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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

Sears initiates store makeover

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Diana Ball thought the Ala Moana Sears, Roebuck & Co. store looked a little empty during a shopping trip two weeks ago — almost, she said, as if the retailer were going out of business.

"There's still a lot to do," said Sears general manager Gill Berger.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

What the California visitor saw was the midway point of a multimillion-dollar makeover that is making the staid department store bigger and better stocked with more name brands and higher-end merchandise in a less cluttered environment.

Products from Lands' End, Pierre Cardin, Starbucks, Serta and K B Toys are being added to the store, along with new displays, wider aisles, signs in Japanese and centralized checkout stations.

"There's still a lot to do," said store general manager Gill Berger, who has a team of 150 contractors and employees working on the improvements 24 hours a day, five days a week in preparation for a Nov. 9 grand reopening. "When you start to do things in this (400,000-square-foot) building, it takes time."

The redesign is one of the first in a plan by Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears to remodel 600 of the company's 870 stores in the next four years. Berger said Hawai'i's five other Sears stores will be converted starting with Pearlridge next year, and the rest in the following few years.

Sears projects it will spend $800 million on the store revitalization project in an effort to double retail operating profits by 2004.

"It is a major change for the company and how we're approaching how we do business," Berger said.

"There's still a lot to do," said Sears general manager Gill Berger.

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David Lichtman, a retail industry analyst for Merrill Lynch in New York, said the shift to wider aisles and centralized banks of cash registers has been a trend for large Mainland stores led by Kohl's.

"It helps people get in and out much more quickly," he said.

Ala Moana Sears shopper Naomi Shigehaga of Kapahulu said the new cash register stations were easy to locate. "Before they were stuck in the middle of clothes and hard to find."

Shigehaga said the wider aisles were an improvement from the "too tight" setup previously, but that the store overall looked stark. "It looks like a warehouse," she said.

Berger said the empty feeling will go away with the arrival of new merchandise and fixtures, yet customers still will be able to move easily among merchandise and see from one end of the store to the other.

"Uncluttered 'shopability' is a huge focus of our remodeling," he said.

Berger gave a sampling of the changes made so far, and what's to come:

  • New home decor department featuring lamps, candles and other accessories (complete)
  • Removal of many interior walls (complete)
  • Expanded tuxedo shop and embroidery services (complete)
  • Bedding department with mattresses from Serta, Sealy, Simmons and Stearns & Foster (complete)
  • New centralized cash register stations in apparel departments (complete)
  • Addition of more high-end merchandise such as plasma-screen TVs and stainless steel refrigerators and ranges (in progress)
  • Retooled tool department with new brands such as DeWalt, Delta and Makita added to the Sears-owned Craftsman line (in progress)
  • Replacement of several private-label apparel brands with one proprietary line called Covington (in progress)
  • Addition of 30,000 square feet of retail floor space converted from storage and other uses (in progress)
  • A new "closet shop" selling clothing storage contraptions (in progress)
  • Renovated restrooms (in progress)
  • K B Toys concession within the kid's department (November)
  • Starbucks just inside the lower lever mauka entrance (November)
  • New carpet, tile flooring and paint (by Nov. 9)
  • Top-selling regional items from catalog retailer Lands' End, which Sears acquired in June (spring arrival)
  • Remodeling of the store's restaurant area (next year)

The adjustments to improve Sears profits also include streamlining staff, according to Sears and analysts who follow the company. But Berger said the number of employees at the Ala Moana store is staying the same at about 500.