What a grand idea! Thank you Sears, Roebuck & Co. for annoucing plans to buy up to 54 open Kmart stores and 7 dead Wal-Mart stores for $621 million in cash. Sears is doing us all a favor filling up stores vacated by the glut of retail stores in most communities, and the wasteful practice of Wal-Mart leaving “dark stores” nearly everywhere. As of last winter, Wal-Mart had 371 “dark stores” as they call them, with more than 28 million square feet of unused space. That makes Wal-Mart the unrivaled King of Dead Space. Sears said the empty Wal-Mart stores it was buying were in “midsized markets”, which means SmallTown, U.S.A. Kmart will operate these stores until next spring, then Sears will convert them. Kmart also sold 24 stores to Home Depot for $365 million. But the Sears move is not all good news. Sears is buying these dead stores to move into “nonmall” locations, so you can expect to see some Sears mall stores going dark in the future, as retailers move to more-favored “stand alone” locations. In other words, Sears wants to look like a big box store, not a mall company. “These transactions will jump-start our strategy to grow the Sears brand off-mall, increase our points of distribution, and acquire well-located real estate at a fair value in key markets for Sears,” the Chairman of Sears told the Associated Press. The Sears big box wannabe stores will be called “Sears Grand”, as in a Starbucks Mocha Grande. This is Sears version of a Wal-Mart supercenter, and will sell grocery and convenience items in addition to clothing, home appliances and tools. Sears hopes to be operating 12 to 14 Sears Grands at the end of next year.
All this retail musical chairs is of little real value to consumers. Sears Grand stores are simply the Illinois-based retailers attempts to gain back some market share from Wal-Mart by imitating the supercenter concept. Unfortunately, we already have too many ‘supersize me’ stores for most communities, and Sears entry into the marketplace does not bring anything new or any added value, just another imitator. The question now is, when these Sears Grand stores die, will Wal-Mart buy them back?