Talbots to Sell J.Jill

Just Two and a Half Years after buying the women’s apparel cataloger/retailer, Talbots announced last month it is putting J. Jill up for sale.

The retailer has done a lot with J. Jill “as far as putting in a great management team and vastly improving the merchandise,” says Julie Lorigan, Talbots’ senior vice president for investor and media relations. “We’ve also come a long way in re-energizing the Talbots brand,” which sells classic women’s apparel vs. J. Jill’s casual styles.

But in the current environment, Lorigan notes, “you don’t have unlimited resources, and you have to manage conservatively. We just don’t have the resources to do justice to two brands.”

The Hingham, MA-based company reclassified the third-quarter results of J. Jill as discontinued operations for the period ended Nov. 1. Its Talbots brand recorded sales of $357 million for the third quarter, down 14% from $414 million in the same quarter last year. Same-store sales fell 13.9% in the quarter from the period in 2007.

Talbots bought J. Jill in February 2006. In fiscal 2007, Talbots generated $2.2 billion in revenue — $1.8 billion from Talbots and $478 million from J. Jill.

Lee Helman, a managing director with investment bank Financo, notes that the move isn’t surprising, given J. Jill’s performance. “I think J. Jill diverts resources away from the core Talbots brand, so it makes sense to not have that happen much longer.”

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