Christopher & Banks Taps Payless CEO Via as Chief Exec.

Christopher & Banks Taps Payless CEO Via as Chief Exec.

LuAnn Via, who has overseen retail brands including Payless ShoeSource, Lane Bryant, and Cacique, will attempt to return Christopher & Banks to profitability.

Plymouth-based Christopher & Banks Corporation said Monday that it has tapped the chief executive of Payless ShoeSource, Inc., to take over as its new president and CEO.

LuAnn Via, who served as president and CEO of Topeka, Kansas-based Payless from July 2008 until earlier this month, will succeed Joel Waller.

Waller was hired in December 2011 to serve as president for a one-year term; he then took on the additional role of CEO after former chief executive Larry Barenbaum abruptly resigned in February. Christopher & Banks said at the time that Waller would lead the company until its search for a permanent CEO was complete, and the company revealed in a regulatory filing earlier this month that it had extended his contract through March 31, unless a successor was selected.

Several weeks later, the search is complete, and Via is expected to assume her new roles on November 26. In addition to serving as president and CEO, Via will join the company’s board.

Per the previously announced terms of his amended contract, Waller will serve as a consultant to the company through June 30, 2013.

At Payless—a subsidiary of Collective Brands, Inc.—Via oversaw a company with $2.4 billion in annual revenue, 4,000 stores in 30 countries across four continents, and more than 26,000 employees, according to Christopher & Banks.

The company also called attention to her experience in the specialty women’s retail space: Via served in a variety of positions at Bensalem, Pennsylvania-based Charming Shoppes, Inc., from January 2006 to July 2008. For example, she served as group divisional president, a role in which she oversaw the Lane Bryant and Cacique brands. Prior to her tenure at Charming Shoppes, Via held executive positions at Sears Holding Company and Saks, Inc.

“LuAnn is an exceptional choice for this position and I am confident that she will provide excellent leadership for Christopher & Banks as we continue to execute on the turnaround strategy started by Joel Waller,” Chairman Paul Snyder said in a statement. “Ms. Via’s extensive merchandise and product development experience in multiple retail channels, in addition to her strong executive and personal qualities, were key factors in the board’s decision to hire her.”

Christopher & Banks is among Minnesota’s 50 largest public companies based on revenue, which totaled $412.8 million in the fiscal year that ended in January, but the company has struggled in recent years.

It has begun a turnaround strategy that involves reducing the number of styles offered this fall and “rebalancing” its assortment; lowering prices and reducing the variety of prices; improving inventory flow by reducing the number of major floor sets by half; and developing a promotional strategy that features more targeted, unique promotions and fewer storewide events.

There are recent signs that the turnaround plan is starting to work: The company’s same-store sales—sales at stores open for at least a year and a key measure of a retailer’s health—climbed 5.5 percent during the second quarter, which ended July 28. Meanwhile, its net loss during the quarter totaled $2.2 million, or 6 cents per share, representing a significant improvement from its loss of $6.3 million, or 18 cents per share, during the same period last year. The company currently operates 640 stores in 44 states.

Via said in a statement that she’s “excited” to join the company’s management team and “build upon the current strategy and return the company to profitability.”

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