Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sears CEO checking on retailer's comeback

McDonald drops by city's flagship Polo Park store

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Sears Canada is trying to find its way back from the retail wilderness, and its chief executive was in Winnipeg Friday to make sure its local employees are all on the same path.

"I try to get out into our markets as often as I can, and Winnipeg is an important market for Sears," Calvin McDonald said during an early afternoon stopover at Sears' flagship Winnipeg store in the Polo Park Shopping Centre.

McDonald, who was recruited 16 months ago from Loblaws Cos. Ltd. to revive the struggling department store chain, said Sears is in Year 2 of a three-year plan to rebrand and rebuild the retail operation.

That plan includes a revamping of its product offering to focus more on its profitable core products such as appliances, mattresses, children's products and men's and women's fashion apparel and less on unprofitable items such as toys and home electronics.

It includes a new marketing campaign that uses a combination of nostalgia, humour and emotion to try wooing shoppers back to its store.

And it includes price reductions of between 10 and 30 per cent on more than 5,000 products and a renewed emphasis on service with things like a 90-day price-protection policy, hassle-free-returns and a 365-day "sleep guarantee" on mattresses.

McDonald believes most Canadians are looking for a combination of good prices, good quality and good service.

"So we are going to make sure our customers don't have to give up quality and service to get good prices."

In recent years, Sears has been under increasing pressure from a growing assortment of specialty retailers and discount department store giant Walmart Canada.

The retail landscape is about to become even more competitive when Walmart's biggest competitor south of the border, Target Corp., begins opening its new Canadian stores in March and April next year.

McDonald acknowledged Target's arrival is going to turn up the heat on Sears. But he insisted the changes now underway would have happened even if Target wasn't entering the picture.

He said the changes are already having a positive impact on the company's bottom line. Although it's still bleeding red, it was able to cut its net loss in half in the third quarter this year.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2012 B8

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