For a growing number of brick-and-mortar retailers, the future looks small.
Sears is the latest company to embrace the trend. The retailer, which emerged from bankruptcy and a court-supervised auction process in February with about 425 big-box stores, said it plans to open three small Sears Home & Life stores in May.
The stores will range in size from 10,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet, and will skip the apparel offerings that were at the heart of the counterintuitive “Softer Side of Sears” advertising campaign of the 1990s. Instead, the focus will be on what the retailer sees as its real strengths — appliances, mattresses and the home services business. The new stores are scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend.
“Sears Home & Life supports our strategic plan to become a stronger, more profitable business, and these test stores will enable us to learn and improve as we move forward,” said Paul Boutros, chief brand officer for Sears and Kmart, and president of the Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands.
Sears’ announcement of the planned store openings came during a two-week period filled with other small store news.
Target opened its fifth small-format store in Manhattan and two in the Washington, D.C., area. Hy-Vee received approval from the city of Sun Prairie, Wis., to open a 19,650-square-foot Hy-Vee HealthMarket, a format that debuted last year and that Hy-Vee chief executive officer Randy Edeker has said could be a chain of 50 to 60 stores. Lidl U.S. opened a convenience-oriented Lidl Express store, measuring just over 1,000 square feet, on the ground floor of its headquarters in Arlington, Va. (The store is open to members of the community, as well as to headquarters employees.) And Whole Foods Markets opened a bodega-like 2,500-square-foot store called Whole Foods Market Daily Shop that is located right next to a full-size Whole Foods outlet in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. The smaller store has grab-and-go food and beverage items — including coffee and kombucha, breakfast bowls, and paninis — and self-checkout kiosks and staffed checkouts to help people get what they want and go.
The Sears, Lidl and Whole Foods stores are just tests, and Target and Hy-Vee still operate way more large stores than small ones. But in a world where endless aisles of merchandise are as close as your mobile phone, there’s something to be said for a small store with a convenient location, where you can quickly find and buy the kinds of products you want right away.