Posted on October 8, 2004

Sears Unveiling ‘Multicultural’ Stores For Hispanics, Blacks, Asians

Christina Hoag, Knight Ridder,, Oct. 6

MIAMI—Norma Rodriguez was impressed as she perused the clothing racks at the Sears in Coral Gables, Fla., Wednesday morning. The colors were vibrant, the styles fashionable, the sizes right.

“This is nice now,” said the petite Cuban-born Miami resident. “I used to live in Puerto Rico. They have beautiful things there, but here . . . not everybody is tall and thin. Spanish women, we have a lot over here.” She slapped her hip. “The stores don’t think about us.

Rodriguez is exactly the type of customer that Sears is aiming to please with its new “multicultural stores” where fashions, signs, color schemes and displays are geared to appeal to Hispanic, black and Asian shoppers.

Sears is transforming 97 of its 870 outlets across the country to the multicultural format this month. They’re located in areas where at least 60 percent of shoppers are minorities.

Twelve South Florida stores fit the bill, including the one in Coral Gables where 90 percent of customers are Hispanic.

Not only are such Hispanic-dominant stores increasing their bilingual signs and sales staff, they’re getting in-store posters featuring models of color and four brand-new apparel lines designed especially for multicultural women.

“We want to reintroduce Sears to consumers,” said Lee Antonio, spokeswoman for the Illinois-based retailer. “And people like to feel they’re coming into a store with products they like and fit them.”

Sears developed the concept after two years of research that pinpointed several key differences among multicultural and non-Hispanic white consumers. Sizing, for instance.

Hispanic and Asian women reported problems in finding small sizes while black women stated the opposite quandary.

The multicultural stores will have increased stocks of petites in Hispanic-heavy areas and more plus sizes in predominantly black areas.

In one popular clothing line geared to younger women, apostrophe, the retailer this year will roll out holiday styles in size 4. “We’ve never done that before,” said Sears Fashion Director Juanita Fields.

Hispanics said they liked their clothing to be form-fitting, in loud hues, feminine and in the latest styles. Shoes? High heels, please.

So Sears asked designers to include Lycra in garments, make them in hues such as orange and crimson, ratchet up the heels, and above all, be in vogue.

The result are the new lines: A Line, casual to career wear from Jones Apparel Group; Azucar Bella, day into evening dressing; Curve, active wear from Liz Claiborne, and Russell Kemp, affordable career wear and separates.

In the multicultural stores, the brightly colored fashions are brought to the forefront of racks and to the entry display, relegating the more staid Land’s End line, for example, to a more obscure spot.

Analysts said it was a smart strategy especially since Sears has many stores in older, urban areas.

“Someone should go out and grab this customer,” said Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, which studies consumer behavior. “And our research shows that Sears is highly regarded by Hispanics.”

The century-plus-old retailer could use a sales boost. Its 2003 revenue of $41.1 billion was down from 2002’s $41.3 billion. For the first half of 2004, revenue dipped 13 percent, to $16.58 billion, compared to a year ago.

Sears has long been at the forefront of multicultural marketing.

It has published a magazine in Spanish, called “Nuestra Gente” since the 1990s, and last year signed up Lucy Pereda, the Hispanic TV home maven, to design a clothing collection. Stores have long had Spanish-speaking staff and signs in Spanish.

But the concept of a store format underscores the finer points of marketing to groups that have different tastes from traditional consumers.

It also dovetails with Sears’ bid to refresh its image as a place to go for affordable fashion, not just appliances and tires, Antonio said.

“If you have all that but not the apparel, you’re missing it,” she said.