Private label retailer Chico's has appointed an executive VP and general merchandise manager and has also reported an increase in first-half net income.

Chico's said Michele Delahunty Cloutier was joining the firm, where she will be responsible for overseeing and directing all merchandising activities for the Chico's brand as well as the planning and allocating function.

Cloutier was most recently an independent consultant and served as senior VP and general merchandising manager at Ann Taylor Stores between 2003 and 2004. She has also held several senior merchandising roles within Gap Inc as well as buying positions at Macy's and Abraham.

"I am delighted to welcome Michele to Chico's. The new perspective she brings to the company should enable us to continue building the Chico's brand in the marketplace," said president and CEO Scott A Edmonds.

"Michele's creativity and merchandising insight will be important in helping to develop the growth strategies and product programs required to propel the Chico's brand past the US$2bn sales mark."

First-half income was US$106m, the company said, compared to net income of $96m last year.

Six-month net sales were up 18.9% to a record $797m from $670m, said the firm. Same-store sales for company-owned stores grew 6.2% during the first half.

For the second quarter of the year, net income totalled $54m compared to $49m previously, while net sales increased 18% to $405m. Same-store sales for company-owned stores grew 5.7%.

Edmonds said: "We continue to see solid same-store sales improvements at White House | Black Market and are pleased with its results.

"We have not realised the level of same-store sales in the Chico's brand that we originally anticipated and it appears we are facing our first negative same-store sales results in some time.

"We believe this same-store sales decline is due to a combination of factors including the lack of 'wear now' merchandise in our stores, a reduction in overall store traffic, and a pre- planned marketing effort that turned out not to inspire our customer to shop."

The company has lowered its same-store sales expectations for Chico's and also its future operating margin and earnings expectations for the next four quarters.

"We are committed to our store-opening programs and to improving service levels in our stores, as well as providing our customer with fresh, exciting merchandise and we intend to continue investing in these areas," Edmonds concluded.

"…we are prepared to experience lower operating margins as a percent of sales through the first half of next year before we begin to see a turn back towards operating margin improvement as a percent of sales in the second half of the year."