Lands’ End is back at Oak Brook Center mall in Oak Brook, Ill. — this time, outside the shadow of Sears.
The Dodgeville, Wis.-based casual clothing retailer had a shop inside the Sears, its former parent company, on the mall’s northwest side before the Sears temporarily shut down for remodeling and downsizing in 2017. Now, Lands’ End has its own space, which opened less than two weeks before Sears is scheduled to close for good.
It’s a switch that’s playing out across the country as Lands’ End works to close the brand’s last 40 stores inside Sears, already down from 174 at the start of last year. That would cut what CEO Jerome Griffith said is one of its only remaining links between the retailers.
“We’re looking to exit as quickly as possible,” he said. “We’re not in their (Sears’) long-term plans, and they’re not in ours.”
Sears bought Lands’ End for $1.9 billion in 2002 but cut the brand loose in a 2014 deal that brought Sears a $500 million cash dividend and rent from the shops in Sears’ stores. Former Sears CEO Edward Lampert, who bought the retailer out of bankruptcy earlier this year, remains a majority shareholder in Lands’ End through his hedge fund, according to Lands’ End’s most recent annual report.
The alliance with Sears gave Lands’ End — which had relied primarily on catalog and online sales — a bigger presence in brick-and-mortar stores. But there was little overlap between the two retailers’ customers, according to Griffith.
“They would go to Sears just because there was a Lands’ End inside,” he said.
Nancy Thoresen, 62, of Elmhurst, Ill., said she shopped at Oakbrook Center’s Sears “all the time” before it closed for remodeling, but Lands’ End had been a bigger draw than Sears.
She stopped at the new Lands’ End, filled with swimwear and summer attire, to pick up some tank tops after finishing a shift at a different store at the mall earlier this month. It was her second visit in the week since Lands’ End opened.
Thoresen said she was happy to see Lands’ End back with a new store, which faces the mall parking lot between Stir Crazy and window treatment shop The Shade Store.
The only downside: She suspects there may have been more deals at Sears.
Online and catalog sales still make up the largest share of Lands’ End’s business. In 2018, the company’s stores, including those in Sears, accounted for only 8.4 percent of its revenue.
But in areas where the brand is popular, physical stores can be a convenience for customers who want the option to shop in person, Griffith said. The Oakbrook Center store is the brand’s 19th and Lands’ End expects to have 40 to 60 within the next few years, Griffith said.
Meanwhile, as Lands’ End pulls its apparel out of Sears, it’s begun stocking e-commerce giants that Griffith thinks its customers do frequent: Amazon and Walmart.
Lands’ End has been selling a selection of its products on Amazon since last year and began testing sales at Walmart earlier this month.
Amazon seems to be attracting new customers or bringing back infrequent shoppers rather than replacing sales Lands’ End would have made on its own, he said.
More than half of the people who bought Lands’ End merchandise on Amazon are new to the brand and another 25 percent haven’t made a purchase in years, he said.
Selling through another retailer’s website means giving up a direct link to the customer, but Griffith said it’s a necessary concession.
“If you’re not on Amazon, you’re not relevant to over half the people looking for clothing. And you want to be in front of the customer where they’re shopping,” he said.