By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Sears is getting back to its appliance roots.
A decade after touting its softer side while ceding share to the home-improvement channel, the retailer is mounting a major effort to remind older consumers and inform younger ones that Sears is the best place to buy appliances.
The cornerstone of the strategy is a new ad campaign built around the "Blue Appliance Crew," a blue-shirted team of delivery, installation, repair, support and assisted-sales personnel who demonstrate Sears' white-goods strengths in a series of humorous TV spots.
Those strengths, interim CEO Bruce Johnson told reporters in a rare media gathering at corporate headquarters here, include the industry's broadest assortment, top brands, competitive pricing, a robust Web site and a full suite of services including next-day delivery.
Specifically, Sears is the only retailer that carries the country's top 10 appliance brands, including premium badges Bosch, Electrolux and KitchenAid, and offers hundreds more models than the next largest chain, Johnson said.
Sears is also leveraging its private-label credit card relationship with Citibank to offer shoppers 12-month, no-interest financing day in, day out.
In addition, Sears has begun placing Web terminals within its appliance departments where customers and sales associates can shop competitors for price. Sears will match the lowest offer and give shoppers 10 percent of the difference.
Sears also operates 120 cross-docking centers, which allows next-day delivery on most orders placed by 3 p.m., and makes 21 million home visits annually. "We're the UPS of big-ticket purchases," Johnson said.
According to Steve Light, home appliances VP/general merchandise manager, Sears is further bolstering its majap proposition with:
extra training for 12,000 sales associates and support staff, delivered via a multi-vendor truck tour;
major investments in e-commerce, including a "Hot Buys" section on Sears.com with new week-long offers posted every Sunday;
a new 120-SKU "urban assortment" of smaller-sized majaps that will be offered in 60 Sears stores;
50 new franchised dealer stores; and
additional Home Appliance Showrooms. Sears will have more than 50 of the 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot, new format shops in operation this year.
Light's direct report, appliances president Doug Moore, noted that while big ticket items are presently "under duress," majaps will always be in consumers' homes.
The future looks equally bright for flat-panel TVs, said Moore, who also oversees Sears' hardlines. Consumers "won't be more than 15-feet away from a display within the next few years," he predicted.
Moore added that Sears has targeted several other categories for fast-track growth, including tools and apparel, and that the big investments will deliver big payoffs as the retailer reclaims its leadership postion.
"We're transforming ourselves as a new company," Moore said. "We used to be silent, but it's appropriate to be a little more transparent."
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the new ads. According to chief marketing officer Richard Gerstein, the spots beg the question, "Why shop anywhere else?" given Sears' white-goods heritage and its status as the nation's most trusted retailer.
"We know appliances, it's in our DNA, but we hadn't explained that," he said. "So we're going to speak much louder about the differentiators our competitors aren't offering."
Commercials make the point with lines like "We find the lowest prices, then we beat 'em," and "Appliance is our middle name. No, really, it is." What's more, the focus on the Sears' Blue Appliance Crew, which represents the company's 25,000 product specialists, installers, servicers and support staff, addresses the "very high service expectations" of today's younger consumer, Gerstein said.
Sears has also launched a separate ad campaign for Kenmore, the company's private-label line that still comprises 60 percent to 70 percent of the sales floor. The family-focused spots present the brand as "an extra pair of hands," he said, or the character "Alice" from "The Brady Bunch," in that its products help make life easier for busy moms.
Taken together, CEO Johnson said the plan of attack that will restore Sears' supremacy in appliances and allow it to move away from its now regular 15 percent-off promotions.
"We have a strategy that I'm convinced will win in the marketplace" and help Sears "regain its position of preeminence in the industry."
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