Sears, Roebuck and Co CEO Alan Lacy plans to move the venerable department store chain into a brand new niche – one that has proved very successful for rival Kohl's Corp, Chicago Business reported.

He plans to convert the retailer's mall-based stores to a 'self-help' format – which will cut down on sales staff – 'open stock' displays and fewer checkout counters, Mr Lacy told analysts at a conference late in July.

"We have historically tried to be a moderately priced department store. That is not a very differentiated positioning these days," he said. "So, as we move forward... we're going to be a little less department store-like and a little more off-mall-like."

The full details of his plan, the result of a strategic review of full-line store operations launched after he took the top job last year, are expected to be unveiled in October, when Sears reports third-quarter results.

"A lot of the things we spend money on traditionally as a department store, the customer's not willing to pay for anymore," Mr. Lacy told analysts. "We therefore have to re-engineer that, and appropriately take costs out as we go forward."

Although sales staff cuts are a distinct possibility, a Sears spokesman said it's too early to know whether store layoffs are in the offing.

The new strategy charted for the full-line stores would be implemented over at least two years, he added.

Analysts and retail experts predict Mr. Lacy's October plan will play to Sears' strengths — hard lines like appliances and tools — while converting the soft-lines portion of the stores into more of a self-help format with fewer, more centralized cash registers and an apparel assortment limited mostly to basics. Underperforming lines such as women's suits and dresses could be dropped.

Some sources also expect Sears to focus its soft lines on areas where it's been strong in the past: children's clothing and home accessories such as small appliances, towels and linens.


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