Sears reworking 70 percent of home

Carole Sloan, May 24, 2004

Sears is putting its home textiles muscle behind Colormate, its standard bearer for years, but with a new casual approach; and Whole Home, the centerpiece for more formal bedding.

Lands' End will be positioned in home textiles as the top of the line.

The giant retailer is redoing 70 percent of its home textiles department with what Alan Lacy, chairman and CEO, calls "an upgrade," as well as the elimination of some products, including closet shop and big rugs "that we held on to when we shifted to a self-select model."

The key to the changes, he explained after the annual meeting here earlier this month, "is shopability." To this end, the home textiles departments will have a new layout, new white-finished bent-wire fixturing and simplified fixtures for top-of-bed presentation.

The new home textiles assortment in bedding is reaching stores now, the towel mix was changed in February.

The Oak Brook Mall store nearby is the first with the new fixturing and merchandise changes. "We wanted the store to be more shoppable, and the new fixtures reflect this approach," said Roger Detter, senior vice president, general merchandise manager.

In merchandise, "There is an upgrading of styling, with a good balance of non-traditional, more updated casual styles that are very in tune to color," he explained.

Initially, the Colormate Casual offering is a six-design collection. It includes a microfiber faux suede, two twills, a corduroy and a denim, and a multi-patch. The entire collection, however, will not be in all stores, depending on size, said Detter. The queen set retails for $149.99.

Whole Home continues as the more formal bedroom look, and the lion's share of this segment will be in comforter sets.

In towels, Martex and Utica were added to the assortment beginning in February, "and the results are beyond expectations — way above forecast with a high-20s increase," he said.

The towel assortment now begins with the addition of New Traditions at $2.99 and goes up to $9.99.

In bath, the assortment was simplified with fewer lines and more color, said Detter.

The extensive changeover in merchandise and presentation comes after a major launch in October 2002 of a three-tier home fashions program, using the umbrella Whole Home. At the time, Sears executives explained that Whole Home was designed to offer department store quality at Sears' prices. Whole Home was designated the top of the tiers, with Whole Home Colormate Coordinates as a complete home fashions coordinate program, and New Traditions as the opening price point.

Over the last nine months, Sears undertook a major consumer-research program to determine what the customer really wants to buy in home textiles, how they perceive style and what they wanted in a store experience, Detter related.

One of the things to emerge "was that we kept things too long, we didn't keep up with fashion and color. Consumers are well versed in home textiles; they shop it a lot," he added. "They want natural fibers. Significantly, they were overwhelmed with the traditional product. In addition, customers also didn't like the signing, not just in home textiles but store-wide. It was hard to read."

Customers also told Sears they didn't like the packaging. "They wanted it simplified and with more information," Detter explained.

Interestingly, the research showed that brands in home textiles were not a significant element in the buying decision, coming in fifth after design, color, price and quality, he said.

But Detter said the company is bullish on one of its major brands. "Lands' End still continues with its own footprint within the home textiles world, and it's doing fine. It's a great quality product," he said.

Currently, Lands' End sheets are 250-count cottons in six colors. Other products are towels, flannel, throws, and down. Top-of-bed styles will be tested in the fall in five stores, Detter said.

Marketing for home textiles also is undergoing change. While still circular-driven and run on sale, the photography has been improved and towels have been given more space. Towels, he explained, are a traffic driver.

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