SEARS HOPS ON TEMPORARY-RETAILING TREND: NEW ORLEANS SPORTS & STUFF STORE WILL STAY OPEN THROUGH MARDI GRAS

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Sears, Roebuck & Co. is trying its hand at the exploding temporary-retailing business with a sports store operating in New Orleans during the city's major events this winter.

Sears Sports & Stuff, located in the French Quarter, opened before college football's Nokia Sugar Bowl. The store will be open through the Super Bowl, which the city is hosting on Jan. 26, and will close after the famed Mardi Gras celebration in February.

In addition to T-shirts, jerseys and jackets, the shop's licensed professional and college team logo merchandise includes mugs, caps, wallets and autographed footballs.

PROMOTIONS PLANNED

Although advertising has been kept to a minimum, with radio spots on one station, Sears plans a number of promotions around the store, including appearances by National Football League players and a sweepstakes for five pairs of Super Bowl tickets.

"We continue to explore innovative new approaches to reach our customers," said John Costello, senior exec VP-marketing for Sears, who added that while the concept appears to be successful, there are no plans to spin out the store as a new chain.

"This is the first time we have used a permanent structure as a temporary store," Mr. Costello noted. "We're open to innovation, but at this time there are no specific plans to continue this specific format."

$3 BIL IN SALES

Sears' entrance is the latest example of the growing temporary-retail business, estimated at $3 billion in sales last year.

"This thing is huge," said John Konarski, VP-research, International Council of Shopping Centers, who admitted that no reliable research on the size of the market is yet available.

Other major retailers who have experimented with temporary stores include Bloomingdale's, which opened a temporary Christmas shop at one of its southern California locations; Macy's West, planning to open a temporary furniture store in a vacant Emporium department store in San Francisco; and Day-By-Day Holiday Calendar Co., a Waldenbooks spinoff that started with 50 holiday stores in 1993 and had 500 this past year.

ENORMOUS GROWTH

"We have seen an enormous growth in the number of national retail chains with permanent space . . . developing spinoff concepts for highly focused seasonal business opportunities," said Duffy Weir, VP-director of specialty retail at Ralph Co., which owns 60 shopping centers.

In addition to Waldenbooks, Ms. Weir said Hickory Farms, Nine West and Brookstone have been testing the temporary waters.

SEASONAL ITEMS TYPICAL

Temporary retailers, who set up shop in empty storefronts or in kiosks and carts in mall corridors, typically sell seasonal items ranging from spring plants to Southwestern crafts. In addition to collecting rent on vacant or unused space, mall operators use the facilities to create ambiance and excitement around special events.

Retailers, however, often use temporary facilities to test new concepts.

Mr. Costello said the Sports & Stuff shop allows Sears "to let our customers know Sears is changing and is a fun place to shop."

Generally, Sears would set up special holiday or event-timed shops in its stores. For example, National Collegiate Athletic Association sports shops will open in Sears stores for the basketball finals in March.

"Ten years ago, temporary retailers were not in 100 malls," said Robert Norins, president of Sales Dynamics, a company that runs cart programs. "Today they are in 1,800 malls."

Some retailers, however, are casting a wary eye on the proliferation of temporary outlets because of sales cannibalization.

"They are generally not a problem for us, but they have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis if they begin to threaten our own product lines," said one retail executive.

Contributing: Chuck Ross

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