the drop in sales, Picciola says, but she puts a good chunk of the blame on the lack of appealing merchandise for women of a certain age. But although the redesigns may be necessary to keep consumers buying, “it's a difficult time to be in turnaround mode,” Picciola says. Talbots plans to debut the new clothing this summer.

Talbot's has another problem. Talbot's stock plunged to its biggest one-day loss ever in late April when two banks canceled $265 million in two lines of credit for the retailer. That effectively halted shipment of goods from Asia to the retailer. As of press time it was racing to put together a new $50 million credit facility.

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