Sears Holdings Corp.'s CEO says he's looking to former Brookstone head Ron Boire as its new chief merchandising officer to help meld the store experience with online and mobile shopping.
The struggling company, which disclosed on Thursday a list of 79 of the 100 to 120 stores it plans to close, said Tuesday that Boire will lead merchandising and retail stores for both the Sears and Kmart brands. He officially starts next week.
Boire, whose resume also includes stints at Best Buy and Toys R Us, had served as president and CEO of Brookstone, a specialty retailer that offers entertainment, travel, wellness and consumer electronics products, since October 2009.
He was responsible for turning around Brookstone by relaunching its online business and coming out with new products like pillows that have pressure-relieving support and accessories such as wireless keyboards for Apple Inc.'s iPad.
Brookstone said Chairman Jackson Tai will serve as interim president and CEO while it looks for a permanent successor.
Lou D'Ambrosio, Sears' CEO said Tuesday that the retailer is "in the midst of a transformation of our business, from top to bottom" and that Boire will be a strong addition because of his retail, merchandising and product development experience as well as his past work in helping companies through turnarounds.
"We are going to make the store experience more engaging to shop at," D'Ambrosio said in an interview with The Associated Press. He added that the company will be looking into how the store fits into the "broader system of shopping," whether it's mobile or online. Many store workers are now equipped with iPads that let them track inventory and order products online for shoppers, for example.
Boire told The Associated Press that he first wants to spend time with each of the business leaders before delving into creating a store experience that will allow shoppers to "touch, feel and interact" with the brands." He declined to offer details.
Despite the new talent, Sears faces an uphill battle, retail consultant Robin Lewis said. He thinks its chairman and largest shareholder, hedge fund billionaire Edward Lampert, is running the company as a "financial engineering machine," not a retail company.
"They can have all the technology geniuses they want, but without the retail root, nothing will work," Lewis said. "They have to update their stores, make them more consumer-friendly and develop a corporate strategy for growth."
Sears' store closings are the latest and most visible in a long series of moves to try to fix a company that has struggled with falling sales and shabby stores as rivals like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. spruced up their looks and turned into one-stop shopping sources. The store closings follow a poor holiday shopping season. The company had said last week that revenue at stores open at least a year fell 5.2 percent for the eight weeks through Dec. 25.
Sears Holdings runs both Kmart and Sears stores. The projected store closings represent about 3 percent of Sears Holdings' U.S. stores.
Before heading Brookstone, Boire was president, U.S. Toys, North America for Toys R Us from 2006 to 2009, overseeing merchandising, marketing and operations for 600 stores in the U.S. and 70 in Canada.
He joined Toys R Us after serving as the executive vice president and global merchandise manager for Best Buy. Before that, Boire served in a variety of increasingly senior roles during a 17-year career at Sony Electronics Inc.
Sears, which is based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., has more than 4,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada. Its shares slipped 17 cents to $31.61 in afternoon trading.
Boire is the latest in a string of new hires under D'Ambrosio who became Sears' CEO in February 2011. Last summer, it named Liz Claiborne executive Edgar O. Huber and CEO and president of its Lands' End business.
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