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.

With all the executive changes at Sears, further strategic changes in the store presentations are likely. The verdict remains out on Covington, although Sears is continuing with it for fall, while the rollout of Lands’ End, purchased last June, goes on. It now is in about 400 of Sears’ 870 department stores. Lands’ End is expected to be sold at all of the full-line stores by next fall, but reportedly there has been some concerns about whether it’s being effectively presented in the stores, or whether it lacks punch. Some think it should be a strong focal point, with all the Lands’ End merchandise across men’s, women’s and kids contained in one area or shop. Currently, it is dispersed on the apparel floor, though located near entrances and readily visible. Changes in the presentation are expected.

At the store operations level, there have been significant changes, involving shifting responsibilities, shifting to self-service in footwear and apparel, centralized cash wraps, new signage and consultative sales staff being retained in appliances, electronics and home improvement.

While there has been speculation that the private Covington brand hasn’t gone over as well as hoped among consumers, the Sears spokeswoman said, "My understanding is it has been well received by customers. We deemed it a successful rollout."

"Mindy is talented, bright, product-oriented and a strategic merchant," observed Kirk Palmer, who runs an executive search firm bearing his name. "She understands both branded and private label product, and presided over nice growth at Lands’ End." Before Lands’ End, Meads worked at Limited, Gymboree and Macy’s. She is said to be very focused, buttoned-up and without being flamboyant or emotional on the job.

Others described Bufano as a hard-driving apparel executive, which Sears isn’t used to, who didn’t bring in much talent and ruffled some feathers in her quest to put some verve back into the assortments. "There were not a lot of people rallying around her," said one source.

"This was an unceremonious divorce," said another source. "I’d say the company is flailing a little bit right now."

The worst of the flailing has concerned its credit operations, which were the proving ground for Sears ceo Alan Lacy and also presented him with the biggest crisis of his tenure in that post. Last fall, Lacy informed Wall Street that the head of the credit unit had been dismissed and that it would need to increase its provision for delinquent accounts. Still, it generated more than $1.5 billion in comparable operating income for Sears last year and sported $30.8 billion in receivables.
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