Searching for Growth, Sears Names Meads To Head Softer Side

In a high-level shakeup, Sears has named Mindy Meads executive vice president of soft lines, succeeding Kathryn Bufano, who left the chain Monday.

Kathryn Bufano

Kathryn Bufano

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — Sears, Roebuck & Co. Tuesday switched the top management of its struggling apparel business — once again naming an executive from a successful clothing company that it just happens to own.

Reaching into its Lands’ End division, Sears named Mindy Meads executive vice president of softlines, succeeding Kathryn Bufano, whose last day at the department store was Monday.

Bufano’s departure was sudden, considering she served as the chain’s top apparel and soft home executive for just 14 months. It reflects management discontent with how the new Sears apparel program was progressing, weak sales and a desire by Mark Cosby, who joined Sears last December as president of full-line stores, to reshape the team. In another executive change, Cosby named Bill White, who ran Sears’ automotive division, vice president of store operations, replacing Mary Conway.

The management shakeup is further indication of the growing pressure on Sears, which has announced it is examining the possible sale of all or part of its credit business and would then focus entirely on retail. The problem is that the retail division has been struggling for years to find a formula for growth, especially in apparel, which hasn’t clicked for years.

Bufano, who reported to Cosby, had been orchestrating an overhaul of Sears apparel offerings, including launching the private label, Covington, program last year, integrating Lands’ End into the assortment and eliminating dozens of private labels that for years have meant little to Sears shoppers.

Bufano also was one of the main forces pushing for the Lands’ End deal, which was completed last June for $1.9 billion.

Lands’ End continues to design its products, while Sears buys the line as if Lands’ End were a wholesaler, with Bufano leading the buying efforts. Sears has been trying to get customers who buy its more successful hard-goods lines, with such popular brands as DieHard, Craftsman and Kenmore, to also shop its apparel offerings.

Aside from introducing Covington, Bufano led efforts to pump up Canyon River Blues, another proprietary brand, by introducing tops to go with the denims and bottoms, launching big-and-tall shops, creating open-sell areas and reorganizing men’s wear by classification. Softlines consume 40 percent of the floor space in Sears’ doors, produce 40 percent of the sales volume, but only attract about 30 percent of the customers.
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