Christopher & Banks to Cut Prices After Rough Year

Christopher & Banks attributes its disappointing fourth quarter to an increase in prices that it implemented late last year; it now plans to slash base prices by about 20 percent in an effort to recapture sales.

Struggling women's apparel retailer Christopher & Banks Corporation plans to reduce prices this year, after an increase in prices last fall led to a disappointing fourth quarter.

For the quarter that ended January 28, which included the holiday season, the Plymouth-based company reported a net loss of $31.7 million. Same-store sales-sales open for at least a year and an industry barometer-fell 14 percent during the period.

The company reported a net loss of $71.8 million for the full fiscal year, which included $9.8 million in charges related to restructuring efforts. (Christopher & Banks recently changed the end of its fiscal year; the results pertain to a nine-week fourth quarter and 48-week fiscal year.)

President and CEO Joel Waller-who took the helm at Christopher & Banks last month when Larry Barenbaum abruptly resigned-said during a conference call that the company boosted its average prices by 23 percent last fall, and customers responded negatively to the move.

He described the company's most recent quarter as “clearly disappointing,” attributing the poor performance to “a merchandise offering that was priced too high, over-assorted, and lacked some of our traditional key categories.”

To boost sales this year, the company plans to slash base prices, and next fall's product lines will be priced about 20 percent lower than last year's, Waller said. The company will also reduce its overall number of merchandise categories while expanding a few key categories this year.

Christopher & Banks in November announced plans to close 100 stores, cut between 800 and 1,000 jobs, and restructure some of its existing operations by consolidating multiple brands into dual-format stores.

The company said Tuesday that it closed 119 stores during the fiscal year but also opened 30 new stores. It now operates a total of 671 stores in 44 states, including 396 Christopher & Banks stores, 187 plus-size clothing CJ Banks stores, 63 dual-format stores, and 25 outlet stores.

The company said it will open only “a limited number” of stores this year in order to limit its capital expenditures.

On Tuesday, when Christopher & Banks announced its fourth-quarter and full fiscal year results, the company's stock price dipped 0.8 percent to close at $2.36. The stock was trading down about 1.5 percent at $1.96 Thursday morning.