Edina-based Regis Corp., operator of the nation's largest chain of hair salons, announced Monday that it will close roughly 600 company-owned SmartStyle salons at month's end.

The salons, housed in many Walmart stores, were considered by Regis to be underperforming. About 2,000 SmartStyle salons remain.

Regis Chief Executive Hugh Sawyer said the financially struggling company intends to offer "comparable positions" to stylists and salon managers affected by the downsizing.

This latest move is part of a strategy to "improve shareholder value and position the company for long-term growth," Sawyer said. The closings follow earlier sales and franchising of mall-based and international salons.

The closures are expected to be the only reduction in Regis' SmartStyle salon portfolio for the foreseeable future, a company statement said.

As of Sept. 30, Regis owned, franchised or held stakes in 8,944 locations worldwide under such brands as Supercuts, SmartStyle, MasterCuts, Regis Salons, Sassoon Salon, Cost Cutters, Roosters and First Choice Haircutters.

Sawyer became CEO of Regis in April after the company fired predecessor Dan Hanrahan. Regis had hired Sawyer's former employer, Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group, months earlier to help the company shift to a business plan calling for increased franchise ownership of salons.

Regis' stock closed Monday on the New York Stock Exchange at $16.09 a share. For the past year, shares have ranged from highs above $16 down to slightly more than $9.