Store Redesigns, Not Asset Sales, Top Lampert’s Priority List for Sears

Investors hoping Sears Holdings (SHLD) Chairman Eddie Lampert would quickly move to transform the company into more than just a retailer have been disappointed. Lampert clearly understands the tremendous value of his company’s assets, but thus far has not moved to revamp the company as much as his supporters would have liked. Instead, Lampert seems convinced that he can boost the company’s retail operating margins closer to industry averages with better management of the store base.

In fact, a press release issued Saturday sheds light into Lampert’s game plan:

Kmart Store Becomes a New Sears

MARIETTA, Ga., Nov. 17 /PRNewswire/ — The former Kmart at 4269 Roswell Rd is now a brand new Sears. Local Atlanta residents can expect a one-of-a-kind shopping experience that offers an expanded selection of merchandise including more national brands than ever before and a 23,000 sq. ft. Lands’ End shop featuring the largest selection of Lands’ End merchandise ever at Sears.

The new Sears will come to life by offering customers a “store-of-shops,” and a fresh design layout with different flooring, fixtures, and displays. Marquee brand names now found in the new Sears include Sony, Hanes, Workwear – by Craftsman, Carhartt, Timberland and Diehard apparel, Levi’s, and Nordic Track. The store will also feature expanded Home Electronics and Home Appliance showrooms, organized around favorite manufacturers, that will also help customers choose the right look, feel and function with other brands Sears carries.

A newly remodeled hardware department will feature innovative and interactive Garage Organization, Mechanics and Carpentry shops to help customers find the right item quickly and efficiently.

Five central internet workstations located throughout the sales floor will provide free high-speed Web access to enable both the customers and associates to quickly access the internet, verify prices, shop online and contact store personnel if help is needed.

The store will also carry a wide range of convenience items previously available at the former Kmart location including full pharmacy services, health and beauty, cosmetics and greeting cards.

This new format will help customers create the look they want and find the gifts they need all in one convenient location. Shoppers will find the quality brands they have come to know and love like Diehard, Craftsman, Ty Pennington, and Kenmore plus extended assortments of national brands from Nordic Track, Schwinn, Reebok and more. Customers can also shop for great fashions with the first 23,000 sq. foot mega Lands’ End shop that brings the legendary brand to life with items for women, men, kids, baby and home. Now families can touch and feel the quality and see the details of Lands’ End products. A special monogramming service is also available to easily personalize just about any Lands’ End item that will take a stitch. There’s even free shipping on any catalog or landsend.com order placed from the store.

It remains to be seen if Lampert can boost profit margins further at Kmart and Sears. Initial attempts were successful, but 2007 has brought little improvement, due in part to the weak retail environment in both the low end consumer and home improvement/furnishing markets. That has resulted in Sears stock being down 28% year to date.

This press release is further evidence that Lampert is focused on improving store margins, not diversifying business lines. As a result, it indicates that the Sears investment thesis remains a long term story. By the way, if anyone lives near this redesigned store in Atlanta, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the new store.

Full Disclosure: Long shares of Sears Holdings at the time of writing.