NEW YORK — Sears, Roebuck is putting its future into a bigger box.
On Saturday, the first Sears Grand unit opens in the Jordan Landing Shopping Destination, approximately 15 miles from Salt Lake City. It’s an initial bid to battle back against the dominance of Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Kohl’s and to establish a long-term growth strategy taking Sears to off-the-mall locations with more categories and space.
“Without question, the Sears Grand strategy is truly a function of there being very little growth left in malls,” said Jerry Post, senior vice president and general manager of the retailer’s off-mall growth strategies, in an interview Thursday. “There are not a lot of new malls being built.”
While Post said that “the heart and soul” of the business at Sears Grand is identical to traditional Sears stores, he also cited a host of distinctive elements, among them, the much larger format. The first Sears Grand has 208,000 square feet of gross space with 155,000 square feet for selling, all on one floor. That compares with the Sears large, traditional full-line stores, which have 185,000 square feet of gross space, including between 120,000 to 130,000 square feet for selling, usually spread over two levels. Sears has about 500 full-line stores of that size and about 370 more department stores that are smaller.
Sears Grand is looking to target middle-income families earning between $30,000 to $80,000 in communities with 100,000 to 150,000 households and markets where regional malls don’t exist. The Jordan Landing Sears Grand is at 7453 South Plaza Center Drive in West Jordan. Competing stores in the area include Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, Lowe’s and a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
Sears Grand is shooting for the same productivity as the traditional Sears department stores, according to Post. Last year, Sears posted $303 in sales per selling square foot. At that rate, the Sears Grand stores should hit about $47 million in sales. Productivity at Sears stores has declined from $318 in 2001 and $332 in 2000.
Post said Sears Grand would be in a test mode for 12 to 24 months “to understand what is working and what is not. This is very much a strategy that starts to think about Sears five, 10 years from now, and is very much compatible to what we do in the malls.”
Through 2005, Sears Grand stores will open in Las Vegas, Gurnee, Ill., and Rancho Cucamonga, a suburb of Los Angeles, the company noted.
“These are pilot stores, not a prototype,” Post said. “Each will be different in size,” ranging from Las Vegas with 165,000 square feet to Gurnee, with 200,000 square feet. “Our intent is to differentiate them enough so we can start to understand what is important from the consumer standpoint,” Post said. The Gurnee store, for example, won’t include a plant nursery.
Among the Sears Grand features new to the retailer are:
- A “modified” racetrack layout placing apparel right in the center core of the store. The apparel assortment, including Lands’ End, Covington, Canyon River Blues and other propriety brands, is essentially the same as that sold at traditional Sears stores. Looking into Sears Grand, shoppers will see men’s wear first, then children’s wear followed by women’s ready-to-wear, situated in the center. The women’s area is about 12,000 square feet. Men’s wear has 7,000 square feet.
- An 18-foot-wide, 400-foot-long boulevard down the center to display impulse products. “They could be anything from Pampers to sweaters to motorized garage door openers,” Post said.
- More logical adjacencies. For example, men’s wear is closer to automotive.
- Increased service, including 15 kiosks with phones to call for service and price verifiers to scan items for their prices. There are cashiers at the front of the store, where up to 20 can operate during peak periods, and another 10 checkout registers inside certain departments, such as electronics and gardening. There is also a customer service center at the front of the store to handle returns, exchanges, bill payments and merchandise questions; a one-hour photo development service, and a cafe-bakery.
- A nursery and a year-round toy department. Existing Sears stores only carry toys during the holiday season.
- Two main entrances, dividing the store into His and Her sides, on the right and left, respectively, entering the store.
On the His side, the lineup includes a seasonal goods department, which will sell such things as grills for summer, trim for Christmas or patio furniture for spring. Then there’s a nursery, followed by lawn equipment such as mowers and tractors, a paint department, automotive, hardware, sporting goods and toys. The family entertainment area anchors the center rear section of the store.
On the Her side, there’s bedding, bath and kitchen, major appliances, sewing, household products and consumables, which, for the first time, will include food items like light groceries, milk, soft drinks and snacks. This area is followed by a pet products department followed by health and beauty aids.
“What’s somewhat different is the store is very open, whereas in our normal full-line stores, we have a tremendous amount of wall space,” Post observed. “In this Sears Grand store, it’s more limited. However, we have ‘pavilions’ that include a fitting room on an island, with outside walls that are merchandised.”
Post also said the store has “lifestyle graphics and color, feels comfortable and is very, very different” from other Sears stores. While the soft opening is Saturday, the official opening is Oct. 11.
Asked if Sears Grand could move into Great Indoors, another Sears, Roebuck retail concept, Post replied that Sears Grand is not a replacement strategy, though Great Indoors earlier this year announced that three of its 21 sites would be closed. At an analyst conference recently, Sears, Roebuck chairman and chief executive Alan Lacy said Sears Grand, if the concept gets good consumer response, could replace some smaller Sears, Roebuck sites.
Post said he wasn’t formulating any additional new formats for Sears beyond Sears Grand. “This is my priority at this point,’ he said, adding that Sears is “very, very diligently working on our mall-based stores…to improve the overall experience. We probably should never be confident, but we are very much encouraged by the way that business is starting to perform. We think the mall stores will start growing at a rate very positive on a comp-store basis.”