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Sears provides brand options

NEW YORK Though Sears has refined its private brands approach, most recently with the acquisition of Lands' End and the soon-to-launch Covington apparel label, Alan Lacy stressed that Sears is not pursuing a proprietary brand offering strategy.

"National brands continue to be very important to us; we want to give customers choices," the chairman and ceo told analysts at Goldman Sachs' Global Retailing conference held here last week.

Though Sears is a high/low retailer, he said, the Lands' End line, set to appear in 184 stores in mid-November, will not be a promoted brand but will be priced the same as the items in its catalog. In addition, the Lands' End good, better, best strategy works well within Sears, and the good price point "fits in historically with what's done in stores; it fits well in our structure," Lacy added.

Overall, however, the sales environment has not been strong — much of which, Lacy said, was "self-inflicted." Sears continues to implement its strategic initiatives at the store level. And for the remainder of the year Lacy said that the top-line is likely to suffer, with the ongoing impact of merchandise assortment and promotional changes and store disruption as well as the uncertain economic environment. July and August were particularly disrupted by these initiatives, he added, and Sears has been very thin on inventory, maybe "thinner than ideal." However, the retailer is on track to deliver $600 million productivity improvement by 2004.

The home area is also being reworked and will see "a more concerted effort in home fashions," he said.

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