Paul Harris Puts J. Peterman on the Block

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Paul Harris Stores Inc., which acquired the J. Peterman brand from bankruptcy last year, said recently that it has put the division up for sale.

Paul Harris, Indianapolis, which operates a chain of stores selling moderately priced women's apparel, said it wanted to focus on its core business. Before Paul Harris acquired it for about $10 million, the J. Peterman Co. was a cataloger and retailer of upscale clothing and other products. Paul Harris has since discontinued the catalog operations.

News of the sale came as part of a broader financial announcement that Paul Harris' second-quarter losses would be "well in excess of 50 cents per share," compared with a loss of 5 cents a share in the year-ago second quarter.

"From a cash standpoint, we really believe that our dollars would be best spent on the Paul Harris product and on our core customer," said Sally Tassani, executive vice president at Paul Harris.

Known for its quirky catalog offerings, J. Peterman also gained notoriety as grist for jokes on the "Seinfeld" TV show. It also operated a chain of 13 retail stores in the Northeast, Midwest, Southern California and Seattle before it was acquired.

Paul Harris closed three of the locations and opened an additional store in Indianapolis.

Paul Harris also launched a Web site for the J. Peterman brand. Tassani declined to reveal data about sales volumes or traffic at the site but said "an amazing number" of visitors registered online to add their names to the mailing list.

Several companies have expressed interest in acquiring J. Peterman since sale plans were unveiled, she said. The company expects a quick sale because of interest in the brand and the approaching holiday season.

The company, struggling to revive sales at its own 300-store chain, also is in desperate need of cash, according to reports.

Tassani said whoever buys the J. Peterman brand might wish to relaunch the catalog.

"Most people that are interested in J. Peterman are very clear that this is a very viable, multichanneled endeavor, and that not only are the retail stores important, but the Internet is important and the catalog is important," she said.

Though she declined to reveal sales figures for the J. Peterman outlets, Tassani said sales have "increased substantially" since Paul Harris acquired it. Paul Harris also recently began offering J. Peterman merchandise in a Paul Harris store in Chicago.

J. Peterman was founded in 1987 by John Peterman, a former minor league baseball player and marketing consultant. He said last year that his company's bankruptcy resulted from several miscalculations, including over-prospecting with the catalog and buying inventory for stores that had delayed openings. The company had $35 million in assets and $40 million in liabilities at the time of the bankruptcy filing. Paul Harris acquired the company's assets without assuming debt.

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