Defying slump in Md., Bank Clothiers thrives Company is hiring even as state loses thousands of jobs

September 04, 1993|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Staff Writer

This is a lousy time -- and Maryland is a lousy place -- to be looking for a job. But don't tell Timothy F. Finley.

As chief executive of Hampstead-based Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., he is among the small group of Maryland executives who are boosting employment these days.

A report released Thursday said that Maryland suffered the second-largest job loss of any state in the 12 months that ended in July. But Bank is heading in the other direction. An aggressive expansion campaign -- including six new stores planned this month -- has meant dozens of new manufacturing jobs in Maryland.

Bank has learned to live with -- even benefit from -- the nationwide economic slump, said Mr. Finley, a turnaround specialist who was brought in after a near-disastrous leveraged buyout. The company has prospered by sharpening its marketing, by cutting costs and by selling traditional clothing at reasonable prices.

"In recessions, people tend to buy safe," he said. "Someone is going to sell suits in this climate."

This year, the company expanded its Towson store, the biggest in the chain, and moved its downtown Baltimore store to roomier quarters on Pratt Street. "[The Baltimore store] is reflecting a 20 percent increase over the past year," Mr. Finley said. "It has far exceeded our expectations."

This month, the expansion drive will continue, as Bank adds stores in Wilmington, Del.; Dallas; Lexington, Ky.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; suburban Chicago; and Buffalo, N.Y. Two more stores are due by the end of the year -- in Austin, Texas, and Princeton, N.J.

Job gains in the Maryland stores are relatively small. But the expansion creates manufacturing jobs, because Bank makes its clothes at factories on North Avenue in Baltimore and in Hampstead.

"We've probably added about 15 percent" more factory jobs in the past year, Mr. Finley said. The factories employ about 680 people, up from about 590 last year.

But Bank is an exception in Maryland, as this week's report from MBG Information Services of Washington made clear.

MBG said that Maryland lost 79,500 jobs in the year that ended in July, with construction, defense and manufacturing companies taking the biggest hits. The figure represents 3.2 percent of the jobs that existed in the state in July 1992. Only Maine lost a higher percentage of jobs.

Bank's improved stability and growth prospects came mainly from cleaning up its finances in a 1991 restructuring that exchanged the company's $50 million in high-interest junk-bond debt for stock in the company.

Then it was just a question of boosting sales, Mr. Finley said. Sales for Bank, which does not publicly report its financial results, will exceed $150 million this year, up about $20 million over the past "couple of years," he added.

Bucking the nationwide economic slump wasn't easy. To cut costs, the company moved its headquarters out of tony offices in Owings Mills to the factory and outlet-store site in Hampstead.

The company sharpened its advertising -- including a campaign built around the slogan "There is No Status in Overpaying." It revamped the Bank catalog, improving the design to make it "look more like a Polo," Mr. Finley said. And it positioned itself for growth by lining up a new credit line from a group of banks led by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. and First National Bank of Maryland.

The company doesn't plan to slow the pace. Next year, stores will open in Milwaukee; Des Moines, Iowa; Hartford, Conn.; Jacksonville, Fla; Columbia and Greenville, S.C.; and, for the first time, New York City.

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