NEW YORK CITY-AnnTaylor Stores Corp.’s new Ann Taylor Loft Outlet units could be a major growth vehicle in the future, executives said at the company’s second quarter conference call. In July, the company opened 10 Loft Outlet units, with four more to open in the second half.

“While it’s still very early, initial indications are very favorable,” said President and CEO Kay Krill. “We expect this business to represent significant future growth for us.”

For the year, the company expects to open 66 new stores, consisting of 25 Loft stores, 23 Factory stores, 14 Loft Outlet stores and four Ann Taylor stores. As part of its strategic restructuring program, it also expects to close 25 Ann Taylor stores and 39 LOFT stores. The company declined to comment on 2009 store openings. Overall, the company plans to close 117 stores over the next three years, including the 64 to close this year.

Net sales in the second quarter of fiscal 2008 were $592.3 million, down from $614.5 million in the same period last year. Comparable-store sales for the quarter declined 10.8%, with Ann Taylor down 14.3% and LOFT down 8.6%. Net income was $31.2 million, or $0.54 per diluted share, in the second quarter of 2008, compared with net income of $32.2 million, or $0.51 per diluted share, in the second quarter of 2007.

Ann Taylor Corp. operates 959 stores in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, consisting of 345 Ann Taylor stores, 519 LOFT stores, 85 Ann Taylor Factory stores and 10 LOFT Outlet stores.