SEARS BUYS WARDS SITES

Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — Sears, Roebuck is purchasing 18 former Wards stores and will convert 14 of them into Sears department stores and four into its new Great Indoors home remodeling and decorating concept. Sears also purchased 10 Wards auto centers, which will become Sears auto centers.
Unlike competitors Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores, Sears has been relatively quiet on the acquisition front, partly because the chain, with 860 department stores, is already in all 50 states. The retailer’s last retail acquisition was in 1996, when it picked up seven Broadway stores in California from Federated.
May and Federated are believed to be interested in Wards sites yet to be sold. Target last month said it would take over 35 former Wards stores, primarily in California. That leaves 197 Wards still available.
Sears did not disclose terms of its deal with Wards, which was announced Monday. The sites, spread around the country, will reopen under the Sears banner within a year, and will help Sears gain market share in areas where the company already operates full-line units. A Sears spokeswoman said she was “fairly confident” there will not be further discussions with Wards on additional sites.
Sears plans to open 10 stores this year, aside from Wards.
In addition, Sears signed an agreement with Wards to perform repairs on appliances, electronics, exercise and lawn equipment for former Wards customers and will acquire certain assets of Wards national repair business, A&E Signature Service. Wards announced in December that it would cease operations. Sears has hired nearly 900 Wards employees, including product service and retail associates. Nearly 3,000 employees will staff the 18 department stores and 10 auto centers being acquired.