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Sears Is Getting Serious About Apparel – AGAIN!

08/29/2012

Outdoor Life Fall 2012 Color Palette

Sears, the venerable retail brand, is out to prove it is serious about the apparel business. And in doing so, also proves there’s no shame in trying something that hasn’t worked previously…as long as you wait long enough for people to forget about how badly it went last time.

The company wants to attract more customers who shop the store’s hard goods to walk across the store for apparel.

According to Sears, “Without getting trendy, and with a keen awareness that a “guy’s guy’’ is often the core customer, a line called Outdoor Life starts hitting the 800 Sears stores on Saturday. Two weeks later, 1,100-to-2,300-square-foot concept shops will spring up in many locations, and by Sept. 20 Outdoor Life will be on sears.com.” Please pass a bottle of 5-Hour Energy…this sounds like a real sleeper.

They go on to say, “Outdoor LIfe is a line of men’s casual sportswear, performance apparel and functional hunting and fishing apparel including cotton flannel shirts, thermal crews, Henley shirts, hooded fleece zip jackets and cotton canvas cargo pants.” That line up will be perfect for any guy who wants to party like it’s 1999. Or should I say, 2002?

Rewind the clock to May 14, 2002. That was the day Sears announced its acquisition of Lands’ End for $1.9 billion in cash. The purchase was designed to help boost Sears soft goods business, an area where the company struggled.

At the time about 70% of customers who shopped at Sears for appliances bought apparel elsewhere. The Lands’ End brand was supposed to help keep those dollars.

The acquisition had many scratching their heads, but there were those who saw it as a stunning move. “The presence of Lands’ End apparel in Sears’ full-line stores is expected to give Sears the strong brand-name recognition in apparel that they currently have in hardlines [such as] Diehard, Craftsman [and] Kenmore,” said Daniel Barry, an analyst at Merrill Lynch. “The higher-end Lands’ End offerings should appeal to Sears’ hardline customer, who often has not shopped the softline departments,” Daniel added.

Barry’s analysis was flawed. As Sears found out it’s extremely tough to get a guy who came in for a lawnmower to grab a 3-ply, Mongolian cashmere (with wool from the under belly of the goat) V-neck sweater for $129 or real outerwear with Gore-tex, Polar Tec fleece and built to stop a bullet that retails above $19.99.

The Lands’ End/Sears collaboration was bound to fail. Different customers, different corporate cultures, different everything. But what is it that makes Sears think the Outdoor Life concept is valid? Outdoor Life puts Sears in competition with Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain and a host of other retailers who remain hopeful they’ll be able to sell apparel to the “guy’s guy” who buys hardlines products from them. None of them have it dialed in. So why get in the same fight with them?

Outdoor Life will not rescue Sears. Reinventing Sears to be the source of great product, service and retailing innovation in today’s world is key to turning Sears’ fortunes. Unfortunately the path to that end appears to be elusive to the brain trust at Sears.

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