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Maurices chain going strong despite economy

DULUTH -- At a time when many retailers are struggling in the down economy, Duluth-based Maurices closed the books this week on its fiscal year with some solid numbers: a 49-store expansion, sales that increased 6 percent from a year ago and a healthy profit margin of 10.2 percent of sales.

George Goldfarb, senior vice president and chief financial officer for the women's clothier, said he was pleased with the performance of the chain he oversees. Maurices, a subsidiary of Dress Barn Inc., added $11.5 million to its parent company's bottom line.

"We continue to be highly focused on managing our inventories and controlling expenses during these tougher economic times and are well positioned for the new year," Goldfarb said in a prepared statement. "We are committed to our smaller-market strategy [and] driven by our strong connection with our customer and shopping experience, providing excellent fashion, value and service."

By opening in 49 new locations during the past fiscal year, Maurices boosted its store count by 7 percent. Maurices now operates 721 locations in 44 states. The increased reach was primarily responsible for the chain's sales growth, as Maurices' comparable store sales actually slipped 1 percent for the year.

Meanwhile, Dress Barn Inc., the parent company of Maurices, reported improved quarterly profits but year-end results that were less encouraging. For the 13-week period that ended July 25, the company earned $26.4 million, or 19.5 percent more than it did during the same time span last year.

But for the year, the company recorded net income of $69.7 million in 2009, or 5.9 percent less than the prior fiscal year.

"We are pleased with our performance in a challenging environment due largely to effective merchandising that has communicated an appealing combination of fashion and value to consumers," David Jaffe, Dress Barn's president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement. "At the same time, we have continued to carefully control costs and inventory levels and remain focused on generating cash."

In addition to Maurices, Dress Barn operates 838 Dressbarn stores in 47 states.

The company expects to grow still larger soon, as it completes its pending acquisition of Tween Brands. That $322 million deal will bring 908 more stores operating under the "Justice" brand name into the retailer's fold.