NEW YORK — Sears, Roebuck & Co. has acquired all rights to the Structure label from Limited Brands Inc. for just under $10 million and is in the market for additional names to buy, furthering its strategy to enliven its apparel floor.

“There are niches that still need to be filled,” Mindy Meads, Sears executive vice president and general manager of apparel, said in an interview Monday. “At this point, we are always looking to see what brands are appropriate in the total mix. We still feel that on the women’s side, we want more updated looks.”

Some of that could be through acquisitions, while some could be by updating the assortments already owned by Sears, Meads noted. The firm will be competing with J.C. Penney, Federated Department Stores, Target and Wal-Mart, which all continue to seek lines to buy for their in-house product development programs.

Meanwhile, the retailer is readying its Sears Grand off-mall concept, which will be a combination of the Sears traditional full-line store plus “convenience-inspired products and services,” such as milk, frozen pizzas, laundry detergent, custom paint mixing, photography, an optical studio and a cafe. The idea is to put the format closer to where people live and provide a vehicle for Sears growth. The first unit will have a grand opening on Oct. 11 in West Jordan, Utah, in the Jordan Landing Shopping Destination, about 15 miles from Salt Lake City.

Meads said it hasn’t been determined if Structure will be part of the Sears Grand mix, though other key labels will.

For the traditional Sears stores, a mature business with little room for growth, Structure will “fill a gap on the floor, for a slightly younger customer, ages 20 to 35,” Meads said. “There’s an opportunity to add more updated fashion to the floor, and Structure complements some of our existing brands.”

She suggested that Structure could eventually extend beyond men’s. “Right now, we are looking for men’s wear for end of 2004. Beyond that, we are looking at options.”

Sears will also install test shops selling young men’s urban apparel inside about 50 full-line stores by the end of September. Fubu, Icewear, and Russell Simmons’ Run Athletics will be part of the assortmentOn Friday, as reported, Carrie Shigetomi joins Meads’ staff at Sears as vice president, brand development. Shigetomi, a former Calvin Klein vice president of design administration and product development, is expected to bring the design sensibility and immediacy that Sears has lacked in the past.

Meads said the company continues to supplement its private label team with talent from inside the company and external talent, in design and other areas.

Sears has already drastically narrowed its assortment of labels by about 150, but as Meads said, “It’s a constant process, as we look at our portfolio of names across all apparel, we are carefully crafting the appropriate brands targeted toward specific customers.”

However, Lands’ End and other private lines are not yet effectively spotlighted on the floors and are generally just lumped into the assortment without much differentiation. Asked what the company is doing to improve the presentation, she replied, “We continue to upgrade the presentation not only for Lands’ End,” but other collections as well. She added that the company is doing more to display different looks and outfits.

Asked how business is faring, she replied, “Fall fashions are doing quite well. We are getting a little momentum. Lands’ End is in all stores at this point. Lucy Pareda will be hitting 227 stores this week.”

Last week, Sears announced the launch of a women’s apparel line by Lucy Pareda, a Latina fashion designer and lifestyle expert. Sears did report a 3.9 percent comparable-store increase for the four weeks ended Aug. 30, better than expected, though the improvement mostly stemmed from the home appliance and lawn and garden businesses and mid-single digit increases in men’s apparel and accessories.

In May 2002, Sears acquired Lands’ End for $1.9 billion, which some analysts said was a bold move and a high price but would bring enormous credibility to the Sears assortment. Following the sale of Sears’ credit operation and financial products to Citigroup for $32 billion, the store has money for additional acquisitions and in-store improvements.

Meads said that Structure, despite its up-and-down performance and ultimate demise under Limited ownership, still carries strong loyalty. But unlike Lands’ End, an established brand with a long, successful history and a big volume, Structure will have to be remade.During the past couple of years, Sears has been narrowing its apparel and private label offerings to focus on its in-house labels.

Aside from Lands’ End, key labels are Apostrophe, which has a feminine, career emphasis; Covington, for updated casual family apparel; and Canyon River Blues, a denim-based line for juniors and young men’s, also known as CRB.

At one time, Sears flirted with the idea of getting out of apparel entirely, but realizing it is too big to drop, the retailer is now committed to once again growing the business. Softlines consume 40 percent of the floor space in Sears’ 870 doors, produce 40 percent of the sales volume, but only attract about 30 percent of the customers. Observers say Sears must design marketing programs to lure its hard goods shoppers to its softer sideand its new brands.

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