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Jos. A. Bank will add 70 to 100 stores; Revitalized chain's 3-year plan has goal of tripling earnings; Internet deal near to boost online sales; stock is repurchased; Clothiers


Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., the Hampstead-based men's apparel chain, expects to nearly double its number of stores over the next several years as part of a new strategic plan to capitalize on its rising sales and improved finances.

The retailer expects to add 70 to 100 stores to its existing 110 stores in the next 3 1/2 years, a source knowledgeable about the company's plans said yesterday. Bank also aims to boost earnings threefold in that time.

The company is also on the verge of signing an agreement with an Internet service provider that it hopes will boost online sales, the source said.

"There's no question that the company is moving to a new level of growth based on the new management team," said Kenneth M. Gassman, a retail analyst at Davenport & Co. in Richmond, Va., who praised the plans.

Bank's new chief executive officer and president, Robert N. Wildrick, came on board in November after the resignation of Timothy F. Finley in May. Finley was credited with reviving the chain, which had been close to bankruptcy when he took over in August 1990. Finley restructured Bank's debt and increased its presence from about 30 stores to 105.

"Tim Finley was brought in to turn around the company, and he did just that," Gassman said. "Wildrick is taking it to the next level and doing what's necessary."

Gassman said the retail market is becoming increasingly polarized; customers want either luxury goods or discounted merchandise.

He noted that stores such as Nordstrom and Wal-Mart are doing well, while those in the middle of the road such as Wards and J. C. Penney Co. are struggling.

"Clearly Jos. Bank is positioning itself as an up-market retailer," Gassman said.

But company officials feel that investors have been slow in recognizing its value. Yesterday, Bank announced that it had repurchased 896,400 shares -- nearly 13 percent of its outstanding stock -- for $3.50 per share, or a total of $3.1 million, in a private sale.

"It's selling at almost half book and this is a company that's had a significant record of sales growth in the past several months," Wildrick said. "We had record earnings for the fourth quarter."

Shares of Bank closed yesterday at $4.1875, off 31.25 cents.

Bank, which has a per-share book value of $6.19, posted fourth-quarter earnings last month of $2.5 million, or 36 cents a share, before one-time charges, compared with $2.2 million, or 32 cents a share, in the corresponding quarter last year.

With the one-time charges, earnings were $1.9 million, or 28 cents a share.

The chain broke monthly sales records in December with sales of $30.4 million -- the highest ever in a single month. Sales at stores open at least a year -- a key gauge of financial health -- rose 9 percent, one of the biggest jumps on a month-over-month basis in the past two years.

"We have no formalized stock buyback program," Wildrick said. "What I simply have is the authority [from the board of directors] to do what I perceive to be the best financial move for the company at the time."

Wildrick said, so far, things are going well in his new job.

"We managed to put together a terrific staff, some who were already here and are just empowered, and some that I brought in from the outside," he said.

"I feel we've got the best team we can possibly have, and I'm happy with that."

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