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Houston-Based Retailer To Shutter At Least 20 Stores Nationwide

Francesca's in Middleton, Wis.

Francesca's announced Friday it will close at least 20 locations in 2019 and will pause remodels until the company's bottom line improves, Retail Dive reports. It originally expected to shutter between 30 and 40 stores this year after identifying 129 underperforming stores, according to the Houston Business Journal

The Houston-based apparel retailer posted a 14% drop in net sales in the fourth quarter from $119.3M to $138.5M year over year, according to a release from Francesca's. It noted a decline in boutique traffic and a lower conversion as the reason for the decline in net sales. Overall, net sales decreased by 9% year over year from $471.7M in 2017 to $428.1M in 2018. 

"Over the last three months, we have done an abundance of work, evaluating all areas of the business and developing a strategic turnaround plan that we believe will return the company to longer-term positive sales, cash flow and operating income performance," Francesca's interim CEO Michael Prendergast said in the release. 

Going forward, the company's top cost reduction measures include: transitioning the merchandising process to allow a demand-based, fast-fashion business model; simplifying the promotional strategy; cutting selling, general and administrative expenses; and optimizing real estate through selective closures and lease renegotiations.  

"We will continue to move swiftly to develop a strong foundation and implement operational disciplines that will enable improved performance across all financial metrics," Prendergast said. 

Francesca's CEO Steve Lawrence resigned earlier this year, and the company hinted at a potential sale, according to the Houston Chronicle. The retailer also cut an undisclosed number of jobs in both the corporate office and field management positions, saving about $15M in annualized gross selling, general and administrative expenses, a release from April said. 

In 2018, Francesca's opened 32 new stores and had 26 closures compared to 60 new stores and 10 closures in 2017. The retailer has a total of 727 boutiques, per the release. Five of those are in Houston, according to the company's website.