Sears Takes Steps (Fashion) Forward

Discussion
Sep 24, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A series of announcements over the past month could give
someone the impression that Sears Holdings is serious about improving its standing
in the apparel and accessories business.

Sears recently launched its "The
Many Sides of Me" campaign to begin
positioning the department store as a fashion destination.

"We have executed
against a range of initiatives tied to our strategic pillars that have improved
our relevance to customers, including engaging them on a personal level," said
Scott Freidheim, executive vice president, operating and support businesses
for Sears Holdings, in a statement. "With this launch, we’re
on a path to ‘Feminize, Energize and Digitize’ the Sears soft side brand positioning."

Earlier
this month, the Chicago Tribune reported Sears planned to remodel
clothing departments in 200 stores in the Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and
Washington, D.C. markets. The company has come under criticism in the past
for failing to put needed dollars into stores to improve the shopping experience.

Sears
also announced a deal to sell an exclusive line of women’s, men’s and children’s
clothing under the UK Style by French Connection brand. The brand will be
available in 500 Sears stores beginning in the first quarter of 2001. It will
also be available on Sears.com.

John Goodman, executive vice president of apparel
and home for Sears Holdings, said in a statement, "This addition to our
brand portfolio will significantly increase our relevance among younger customers
while strengthening our effort to re-energize our fashion offerings at Sears."

Sears.com looked overseas for
another exclusive deal. This week the company announced it had partnered with
NEXT, a popular fashion retailer in the U.K., to sell its clothing, shoes and
accessories online.

"Whether you’re shopping online or in-store, Sears
continues to offer credible brands for customers," said Imran Jooma, president
of e-commerce at Sears Holdings, in a statement. "By bringing must-have
fashion statements from brands like NEXT, our customers will be able to shop
for international styles, all in one place at Sears."



Also soon to be found at a Sears in Costa Mesa, Calif. is a Forever 21. The
Wall Street Journal
reported that Sears had agreed to lease about 15
percent of its store space for Forever 21 to operate a store-within-the-store.



Michael Dart, senior partner at Kurt Salmon Associates, told the Journal, "For
some time, Sears has been managed to conserve cash, and has not seen a lot of
investment in upgrading its stores or providing a good shopping experience, particularly
for a younger, trendier consumer." The addition of Forever 21, he said, "brings
a new vibe and is something of a crowd draw."

         

Sears is expected to explore more such deals.



"We want to optimize and leverage our real estate portfolio to third-party
tenants," Kimberly Freely, a spokesperson for Sears, told the Journal.

Discussion Question: Is Sears Holdings on the right path with its soft
lines business?

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17 Comments on "Sears Takes Steps (Fashion) Forward"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 7 months ago
Sorry, but I’m not buying the spin…Sears continues to drift into irrelevance, especially on the softlines side of its business, making it that much more difficult to attract younger or more fashion-forward customers. Does anyone seriously believe (for example) that the French Connection customer is going to walk into a Sears store in the first place? Does Sears intend to spend the capital investment needed to make its long-neglected stores more appealing to the fashion shopper in general? There is little evidence that Sears plans to correct some of the “fundamentals” before moving into a fast-fashion experiment. As to the Forever 21 test, this aligns with some of the other stories that BrainTrust panelists have discussed during the past year: It feels more like a way to exploit (and “sublet”) unproductive real estate rather than an organic merchandising strategy. This does not exactly parallel the Mango initiative inside JCPenney, but rather appears to be a free-standing “store within the store.” Forever 21 has something to gain by picking up new sites, but not by aligning… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

The world is backwards when a retailer says to himself “I’ve got all this square footage in my stores. What can I fill it up with? Apparel has good margins and pretty fast turns, let’s sell that!”

That appears to have been Sears’ philosophy for years. The softer side, buying Lands’ End, and now this.

The consumer has a lot of choices for apparel. So I just don’t see Sears as a destination for fashion-hungry teens. And I don’t really see a lot of affinities between lawn mowers, TVs and tank tops.

Sears does more things right then it gets credit for. Apparel isn’t one of them.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 7 months ago
Sears, like all retailers is challenged to bring in a younger customer to replace dollars from an aging boomer population. The merchants at Sears are to be commended for at least taking steps to try and attract this customer. However, the Lands’ End experience, where a respected and successful brand quickly disappeared into obscurity, demonstrates the central dilemma. Being successful at apparel requires more than trendy product. It requires ambiance, appropriate fixturing and graphics, a hip sales staff – a total environment focused on fashion. The notion that a young customer is going to get excited about buying aspirational fashion in a place where Mom and Dad are pricing out washing machines seems far-fetched. Add to that Lampert’s aversion to capital improvements and it seems unlikely that this will turn the corner on Sears soft business. The interesting move is the “store within a store” deal with Forever 21 which includes a large footprint along with a separate entrance for this successful fashion retailer. As I discussed in a related post on my blog site,… Read more »
Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 7 months ago

There was recently a similar question about department stores trying to compete with the trendy youth retailers and I used Sears as an example of a department store wasting its time chasing young shoppers. I stand by that opinion – Sears’ only prayer of becoming hip with an under-25 crowd would be in the ironic way kids in their early 20s drink Pabst beer. They would do better trying to focus on their home, consumer electronics or automotive departments that bring in a more mature shopper.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Color me contrarian on Sears. I love what they are doing on many levels–from the platforms that they are building outside of the stores (MyGofer), to the experiential retail pop-ups (Craftsman Experience store), to the new brand alliances…in that order.

