Sears Seeks LL Cool J Factor

Discussion
May 28, 2008

By George Anderson

A report on the Women’s Wear Daily website suggests that Edward Lampert, chairman of Sears Holdings, is bent on proving to Wall Street that he really is a retailer despite all evidence to the contrary since he first acquired Kmart and then later Sears.

The latest attempt by Mr. Lampert and company to prove their merchant credentials is a new casual wear line for juniors, kids and young men by rapper, actor and author LL Cool J that will debut in Sears stores next fall.

Sears is rolling out the new line in 450 of its 900 stores in September in an effort to capture urban shoppers. The chain is developing a store-with-the-store concept as it has done with other brands to help set the line apart.

If all goes according to plan, the new line will be in 600 Sears locations by the holiday season. Sears is hoping that LL Cool J’s line will generate up to $150 million in first year sales.

Irv Neger, senior vice president of apparel for Sears, told Women’s Wear Daily, “We know this [urban] customer is in the store, but it’s a customer we weren’t reaching. With this brand, we see tremendous growth opportunity.”

Mr. Neger said the new line is part of Sears’ turnaround strategy with the retailer focusing on local shopper needs and taking an approach more like a specialty shop than a department store.

“Tough economic times create evolution and we are going to take the steps to develop and make us right for our customers,” Mr. Neger said.

“We are going to take a lot more risks in juniors,” he added. “It’s all about style, quality and value in juniors and we plan to move quickly, reacting to the trends and constantly have new merchandise on the floor.”

Discussion Questions: Is Sears on the right track with its new line of juniors, kids and young men’s clothing targeting urban shoppers? Do you think creating multiple stores-within-the-store will benefit this new line and total store sales or will it actually work against Sears?

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19 Comments on "Sears Seeks LL Cool J Factor"


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Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

The last time I was in a Sears, I was walking their store in Oakbrook, Illinois. The store was filled with Seniors (well not exactly filled, but it is who I saw) both working there and shopping, and Hispanic families looking for deals on kids clothes.

Now I think everyone who has seen it would say that Oakbrook is a premium center even after all these years, so they could draw just about every demographic they wanted.

With these observations, I think it goes further than just gaining a celebrity for Sears. I think they have to decide who they want to be.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
13 years 11 months ago

Yikes! They may not have been seeing the “urban” customers but there are a lot of other demographics they weren’t seeing either. A rapper line…what are they thinking?

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

Most likely this latest news will never come to pass, like most other hyped up news from Sears. Sears and Kmart are now ineffectual competitors and for all practical purposes, are no longer in business. With employees now ordered to park in front of the store to give the impression there are customers inside, what difference does it make if Sears rearranges the deck chairs?

Rick Myers
Guest
Rick Myers
13 years 11 months ago

When I ask teens today, “Who is LL Cool J?,” their response is, “Who?” or, “Oh, that guy that was a rapper back in the 80s…Or was that MC Hammer?”

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

This is a perfect example of not knowing the target customer. LL Cool might work for Kmart, but unlikely to help Sears. Does the Sears customer really care how he looks while working around the house? This is proof there is no merchant for either chain.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 11 months ago

Not too sure if LL Cool J is the right face for Sears. I’m sure certain stores would do well with this, but I think most would suffer. LL just doesn’t speak to Middle America and I don’t think parents will really understand what this clothing line means.

Stores within stores is a great way of offloading merchandising and buying responsibilities back to the vendor and the concept looks great in certain applications. But over-saturating the sales floor with mini-stores will diminish the brand as a whole and will not help the financials.

Sears needs to focus more on their own high margin labels. Expanding Kenmore and Craftsman would do better for them then bringing in outside labels to fill the sales floor.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 11 months ago

I wonder how many of the tweens this new line is aimed at were even born when LL Cool J last had a top 10 hit. But then it could be argued that it’s the parents that need to be attracted to the line in order to buy it for their kids.

Without having seen the line, it sounds like it has the potential to work, provided it is presented properly and the quality and price are appealing.

Time will tell if these kids would pick an LL Cool J shirt over one from Hannah Montana or High School Musical.

If the line flops, Sears could always try to market Michael Jackson zipper jackets.

Dick Seesel
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

Nothing wrong with targeting an urban customer–most of Sears’ mid-tier competitors (Kohl’s, Penney) don’t pay much attention to this large market. But is this really an initiative that is going to move the needle? And, more importantly, is it consistent with the rest of Sears’ strategic target? (Assuming, of course, that Sears has a target customer in mind.)

