In September, we took a look at the difficulty that women's apparel retailer J. Jill (NASDAQ:JILL) was having as it worked to get its operations back on track following a run of fashion miscues, increased seasonality caused by growth in its store count, a general economic malaise, and other ills. Last night, we got more information about what the company is doing to fix the ship.

Investors are no doubt watching closely. The once-hot company's shares are still about where they were in early 2001 when questions arose about its ability to perform in downbeat times. The shares continued rising for another year and change -- but have since fallen more than 50% from those highs.

Today, they're off again in early trading as the company said it will scale back store expansion and catalog pages in the coming fiscal year. It's targeting sales of between $415 million and $420 million and EPS of $0.30 to $0.35 for the year, with the focus on maintaining cash flow and improving the product mix -- something the company insists won't be fully seen until the latter part of next year.

Investors might be right to show some frustration at the pace J. Jill is targeting for its recovery, but it seems at least that management understands its task. Companies such as J. Jill, Talbot's (NYSE:TLB), and Chico's FAS (NYSE:CHS) can have extremely loyal customers who don't mind paying a bit more for their wares because they're accustomed to good quality, style, fit, and service. Those four things can really help in slow economic times -- and be a huge boon in good.

J. Jill hasn't had them for some time. Direct sales productivity (a measure of "demand per 1,000 square inches circulated") and retail sales per square foot, for example, have fallen in each of the last four quarters.

There's reason for optimism in the company's detail-oriented approach. Reduced store growth and catalog production costs should help cash flow. At approximately 35 times projected 2004 earnings, however, one wonders whether the shares have fallen far enough to reflect the challenge ahead.

Do you believe J. Jill's tumble is coming to an end? Talk it over on our J. Jill discussion board.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at