While the other big boxers embarked on massive remodels and store brand re-dos (Walmart, Target), Sears focused on building out its multi-channel capabilities. While others went on brand binges (Macy’s, Penney’s), Sears made the most of its existing intellectual property (licensing deals both wholesale and retail for Craftsman and DieHard). While others dabbled with online “marketplace” concepts by allowing select brands to leverage online platforms (Walmart), Sears has emerged as the real Amazonian by welcoming all comers. And now, instead of remodeling entire stores and piling brands on top of undifferentiated brands, Sears is selectively remodeling and strategically partnering in a key category (apparel).

I’ll say it again: Eddie Lampert is no merchant. And that’s probably a good thing.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

The analyst says, “For some time, Sears has been managed to conserve cash, and has not seen a lot of investment in upgrading its stores or providing a good shopping experience…” And this is the organization that we’re now supposed to believe in that will be doing great things??? I’ve been waiting for Sears to do great things for a very long time, so call me skeptical.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Congratulations to Real Estate Mogul, Eddie Lampert. If the Forever 21 deal works, he has just leased out 15% of his Sears real estate when other retail landlords are holding empty stores. This would be the single biggest real estate deal in the U.S. since the market collapsed!

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 7 months ago

Regardless of what we think, my feeling is and has been for some time that this is Sears’ only real hope of reinventing anything of any relevance. Whether they can pull it off is debatable.

They have to either attract a younger consumer or start selling tombstones–it’s just that simple.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

I am sitting on the sidelines regarding Sears’ and their newest new initiative to build their softlines business. I agree with my friend Paula regarding the distinction between lawn mowers and tank tops. How do they plan to get teens to come in and browse, much less purchase?

Ok, so they bought Lands’ End and are now leasing space to Forever 21. That does not satisfy me when I read they have gone overseas to bring in new lines supposedly attractive to younger buyers. I would think there are financially struggling young fashion lines manufactured in the U.S. Support them and promote them. Keep jobs here as bad as the unemployment numbers are.

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Sears needs to have a lot more transparency in the marketplace about how they arrive at the decisions they’re acting on. Where is the shopper perspective in all that they do? Even the marketers want proof that there is some reason to believe this new version of the softer side has any realistic chance of success with the shopper.

Sears has a great opportunity to tell the shopper stories if they indeed have them. It’s time for them to get more visible and more social and put some transparent insights on the table. Thus far, their efforts seem like a one way conversation.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

I think Gene (and others) may have misread the story: it’s 15% of a single store, not the entire chain (though in this depressed market, even THAT may qualify as the year’s biggest transaction). Back on point, Sears generates plenty of ideas–good, bad and everything in between–and even more press releases…what it doesn’t seem to generate any more is sales. Will this be the game changer? How is it any different than the come-and-gone ideas that have come and gone before this?

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
10 years 7 months ago

With same-store sales decreasing year after year, it will be interesting to see whether this renewed focus on their apparel departments can turn this around. Having been a Sears observer and some-times critic, it’s hard to take Sears seriously when they say they are going to make fashion a priority.

If they can actually use NEXT, UK Style by French Connection and their new relationship with Forever 21 to bring customers into their stores it will help. But they still need to improve the shopping experience for those customers.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
10 years 7 months ago

The idea has merit and could work. Sears just doesn’t have a reputation most recently with execution.

R Seaman
Guest
R Seaman
10 years 7 months ago

Sears has been down this road several times.

Perception is everything. Customers perceive a department’s fashionability by what they see when they walk through a store.

In the past, Sears has not been able to resist the temptation to display automotive promotions (and other hardline promotions) in the aisles of their fashion departments. In the minds of female shoppers this does not help develop fashion awareness.

Having the right merchandise is part of the fashion formula. Enticing the customer to shop within the department is another important piece. If they can keep their fashion departments looking fashionable they stand a chance of increasing sales in their fashion lines.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
10 years 7 months ago

I give Sears credit for trying to re-establish relevance, as they have over the past few years with a series of initiatives, to mixed success. But they lose me with gibberish like “… executed against a range of initiatives tied to our strategic pillars that have improved our relevance to customers….” Not a lot of clarity, passion or purpose there.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 7 months ago

Gosh, don’t most of us have our fingers crossed for good ol’ Sears? Aren’t we hoping they’ll succeed this time? Inventory and remodeling is only the beginning of this effort, of course. Smart marketing, perhaps featuring saturation fashion advertising a la Target should be a major part of the effort. Even T.J. Maxx with their “Maxxinista” campaign is stirring up the soft lines mix. As many have mentioned here, it’s one thing to have a game plan and another to execute it. Good luck, Sears.

Brian Kelly
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Adding brands is not the issue in apparel. Adding the right fashion is–and doing it across 850+ very different looking trading areas. If they get it right, WOM will bring in customers; it can happen in Juniors, already has. But will they focus in missy/womens? Lands’ End didn’t work. Do they know why?

Hey Sears, Who is the customer?

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