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CEO Fisher Leaves Stein Mart

Upscale softlines discounter Stein Mart has seen its home department slip to 12% of total sales in the first half of 2007, said William Moll, evp, chief merchandising officer, during the retailer's earnings call on Aug. 23. He was joined in that assessment by Stein Mart president and ceo Michael Fisher, who said that home "continues to struggle, as it has for some years."

Fisher, a 14-year Stein Mart veteran, noted that day, "We have made many changes in merchandise, leadership and price, trying to find the right combination to entice customers, but I must report that we are not there yet."

That was among his last statements as a Stein Mart executive. Four days later the 281-unit retailer announced Fisher's "immediate" departure.

Stein Mart named Linda McFarland Farthing as new president and ceo. She is expected to assume her new duties "on or about Sept. 24."

Farthing has been a member of the retailer's board of directors since 1999. She was president, coo and director of The Cato Corporation from 1990 to 1997, and later president, coo and director of jewelry retailer Friedman's. Earlier, she was svp and gmm for J.B. Ivey, a Charlotte, N.C.-based regional department store chain.

Stein Mart chairman Jay Stein lauded Farthing: "We are fortunate to have someone of Linda's caliber with our organization and believe she is an ideal choice for this position."

With 2006 home textiles sales of $91.0 million, Stein Mart is No.42 on the HTT Top 50 Retailing Giants. The company has repositioned soft home to a good-better-best assortment, revamped its bath shop to include Lauren and Nina Campbell goods and novelty embellished towels, as well as a fashion assortment of rugs, Moll said. And new Nina Campbell product will augment linens and gifts lines.

"We are testing some strategic changes in this area as we continue to search for the equation that resonates with our customer," Moll said.

The challenges at Stein Mart run beyond the home, but the lack of momentum from turnaround efforts in that area is indicative of the company's status. Its stock price is down 35% year to date in 2007.

For the second quarter, Stein Mart had earnings of $2.2 million, down 73.5% from earnings of $8.3 million one year ago. Sales of $330.7 million were off 1.7% from $336.3 million last year. Comps fell 1.2%.

Still in the midst of new initiatives (see "Stein Mart Refreshes Nina," this page), execs were asked by an analyst if they had considered exiting the home category altogether to focus on more successful apparel categories. Moll gave a cryptic response: "We definitely have a lot of thoughts going on, and we're working some strategic changes in the next couple of weeks, but we do have to look at all possibilities."

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