By  on November 18, 2004

Consumers may again take a liking to two dimming franchises, Sears and Kmart, if the merged partners start sharing the best of their brands, marketing executives and brand-image specialists said Wednesday.

At Kmart, that refers to apparel and home labels such as Jaclyn Smith, Thalia Sodi and Martha Stewart Everyday, and for Sears, hardware and appliance monikers such as Kenmore and Craftsman.

Such an initiative could win over new customers as well as lure back former shoppers who have strayed to such competitors as Target, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart, the experts said.

“This [deal] has huge potential to spur a shift in who’s shopping where,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market researcher The NPD Group. “More than half of consumers — 52 percent — who shop at discount stores shop at department stores, but the 48 percent who do not may be drawn in to buy Kmart brands at Sears.”

And although Kmart and Sears already have a significant number of customers in common, Peter Levine, executive creative director and head of brand creation at desgrippes/gobe, suggested the creation of brands to be shared, coupled with a reallocation of brands to be carried by both, could present the once mighty chains with “a chance to reinvent the store experience.”

A marketing strategy based, in part, on brand sharing, will not be as straightforward as a simple dual offer of labels, however. To be effective, the effort would command a brand audit, both to eliminate underperforming labels and avoid cannibalizing already strong brand businesses, noted Peter Arnell, chairman and chief creative officer at Arnell Group, a marketing agency and product design unit of Omnicom.

“Through the merger, there will be an audit of brands, and I imagine they’ll prioritize what should stay and go,” said Arnell, who in 2002 sought to refresh the Kmart shopping experience with a redesign of store elements, including fixtures, signs and logos. “I anticipate a deep culture change that will impact what the customer can find on the selling floor.”

For example, Levine said, though Sears’ Canyon River Blues denim brand would work well in Kmart’s environment, Kmart already does a good job with Route 66. A more symbiotic transfer could stem from a Sears Mart, a store-in-store at Kmart that would feature an assortment of Sears brand appliances.

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