Improved inventory management and cost control mean women's wear retailer The Talbots Inc is on track to meet its full-year guidance the company said today (21 May).

The retailer, which operates the Talbots and J Jill branded stores, said first quarter profit fell 69% to $1.6m or $0.03 per share, from $5.2m or $0.10 per share in the same period last year.

But stripping out restructuring charges and the cost of closing its Talbots Kids, Mens and UK non-core businesses, profit from ongoing core operations was $11.0m or $0.21 per share. This is above last year's $0.14 per share on a comparable basis. 

Sales for the 13 weeks to 3 May fell 5.4% to $542.4m from $573.6m a year ago.

Total comparable store sales declined 9.8%, with same-store sales down 7.4% at Talbots and tumbling 20.2% at J Jill.

Merchandise gross margin was 260 basis points above last year, driven by better overall inventory management at the Talbots brand with leaner inventories.

Trudy F Sullivan, president and chief executive officer, said: "It was a solid quarter and we are encouraged with our progress, particularly in the Talbots brand, where we have seen a dramatic improvement in our merchandising gross margin."

The company is maintaining its guidance for fiscal 2008 earnings to be in the range of $0.47 to $0.52 per share.

The Talbots Inc, which is majority-owned by Japan's Aeon Co, operates 595 Talbots stores and 272 J Jill locations and is realigning its business to focus on women aged 35 plus.