The chips are down for Sears, as they have been so often over the last few decades. Its latest round of closings of its Sears and Kmart stores, announced shortly after Christmas, may be the first ring of a death knell that could attend what used to be America's biggest retailer and the namesake of the building that originally was known as Sears Tower, in Chicago.
But Sears continues to go down fighting. In the past, it continually has attempted to offset its failing relevance as a retailer of soft goods and concentrate on areas and brands where Americans continue to rely on Sears, including Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools.
The latest tactic: taking advantage of Sears' underappreciated but significant role as an outlet for fitness equipment. Few know that the retailer is America's no. 1 seller of fitness equipment, so it's stepping up its attention to the sector through branded content, community and conversation.
"It's a surprise to some people," admitted Julia Fitzgerald, chief digital engagement officer for toys and sporting goods at Sears Holdings, in an interview with Ad Age. And that's an understatement, to be sure. While few Americans likely could identify off the top of their heads who purveys more treadmills and ellipticals than any other retailer, because it tends to be a highly fragmented and locally based industry, no doubt few would name Sears as No. 1.
So now, Sears — America's largest fitness retailer — is looking for places to expand its Fitness Flagships, which are 6,000-square-foot shops-in-shops that feature hardwood floors, large mirrors and, frequently, a certified personal trainer on staff.
According to a press release, "Sears recently completed construction on its latest 'Fitness Flagship' store-within-a-store. Continuing a roll out that began last year at select Sears locations and now in more than 35 sites, these 6,000 sq. ft. Fitness Flagship specialty stores feature polished hardwood floors, tall mirrors, expanded equipment layouts and resemble a modern, high-end gym. The Fitness Flagships are staffed by expert salespeople who have been trained on fitness products and trends, and feature dozens of floor models to try from leading brands like NordicTrack, LifeFitness, Sole, Smooth, ProForm, AFG, Bladez, Schwinn and others."
The chain also is launching editorial content and community elements on its FitStudio website to create a bond with consumers that goes beyond the store, sort of how weight-loss brands build online relationships with many customers as they encourage them toward health.
Sears executives are indicating that they may take more of this approach of identifying and investing in a distinct category more intensively through content and conversational marketing through sub-brands.