Shares of Jacksonville-based Stein Mart Inc. plunged following the announcement by the discount apparel retailer that it had formed a committee to “explore all opportunities to improve operating performance and identify potential strategic alternatives.”

 

Stein Mart said in its Monday announcement that it had hired the firm Alvarez & Marsal to “review its operations for performance enhancements” and had more recently retained PJ Solomon Co. as its investment banking and financial advisor.

“Given the continuing challenges of the retail environment, it is prudent for us to review our strategic options while focusing on ways to improve our business,” said Chief Executive Officer Hunt Hawkins.

PJ Solomon says on its website that it advises clients on “mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, restructurings, recapitalizations, capital markets solutions and activism defense … .” Mergers and acquisitions, it says, “is at the core of PJ SOLOMON’s advisory services.”

The consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal says its goal is “seamlessly linking operations, performance improvement and value creation to best help companies turn areas of stagnation into growth to achieve sustainable results.”

Monday’s announcement sent the company’s stock into a tailspin. Stein Mart shares that opened Monday at $1.10 were trading at just 78 cents before noon. They rallied only slightly at Tuesday’s market opening.

Those shares hit $16.44 on Feb. 1, 2015. They slipped below $10 that September, and below $5 in November 2016.

Stein Mart said Monday it has not set a timetable for completion of this evaluation process and added that it does not intend to make public future developments unless the committee has approved “a specific transaction or otherwise determined that disclosure is appropriate.”

Monday’s announcement was the latest in a series by the retailer focused on cost-cutting.

In October, the company said it would reduce its corporate office headcount by 10 percent. That followed efforts to lower inventories and reduce capital expenditures. The company’s quarterly dividend has been suspended.

Its most recent quarterly earnings report included a $14.6 million net loss, with comparable-store sales down 6.9 percent year over year. The company said then that it had 293 stores at the end of the third quarter, three less than a year earlier.

Hawkins took over as Stein Mart’s CEO a year ago, having been interim CEO since September 2016. He previously worked as the company’s president and chief operating officer, and before that executive vice president and chief operating officer. Hawkins replaced Dawn Robertson, who was in the CEO role for just six months.

Stein Mart’s president is MaryAnne Morin, whose hiring in early 2017 coincided with Hawkins’ elevation to CEO. She had been chief merchant and executive vice president of Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay.

Stein Mart’s headquarters is on Riverplace Boulevard on the Southbank. It was relocated to Jacksonville from Mississippi in 1984 by Jay Stein, grandson of the company’s founder.