By  on November 19, 2004

NEW YORK — When it comes to the future of Kmart’s and Sears’ combined roster of apparel brands, the whole is anticipated to be greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s because the deal spells a way to quickly offer consumers a broader array of apparel labels under one roof, plus the potential for a more exciting shopping environment and a higher quotient of convenience, observers said Thursday, the day after Kmart Holding Corp. announced plans to buy Sears, Roebuck & Co. for $11 billion.

“To be able to offer Martha Stewart and Lands’ End under one roof is a particularly powerful combination,” said Paul Nunes, executive research fellow at the Accenture Institute For High Performance Business.

The expansion of the apparel brand offerings at Sears, coupled with the chain’s eventual extension to off-the-mall locations once occupied by Kmart, will effectively create a shopping atmosphere like people found in its department stores in years past, Nunes observed. Factor in the addition of Lands’ End to Kmart’s offerings, and the availability of those apparel labels across approximately 3,500 locations will stir a sense of ubiquity, strengthening the presence of individual brands, such as Jaclyn Smith, Thalia Sodi, Joe Boxer and Sesame Street, he projected.

Whether such apparel assortments will create a strong enough tide to raise the fortunes of two flagging retail ships remains to be seen, however, cautioned Marc Gobe, president and chief executive officer at brand-image creation firm desgrippes/gobe. “The only thing exciting is Martha Stewart inside Kmart and Lands’ End inside Sears.”

While describing the merger as a brilliant strategy for survival in the battle with Wal-Mart, he nonetheless noted: “What we’re seeing is two of the worst brands in the U.S. merging with each other — two brands that have absolutely zero meaning in the minds of people.”

Gobe, for one, believes the combined retailer’s best bet in the war with Wal-Mart is to position the Sears and Kmart stores in a unique manner — largely through differentiated brand assortments — as Target has done with its playful yet sophisticated store image and roster of proprietary designer brands from Isaac Mizrahi to Liz Lange, Todd Oldham and Philippe Starck.

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