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Chico's FAS will offer women more fashionable clothing and is radically upgrading behind-the- scenes systems to get it in the stores, executives told analysts Friday.About three dozen analysts from Wall Street investment banks and pension funds visited the Metro Parkway Fort Myers campus for a soup-to-nuts review of the company with executives.Analysts also got a preview of the company's fall and winter fashions for each of the company's brands, Chico's, White House/Black Market and Soma Intimates.

They would not comment for this story, citing compliance rules.Chico's operates 1,068 stores.Chico's brand president Cynthia Murray said the fashions reaching stores in the fall and winter are more "current" than they have been for a while."We had become too frumpy," Murray said.The event followed the company's annual shareholder meeting Thursday.

At that meeting, executives said the company's same store sales are down only slightly over last year, a marked improvement over recent months.President and Chief Executive Officer David Dyer - appointed to the position in January - said the company has been able to begin its turnaround sooner than expected, but he isn't declaring victory yet."I am very pleased with where we are and where we are going," Dyer said.

"But no one is caught up in the exuberance of the moment."Dyer said the company is retooling its entire supply chain operation, upgrading inventory software in the stores and improving shipping times and costs."We are going from Fred Flintstone to George Jetson overnight with our systems," Dyer said.Under the old systems, for example, crates of clothing would be delivered to Chico's stores and store employees would have to manually input each item into the store's computer system.

Likewise, discounts would have to be manually tapped into the cash register.The new systems will show clothing in inventory as soon as it comes in the store and discounts will be automatically deducted.Also, customers who can't find an item at a local store can now have it shipped to them from the company's distribution center in Georgia.

Previously, items were packed and shipped by sales associates in other stores.That change alone will save store associates 5,000 hours a week nationwide that will be better spent serving customers in the stores, chief operating officer Jeff Jones said.Jones said the company is also upgrading its Web sales, including adding the ability to chat live with an associate, which was added this week to the Soma Intimates site.About 60 customers used it the first eight hours, Jones said.Dyer has said he has set a goal that direct-to-consumer sales will be 10 percent of total sales for the company in two years.

Direct-to-consumer sales now account for just 4 percent of sales."It will probably be the most efficient and profitable (sales) channel that we have," Dyer said.
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