Disappointment, some hope, at Jos. Bank investors meeting

June 15, 1995|By Alec Matthew Klein | Alec Matthew Klein,Sun Staff Writer

Shareholders knew it. The CEO knew it. Results weren't good.

So a soft-spoken Timothy F. Finley stood before his investors yesterday and quipped: "In terms of arrogance, if I have any left, it's been warped by the humility I've enjoyed in the last 18 months."

So it went for the chairman and chief executive officer of Jos. A. Bank Clothiers at a somber annual stockholders meeting overshadowed by the company's poor sales, falling stock price and financial losses.

"What are the reasons the stock has dropped?" asked investor Richard Ash of Philadelphia. "What I'm trying to say is, the market is usually not wrong."

Mr. Finley, flanked by displays of a new line of men's casual wear, spoke candidly of the Hampstead-based company's weak results before about 30 investors and company officers at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel.

"In terms of the performance of the company," he said, "it clearly was not up to the expectations of the market or to the people who took it public."

Bank stock yesterday closed at a 52-week low of $2.375, down 50 cents.

The stock activity reflects the company's latest results -- Bank lost $4.2 million for the three months ended April 29 because of slow sales and the cost of phasing out its line of women's wear. Although sales increased 1.5 percent to $44.4 million, sales at stores open at least a year dropped nearly 8 percent for the quarter.

Mr. Finley shared the blame and declined to accept a bonus in 1994. "I just didn't think it was appropriate the way we performed," he said after the meeting. The CEO was entitled to up to 75 percent of his $445,558 base salary, subject to performance objectives, according to the company's proxy statement. No bonuses were paid to other officers and key managers.

The company could be more generous next year if recent numbers continue to climb. Same store sales for men's wear are up about 4 percent to 6 percent from the end of April through June 13, according to Matthew R. Kahn, Bank's executive vice president and chief financial officer. Suits, sports wear and catalog sales are all up, he said.

Mr. Finley seemed optimistic about a reversal of fortunes. "I think the answer to the future of the stock price is going to be good news -- we need good news," he said.

Hope for the company lies in replacing women's wear with the men's new line of business casual wear, a melange of soft jackets, knit shirts, sweaters, turtle necks, denim shirts and jeans to debut in stores in late summer.

"We think we can maintain better margins than with women's," Mr. Finley said. "We think we can have a better turnover with casual wear; in fact we know we can."

Beyond that, the company is considering expanding.

Now operating 83 stores, Bank has identified 15 new sites, Mr. Finley said.

Among those under consideration are two in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Some of the new stores could be sold as franchises.

Plans are still evolving, Mr. Kahn said.

For the moment, however, Bank has set its sights on eliminating women's wear, launching the new men's line and improving the bottom line.

"No one in this room is satisfied with the performance of this company," Mr. Finley said. "If God gives us a little volume, next year's meeting will be a little happier."

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