Stein Mart was founded in 1908 by Sam Stein, a Russian immigrant who opened his first store in Greenville, Mississippi. The department store carried general merchandise until Stein's son, Jake, took over the company upon his death in 1932. It was then that the store redirected its focus toward discounted clothing.
The chain targeted customers who shopped department stores on a regular basis, inducing them to purchase goods by offering discounts of 25 to 60 per cent off department store prices. By the late 1970s, Stein Mart was a leading retailer of clothing for the family in the Mississippi Delta.
Under Jay Stein’s leadership, Stein Mart grew from three stores in 1977 to 40 stores in 1990, and then to 123 stores by the end of 1996. In determining the prime locations for new Stein Mart stores, management targeted cities with populations of 125,000 or more and relied on demographic research regarding income, education, and occupation to help predict whether a community might support a discounter of designer merchandise.
In 2002, Jay Stein stepped down but remained as chairman and also the largest Stein Mart share holder to this day. John H. Williams, Jr., served as vice chairman and chief executive officer of the company from September 2001 to February 2003 and still serves on the Stein Mart board.
Michael D. Fisher held the position of president and chief executive officer of the company from 2003 to August 2007. At that time, Fisher resigned and Linda McFarland Farthing was appointed as president and chief executive officer of Stein Mart. Farthing had been a longtime Stein Mart board member and held the president and CEO position for one year. Upon her resignation in 2008, David H. Stovall Jr., served as CEO until 2011. In September 2011, he announced his retirement, leading Jay Stein to take over as the interim CEO.
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