WASHINGTON — In just six weeks on the job, the new women’s merchandise manager for Sears de Mexico, Shari Kurczyn, has spent much of her time scouring vendors in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.

Her mission is to lay the ground work to invigorate the retailer’s women’s apparel business.

Kurczyn, whose retail chain is based in Mexico City, already has added Carol Little to Sears de MÄxico’s list of better and bridge lines, which includes Jones New York, Evan-Picone and JH Collectibles.

She said she’ll be returning to New York in the coming weeks to meet with Liz Claiborne officials about adding their lines to the women’s mix.

She is treading on fairly familiar ground with these department store resources. She worked for seven years with Dillard’s as a shoe buyer and a women’s sportswear buyer, and for six years with Joske’s, the former Texas chain that was acquired by Dillard’s in the Eighties.

Warren Flick, chief executive officer of the 45-store chain, has said he is putting the most emphasis on women’s apparel during the company’s refocusing and expansion. Sears de Mexico is adding 27 new stores over the next five years.

Apparel accounts for 40 percent of the chain’s $424 million in sales, with women’s wear representing roughly 50 percent of apparel sales, or $84.8 million, last year.

Kurczyn said store officials are forecasting a double-digit increase in women’s apparel sales this year.

“My first goal is to intensify the petites and juniors,” said Kurczyn.

In juniors, separates and dresses will be strengthened alongside an already large junior denim department, which will also be improved.

She also aims to position petites better. The category now accounts for only a small portion of women’s apparel sales.

“I don’t know why petites haven’t caught on here,” Kurczyn said, noting the small stature of many Mexican women, and how even Mexican manufacturers haven’t really pursued the market. Only two Mexican makers of petite apparel are currently selling to Sears.

Another difference in retailing in Mexico is the fact that Sears de Mexico’s large-size business is equal to that of its dress business, Kurczyn said. Kurczyn added that 20 percent of the chain’s dress business is maternity.

Sears de Mexico is also exploring more private label possibilities for women’s apparel. Kurczyn said very little merchandise is private label.

The company is having discussions with a South American manufacturer to develop a line of cotton separates, she said. One advantage of looking south instead of to the U.S. is the average 4 percent duty on cotton apparel entering Mexico from other countries as opposed to the roughly 20 percent from the U.S. That tariff, however, will gradually come down under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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