Sears Canada CEO calls Charlottetown store solid and profitable

Doug Campbell visits capital city as part of restructuring tour

Jim Day
Published on March 2, 2014

Michael Creighton, left, senior manager of merchandising at the Sears store in Charlottetown looks over some clothing with Sears president and CEO Doug Campbell. Campbell visited the Charlottetown store Friday as part of a major evaluation of the stores across the country.

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

Sears Canada president and CEO Doug Campbell makes the sought-after turnaround of the struggling retail store sound like a simple business lesson.

"What we're really focusing on this year is what I call Retail 101, which is do I have the right product and am I flowing it right to the stores,'' he says.

Campbell says much more attention needs to be - and now is - placed on what exactly each of the more than 100 Sears stores in Canada is selling.

In the past, he says the company simply bought a lot of "stuff, so we have a big store and you just fill it with stuff.''

For example, buying 15 different styles and brands of parkas for fear of missing out on a winner. The problem with that approach is the winner sells out but 14 other styles go in clearance.

"So your results are not going to be good,'' he says.

"So one of the things that we've changed is when I buy a program - if I'm going to bet on it, I'm going to buy it in depth and I'm going to present it in depth.''

He says understanding the local market is a critical component in determining what products to play up from one store to the next.

"I might have come to this store and found out it's a great major appliance store...or that it is really an apparel destination or perhaps we have the balance right...we want to understand it on a community by community basis,'' he says.

Overall, he says Sears continues to target the same large demographic of shopper: the middle Canadian working family.

He scoffs at the trend in Toronto on moving towards luxury retail. He sees this as a small market. Most people, he stresses, do not shop this way.

A transplant from the U.S., Campbell notes that Canadian shoppers are "more pragmatic and more frugal than U.S. shoppers.''

Campbell is trying to visit as many stores as he can, spending on average 90 minutes in each one to get a sense for what is being down right and where changes are warranted.

He claims almost all of the Sears' stores, including the one in Charlottetown, are profitable.

"If anything our cost structure has been underperforming and really our leadership and the way that we have been leading from the support centre has been underperforming,'' he says.

Underperformance led Sears Canada recently to announce that about 1,600 positions need to be cut to help improve communication and encourage more consistency within its operations. Most of the reductions will be in middle management at Sears department stores, affecting an average of five employees per location.

Campbell offered an upbeat assessment of the store in Charlottetown calling it a profitable, solid operation.

The store currently employs 87.

"In terms of a level of store staffing I think we are right,'' he says.

"Of course, there can always be some tweaks that go up or down.''