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It took a man to see how important women are to Sears, Roebuck & Co.

The No. 3 retailer underwent a successful repositioning last fall with women as the primary target, under the leadership of 54-year-old Arthur C. Martinez, chairman-CEO of Sears Merchandise Group.

Viewing women as the "gatekeepers" of U.S. households, Mr. Martinez set out to reshape Sears around women, putting apparel, cosmetics and home fashions in the foreground.

The strategy worked. Despite years of botched turnaround efforts, Sears' sales began to come back to life by last Christmas. Its first-quarter 1994 sales were 13% higher than the year-earlier period for stores open at least one year, which followed record sales for the fourth quarter of 1993.

Overriding Sears' turnaround was the ad campaign created by Young & Rubicam, New York, themed "Come see the softer side of Sears."

Recruited from upscale department store Saks Fifth Avenue in September 1992, Mr. Martinez brought with him a vision of Sears as a "contemporary, vibrant store offering department store quality goods at value prices," he says.

He revamped Sears' marketing department with veterans of the beverage and package-goods industries, and he has steered the company toward more integrated marketing and special events.

This spring, Sears added a new wrinkle to its "Softer side" advertising with the coexisting themeline: "Come see the many sides of Sears," to ensure strong sales of Sears' hard lines as well.

"We view everything through the lens of women," he says, "while being sure to include men, kids and families in our message."

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