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NEW YORK CITY-In efforts to turn around slumping sales, Ann Taylor’s management is trying to focus on more “modern” clothing at its namesake 349-store chain. The company will incorporate “more holistic” marketing campaign and focus on other styles after a fourth quarter that saw waning demand for women’s suits and classic separates, said Kay Krill, Ann Taylor’s president and chief executive officer, during a conference call.

During recent customer surveys, management found that the chain is “not as clear or as exciting in stores” as it could be, she said. Fourth quarter traffic saw a double-digit decline at the chain.

Same-store sales at Ann Taylor stores fell 7.8% year over year at Ann Taylor stores. By contrast, comparable sales at its 512 Loft units only fell 0.5%. The company’s overall net sales fell to $600.8 million from $610.5 million during the same year-ago period, while operating income dropped to $18.2 million form $30.5 million.

In the coming year, as previously announced, Ann Taylor will close 64 underperforming stores. There are 50 to 55 openings planned, with 20 to 25 of them planned as Ann Taylor outlets, 15 Lofts, 10 of the newly launched Loft outlet stores and four Ann Taylors.

Like other retailers such as Home Depot and Macy’s, Ann Taylor is abandoning its monthly sales reports because they “distort a true picture of performance,” said Maria Sceppaguercio, senior vice president of communications and investor relations.

Additionally, management announced that it’s new concept geared toward the “modern Boomer,” which was planned to roll out this year, is delayed until 2009.

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