SEARS UPDATE: Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s apparel business suffered from inventory shortages, late deliveries and management changes last year, but it’s back on track, chief executive officer Alan Lacy said at the annual meeting Thursday at Sears headquarters in Hoffman Estates, near Chicago. He said Lands’ End sales grew 20 percent last year to $2 billion and the Covington private label had sales of about $500 million. Sears purchased Lands’ End in 2002. Lacy said Sears’ main growth vehicle will be Sears Grand, the off-mall format launched this year in Salt Lake City and Gurnee, Ill. Stores in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Austin, Tex., are planned but a bigger rollout wasn’t announced.

FINAL PLEA: Former Rite Aid Corp. chief executive officer Martin Grass on Thursday inked a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that would require him to serve up to 10 years in jail for his role in a fraud scheme involving five other former executives. Just last month a federal court judge rejected his original plea on the ground that an 8-year imprisonment term was too lenient. The latest plea deal also requires Grass to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. In addition to jail time, Grass must pay $500,000 in fines and give back $3 million to the government. As reported, the scheme inflated profits at the pharmacy chain, allegedly enriched the former executives and required Rite Aid in July 2000 to restate its financial results.

JOINING TALENT: To help fill the talent gap, two search companies, Project Solvers Inc. and The Market Solution Group, have formed a strategic alliance. Each company is retaining its name, but they share clients and office space, at 30 West 22nd Street. Project Solvers specializes in providing freelance design and product development talent for the apparel industry, while The Market Solution Group specializes in placing full-time executives in the fashion and retail industry.

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