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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jun. 23, 201612:00 PM EST

Succession plan for Stein Mart: A merger

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Company chairman says any change is a long way off
by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Despite bringing in a new chief executive in March, Jay Stein remains a fixture as chairman and the largest shareholder of Stein Mart Inc.

However, Stein told shareholders Tuesday at the company’s annual meeting that he does see a time when he gives up control of the company his grandfather founded more than a century ago.

“We’ll probably merge the company at some point,” he said, in response to a shareholder question about his long-range plans.

“I don’t have anyone to turn it over to,” he said.

Stein, who controls 31 percent of the stock, stepped back from the daily operations of the Jacksonville-based fashion retailer when he hired Dawn Robertson as the new CEO.

However, he said after the meeting at Stein Mart’s Southbank headquarters that he isn’t going away anytime soon, and any change in control is a long way off.

The chain could eventually be acquired by another retail operator that would keep the Stein Mart brand name as a subsidiary or the company could be bought by a financial buyer who keeps the company intact.

“We want this to go on beyond me,” the 70-year-old Stein said.

Stein Mart finished fiscal 2015 with 278 stores across the country and plans to open 13 more this year, while closing two. Stein said he hopes to see the company growing by 15 to 20 stores a year.

“We want to continue to build the brand all through the country,” he said.

Stein is optimistic about his company’s future under new CEO Robertson.

“I think the company’s in very good hands,” he said.

Robertson told shareholders she is encouraged by what she’s found in her first three months at Stein Mart.

“I’m impressed by what a commitment this culture is to being successful,” she said.

The company is already undertaking steps to increase sales under Robertson’s leadership, including a relaunch of its e-commerce site this week, she said.

Besides features to make online shopping easier, Robertson said the new website has search optimization features she hopes will attract new shoppers who will visit Stein Mart stores.

“What a terrific opportunity to draw them to the site and then to the store,” she said.

Robertson also told shareholders the company is working on regionalization so that stores will appeal to specific markets, such as Florida stores that are “colorful” and California stores that look “cleaned up.”

Robertson already told investors during Stein Mart’s quarterly conference call last month that she wanted to attract “younger attitudinal” customers to the stores.

She told shareholders Tuesday “that’s attitude, not an age.”

Robertson sees “significant sales opportunities” in several areas.

“Many opportunities lay ahead for us,” she said. “We are working aggressively to achieve them.”

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