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After buyout, former Vitamin Shoppe president to lead Talbots

Talbots was acquired Monday by Sycamore Partners, a buyout firm. The Hingham retailer is trying to reconnect with core customers.

Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg News/File 2011

Talbots was acquired Monday by Sycamore Partners, a buyout firm. The Hingham retailer is trying to reconnect with core customers.

A day after Sycamore Partners acquired Talbots Inc., the private equity firm said Tuesday that it has tapped Michael Archbold, most recently president of Vitamin Shoppe, to serve as chief executive and chief financial officer of the struggling Hingham women’s clothing retailer.

Archbold will take the helm of a new leadership team that includes two former Talbots executives, Lizanne Kindler and Michele Mandell.

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“By restoring the company’s focus on Talbots’ classic styling, we will be able to reconnect with the company’s historical customer base,” Archbold, who also served in executive finance positions at AutoZone and Saks Fifth Avenue, said in a statement.

The executives were introduced to employees Monday at Talbots’ Hingham headquarters by Stefan Kaluzny, a managing director of New York-based Sycamore Partners, which courted Talbots for the past year. The buyout, valued at $391 million, including debt, closed Monday. Sycamore said it expects the company to remain based in Hingham and maintain all of its other offices. A Sycamore spokesman said he is not aware of any immediate or planned job cuts.

“We are pleased to have completed this acquisition and are ready to deliver on the promise of executing on the significant potential inherent in Talbots, which remains a premier, storied brand,” Kaluzny said in a statement.

Like Archbold, Kaluzny referred to the company as a restoration project.

“Building on its 65 years of history, we will restore the Talbots brand and the company’s heritage as a leading retailer of traditional women’s apparel, shoes, and accessories,” he said.

Talbots foundered for five years under the leadership of Trudy F. Sullivan, who strayed from the company’s classic styles in an effort to lure younger, more fashionable consumers.

That strategy backfired and alienated core customers — those 55 and older. The merchant, which still operates about 516 stores, has shuttered its men’s and children’s divisions and slashed expenses as a way to stem losses.

Despite the failures, Sullivan will earn more than $6.2 million in exit compensation, and Michael Scarpa, Talbots’ former chief financial officer, will receive about $3.4 million now that the merger is complete, according to a proxy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this summer.

Retail analysts on Tuesday offered differing views on the new team assembled by Sycamore Partners. By appointing Archbold, whose background is in finance, “Sycamore isn’t committed to turning around Talbots in terms of looking at the problem as one with merchandise and its connection with the target consumer,” said Mike Tesler, of Retail Concepts, a Norwell consultancy. “They are likely looking to streamline it to the extreme, cutting everything that they can, and then sell it at a profit.”

Marshal Cohen of NPD Group, a market research firm in New York, said Sycamore will probably look for savings by tapping into its other investment, Mast Global Fashions, which is one of the largest independent apparel sourcing companies. That would enable Talbots to design, manufacture, and ship its own merchandise, Cohen said.

“This will allow them to have better sourcing, better pricing, and better turn of inventory — with the ability of having better merchandise,” he said.

The expected partnership with Mast Global Fashions means Talbots will probably stick to its private label concept, rather than introduce other brands as a way to invigorate the business. That concerns some analysts, who believe Talbots would benefit from outside designers, a strategy used successfully by J. Crew and other retailers.

“This relationship really concerns me because I think Talbots won’t survive if they still try and work with stores that are totally private label. It’s too boring and too slow,” Cohen said. “It locks them into the current disaster instead of the turnaround, which would have been expected.”

But Madison Riley, of the consultancy Kurt Salmon in Boston, said he has confidence in the merchandising skills of Kindler, who most recently worked in product development at the Kohl’s department store chain after leaving her post in merchandising at Talbots. In her new position as president, Kindler will be responsible for product development, merchandising, and marketing.

Kindler “understands the brand and where the brand needs to go,” Riley said.

The company, he added, will also benefit from the return of Mandell, a 26-year veteran of Talbots who will become chief operating officer. Mandell, who retired in 2008, held a variety of positions at Talbots, including regional manager, senior vice president, and executive vice president.

“When Michelle ran stores across America, they thrived,” Riley said. “She understood how to create an exciting in-store culture, and getting her back could breathe some life and customer service back into those stores.”

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson.
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