There’s a disconnect between Lands’ End, Apostrophe, Craftsman and LL Cool J in terms of talking to your core consumer with one voice. Sears might consider whether this license works better inside Kmart, especially if it has a greater proportion of urban locations, as a way to differentiate itself from the discount competition more effectively.

Anne Howe
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

The young, hip customer may indeed be in the stores, but did they ask those customers if they would consider buying apparel there? This is the hardest consumer segment to impress, and the upside is usually very short lived. I love to see retailers taking risks to meet a market segment in theory, but urban fashion is so risky, it seems like a long shot stretch to me.

Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

Sears has tried store within a store before when it acquired Lands’ End, and nearly drove a great brand into the ground. Sears has so much to fix, it’s hard to know where to start, but I suggest it begin with customer service. Then it should emphasize their major brands, Kenmore and Craftsman. Going after a hip hop crowd is just what they need to drive buyers of these brands out of the stores.

Lee Peterson
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

What is Sears thinking? That’s not the question…the question should be, “What is LL thinking?”

Seriously; it’s further proof of the total void of what we call “customer thinking.” Sounds like some of the inner workings of Sears would make a good Mike Judge movie.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

Sears has been trying to get apparel right for years now–and with minimal, to no success. I once asked a Sears executive “given how good you are with appliances, lawn-related stuff and tools why do you keep trying to sell apparel? You’re just not all that good at it.” His answer was, “How often do you buy those things?”

My take at the time was that at Sears, the tail is wagging the dog. That opinion hasn’t changed. The company has very large footprint stores and it has to fill the place up with SOMETHING that turns fast. Now, the stores have been redesigned so a customer has to actually walk past all that not-so-attractive apparel to get to the tool section.

I will remain forever baffled why Sears abandoned the “off-mall” concept and stayed with those big boxes. With choices like Target, Steve and Barry’s and even Wal-Mart, why the heck would you go to Sears for apparel? Sears???

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

Unfortunately, one doesn’t “become” a merchant any more than one “becomes” an athlete or physicist or anything else of this sort: either you have the ability (and the opportunity) and you are…or you’re a wannabee.

At this point–rightly or wrongly–Lampert enjoys so little credibility in the retail community that if Sears were to announce something as simple as keeping the front doors unlocked, the concept would be probably be denounced (and David would point out–acerbically but perhaps correctly–that it doesn’t make any difference whether the doors are unlocked or not.)

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
13 years 11 months ago

Positioning starts with a clear sense of who you are, what your core strengths are and who your target customer is. Marketing flows from there. That’s what builds a brand. This is backward; take a celebrity name, slap it on a collection of apparel, do some advertising, and call it positioning.

It takes much more than this to establish a compelling position in the marketplace.

Robert Gordman
Guest
Robert Gordman
13 years 11 months ago

This is an unfortunate example of not knowing what you don’t know. Mr. Lampert and his team are exceptionally smart people but not in the retail field. This move would indicate that they are not even asking the right people, the right questions.

It is possible that the new line will produce some new volume, but it won’t solve the core issues that are preventing Sears from being successful. I have no doubts that Sears can be successful, but not until a customer relevant sweet spot is created.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
13 years 11 months ago

Riddle me this: First Kmart starts off as an everyman’s (woman’s) store with reasonable prices geared towards the masses. (However, without Sam Walton). Slowly Kmart “blue light” specials become more of a cheap with no quality goods symbol only frequented by the blue collar sector and low income families. Sears buys Kmart. Sears tries to upgrade Kmart. It’s not working so now Sears wants to become Kmart? Really?

Mike Romano
Guest
Mike Romano
13 years 11 months ago

I do all I can to shield my kids from the infamous, role model reject Spears sisters…why would I want to buy them stuff tagged by LLCJ? Now, he may be an outstanding citizen and role model but the perception of his music genre, his industry and the general lifestyles of the performers are not what a parent (at least the parents I know) would welcome into their homes.

The only one who will make out on this deal is LLCJ himself. Take the money and run because I don’t see this particular initiative delivering much customer value for Sears.

Linda Bustos
Guest
Linda Bustos
13 years 11 months ago

No matter which rapper Sears chooses, it will be tough to separate the Sears brand from the urban image. As commented before, the urban market is tough to impress, and with so many other alternative lines of clothing, what is going to make the image conscious “urban” customer shop where they might bump into their mom?

This wouldn’t be the first clothing line for LL either, he is also tied to the FUBU brand.

Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

The real test isn’t the name on the label. It’s the clothes. Let’s see whether folks love the clothes. Sears has point of sale computer systems. They’ll know in 1 day.

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