Followers of women's fashion retailer J. Jill Group (NASDAQ:JILL) didn't have much cause for celebration last week. Fourth-quarter numbers showed a thin revenue increase of only 4% over last year's period. Operating income took a major dive, dropping to 3.7% of sales from 4.9%. It's no surprise, then, that net income was off as well, coming in at $0.13 per share, down from $0.16.

The glass-is-half-full group will likely point out that operating income for the full year ticked up to 3.5% of net sales against 3.4% last year and that the bottom line's $0.42 per share comes to a 20% better showing.

I could point out that, despite the firm's end-of-year weakness and aggressive growth goals, it finished the year with strong balance sheets and $6.7 million in free cash flow. Granted, that's not a ton of FCF for an enterprise valued around $200 million, but given the way some companies work their growth strategies -- Gander Mountain (NASDAQ:GMTN) comes to mind -- it's not so shabby, either.

The most impressive feat this quarter was the self-critical commentary that Jill's management put right there in the earnings release. Rather than roll out the typical bogus excuses such as weather, competition, or asteroid strikes, CEO Gordon Cooke blamed the company's own decisions for the late-year fade. Just one example:

"We think that our ongoing design initiatives, combined with our fit evolution, may be creating the appearance that we are shifting our focus to a different or younger customer. This is not our strategy, and we need to find a way to make that clear to our customers."

Translation: "We've gotten ourselves into trouble, but we recognize it and want to make sure we don't pull a Gap (NYSE:GPS)." I find this candor refreshing. If there were 12 steps to retailer rehab, far too many companies would fail here, at step one: admitting there's a problem.

While the market reacts with fear and loathing, savvy Fools should keep their eyes open. Jill might be broken -- a bit -- but the problems look like they can be fixed. So long as the company's balance sheets remain decent, and management faces the problems head-on, the firm will have ample opportunity to recover.

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Seth Jayson thinks Jill's windows exude frump, but if that's what works, he says, "Bring the frump." At the time of publication, he had shares of The Gap but no position in any other firm mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.