As VP/general manager for appliances at No. 1 majap merchant Sears, Tina Settecase is arguably the most powerful person in white goods retailing.
Last month she flexed her muscles at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show — held here on her home turf in the Windy City — by summoning industry scribes, government officials, celebrity chefs and assorted Sears execs to the unveiling of five new Kenmore-branded appliances. (The lineup included two innovative microwave ovens, an air-purifying air conditioner and a pair of still-under-wraps refrigerators.)
Following the presentations TWICE caught up with Settecase, who offered her take on the market's renewed momentum, her remodeled appliance departments and Sears' formula for white goods success.
TWICE:So, how's business?
SETTECASE: Business is excellent. We're surprised and pleased.
After 9/11, we were down for a month. But November and December were very strong, and then it really picked up at the end of the fourth quarter. We had double-digit gains in March, and April started off strong, with 25 percent increases daily, thanks in part to a promotion we were running.
TWICE:How do you explain the resurgence?
SETTECASE: Since 9/11, people have been staying home. They're fixing up their homes and investing in them. And the economy is recovering.
Right now the industry is very strong, and we're taking share. We've grown it consistently over five years.
TWICE:Who are you taking it away from? Wards? Circuit City?
SETTECASE: Those factors are over. I'd have to say we're now taking it from some of the independents. There are strong independents that are doing well, but others are weaker, and we're taking it from them.
TWICE:The home improvement chains are hot on your trail. How are you protecting your turf?
SETTECASE: By making sure we offer innovation. Our [premium] Kenmore Elite brand is exclusive to Sears, and it's No. 1 rated by Consumer Reports. It's also Energy Star rated.
Appliances are still a major purchase. Consumers want to see the product and have someone explain it to them. We have 12,000 major appliance sales associates, and consumers can see all top six brands in our stores. Anything that's not in the stores can be ordered through a special order program. We also service the products nationwide, and offer a Sears credit card that opens another line of credit and provides true zero-percent financing. We offer a price match as well, and a satisfaction guarantee.
TWICE:What's the status of Sears' three freestanding appliance and electronics test stores?
SETTECASE: That initiative is on hold, to see if more should be in there besides electronics and appliances. But consumers love the appliance areas, and we are looking at a number of off-the-mall formats.
TWICE:And what about the retrofits of Sears stores in general and the appliance departments in particular?
SETTECASE: We're remodeling about 300 stores this year. They'll have new fixturing, with a light wood finish, but there won't be much change in store layout.
In the appliance area, we replaced the built-in cooking back wall with branded vignettes. We're also trying a new format that provides more space for appliances, because we felt we were under-assorted in cooking and dishwashers. We needed to be competitive in all brands and present a complete assortment, particularly in the smaller stores within smaller markets. So we're double-stacking dishwashers, and in 100 stores we're adding 1,000 to 1,500 square feet of space from installed floor coverings, a business that we're exiting.
The first remodel is in Durham, N.C. We plan to do 50 this year and 175 next year.