ESSENTIALS STORES LEVERAGE GROCERIES

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- Groceries are a means to an end at the new Sears Essentials stores.Sears Holdings, the newly merged product of Sears and Kmart, has in the last few weeks converted five former Kmart locations to the new Essentials banner, which combines Sears brands like Craftsman and Kenmore with the consumables mix of a Kmart.The stores feature a relatively small grocery offering -- about

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- Groceries are a means to an end at the new Sears Essentials stores.

Sears Holdings, the newly merged product of Sears and Kmart, has in the last few weeks converted five former Kmart locations to the new Essentials banner, which combines Sears brands like Craftsman and Kenmore with the consumables mix of a Kmart.

The stores feature a relatively small grocery offering -- about the same as a typical Kmart, with no produce, bakery or delicatessen. The Pantry sections, typically located at the front of the stores to facilitate quick shopping trips, include a small selection of center store items such as soups and snacks, plus milk, bread, some prepackaged lunch meats, frozen pizzas and other frozen entrees in six to eight doors of cooler space.

"We look at it as an opportunity to re-introduce people to Sears," said Corinne Gudovic, a spokeswoman for Sears. "For people who haven't been in a Sears store in a while, maybe they will come in for some consumables and discover some of the Sears brands again. It's an opportunity to reach out to new customers."

At about 90,000 to 100,000 square feet, the Essentials stores are somewhat smaller than the other Sears-bannered, off-mall concept, Sears Grand. The grocery offerings are similar, however, Gudovic said.

Gudovic said the company expects to have 15 Essentials open in the next six weeks. The first locations are in Florida (two sites), Maryland, Virginia and New Hampshire. Sears previously said it plans to convert about 400 Kmart stores to Sears outlets, some portion of which may become Sears Essentials. Another 50 Kmarts that Sears acquired before the merger are also slated to become Essentials locations.

The conversions will be a combination of traditional Kmarts and Super K stores, which include a full grocery component. According to reports, the stores are laid out similarly to Kmarts, but they also have some department-store touches, such as lower shelving.

"We've positioned it as a place for your everyday essentials," she said. "What makes the store different is that you can buy both the refrigerator and the soda that goes in it."

Adjacent to the Pantry sections are offerings of health and beauty care and other consumables.

Although she declined to discuss specific sales targets, Gudovic said Sears is "pleased with the performance thus far. We'll continue to learn from them, and they will continue to evolve."