Christopher & Banks CEO exits abruptly

  • Article by: THOMAS LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2012 - 9:12 PM

Struggling retailer's president, Joel Waller, will be an interim fill-in for Larry Barenbaum.

Larry Barenbaum is out as Christopher & Banks CEO.

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Christopher & Banks Corp. said CEO Larry Barenbaum has resigned, effective Friday.

The struggling Plymouth-based women's apparel retailer said President Joel Waller will replace Barenbaum until it finds a permanent CEO.

Waller, whom Barenbaum recently hired to a one-year contract, said he had no role in Barenbaum's exit and had "no interest" in the CEO job.

"I was actually shocked," Waller told the Star Tribune.

Waller declined to comment on the exact circumstances of Barenbaum's departure. When asked if the board of directors fired Barenbaum, Waller replied: "I can't answer that question."

Coming off a disastrous fiscal 2011, when the company lost $22.2 million, its worst annual loss, the company had high hopes for a recovery based on a renewed focus on merchandising.

The company recruited Morris Goldfarb, CEO of clothing designer/manufacturer G-lll Apparel Group, to join its board. Christopher & Banks also brought back Jules Rouse, who launched the CJ Banks brand back in 2001, as senior vice president and general merchandise manager. Christopher & Banks said Friday that Rouse also had left the company.

However, Christopher & Banks' new clothing lines have gotten off to a shaky start. Barenbaum acknowledged customers did not think some of its clothing was worth the higher prices the retailer wanted to charge.

"Our customers resisted paying higher prices, which led to heavy promotions and deeper discounts," Barenbaum recently told analysts. "We found that she was willing to pay more for an item when it was both differentiated and versatile."

As a result of its mounting losses, the retailer closed about 100 stores last month and laid off about 25 employees. The company had also recruited Waller, a former CEO at Wilsons Leather, to advise the retailer.

Waller said he took the job because Barenbaum, a friend, asked him to.

"It was also a great opportunity to turn around a company," Waller said.

Waller said he doesn't foresee any more significant store closings or layoffs.

Thomas Lee • 612-673-4113

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