By  on March 31, 2005

NEW YORK — Sears, Roebuck will start selling the Parallel contemporary brand beginning mid-April in an exclusive distribution deal that reflects the chain’s ongoing reengineering of its apparel business.

In disclosing the Parallel pact to WWD on Wednesday, Sears executives said the recasting of its apparel floor is gathering steam. This fall, they plan to introduce a few more exclusive labels, which they declined to identify. The essence of the strategy is to build up a stable of “affordable and on-trend” labels unique to midtier retailing.

Other key components of the strategy involve reworking the selling floors so they’re less dense with merchandise and become clearly divided into three lifestyle areas: updated, classics and relaxed. Also, since last holiday season, Sears has accelerated the flow of goods to its stores, so that floor sets change every six to eight weeks, compared with three to four per year. “We’re heavily into the cycle now,” said Gwen Manto, executive vice president and general manager of apparel, Sears, Roebuck.

About half of Sears’ apparel business is considered exclusive to the store, and apparel/accessories represents 25 to 30 percent of the volume at Sears’ 870 full-line stores around the country. For years, Sears’ apparel business has underperformed the hard goods side and has been under assault by the stronger J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Target and traditional department stores, among other retailers.

“Our strategy is to really go to market with a much more relevant fashion offering — and do fewer things but with more authority,” said Manto. “We want great exclusive product not sold at other midtier retailers.”

“Sears is a natural fit as our new exclusive retail partner for Parallel because together we are able to make fashion more accessible,” said Max Azria, chairman and chief executive of BCBG Max Azria Group, parent company of Parallel, which is geared to appeal to women ages 18 to 35. 

Key Parallel items and prices for spring include cardi sweater wraps and pleated print skirts for $44; matte jersey wrap dresses for $58; floral print tunics at $38; rib knit tanks with lace trims, $22; linen flare leg pants, $50, and ruffle trim twill jackets, priced at $72.

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