Jacksonville-based Stein Mart creates new image to survive financial slump

Jacksonville-based Stein Mart creates new image to survive financial slump

It's been a rough few years for Jacksonville-based Stein Mart.

In September 2016, the stock was trading at $7 a share but this past February it closed at 48 cents a share. The stock has recovered a bit, trading in early May around $2.50 a share.

President MaryAnne Morin was brought in last year to turn things around.

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"I would like to think that once we are consistently delivering results, the stock price will affect that," Morin said.

Morin said that the company had to slash prices and take a lot of markdowns last year to clear inventory and get into “a better place.”

"It's one thing to say what you're doing. It's another thing to say it's now happening." Morin said.

There are now fewer clearance items, stores aren't as cluttered and online sales are improving. Morin said Stein Mart also needed a new image to attract younger buyers-- especially women.

Last October, the company hired a new advertising agency to do just that.

Morin said customers responded, calling the company's new commercials quirky and fun.

The off-price retailer is known for its appeal to women over 45 years old, but surviving the slump will mean appealing  to a broader audience.

“I think we got pigeonholed in the past with an older demographic,” Morin said. Recently, stores opened a new contemporary section.

The company still wants to appeal to mature women but Morin says some clothes will also attract younger women.

“You can see a woman in her 30’s in an outfit and look perfectly appropriate while seeing that same outfit on a woman in her 50’s. It has to do with body type and comfort level.”

Another new item is preowned handbags.  An online company buys gently used bags from estate sales, refurbishes them and then supplies those bags to Stein Mart. Handbags range in price from a few hundred dollars to $8000.  Morin says Louis Vuitton is one of the biggest sellers.

Stein Mart has seen one of its biggest successes in online sales. Morin says ecommerce grew by 80% in the fourth quarter. Customers can also search for an item in stores nearest to them on the web site and then go to the store for purchase.

Morin says all the changes to the company were necessary to be a player in the highly competitive retail landscape and also necessary to keep the 110-year old company relevant and prospering for years to come.