Sears names Carrie Kirkman president and chief merchant

Sears Canada named a veteran of the Canadian retail industry, Carrie Kirkman, to head up the company that has seen three chief executives since 2013, but she will do so under a new title: president and chief merchant.

Department store aiming to keep loyal customers while attracting 35-50 demographic

Sears Canada thinks it has found the solution to its CEO problem: don't have one.

The retailer announced that a veteran of the Canadian retail industry, Carrie Kirkman, will head up the company that has seen three chief executives since 2013, but will do so under a new title: president and chief merchant.

Prior to coming to Sears Kirkman had been the interim president of shoe retailer Nine West Canada and was president of Jones Apparel Group from 2010 until April of 2015.

She's also worked at Sears rival Hudson's Bay Co., Liz Claiborne, Kenneth Cole and Alfred Sung.

"The decision to bring Carrie to Sears Canada was the result of careful deliberation by both myself and the board of directors," executive chairman Brandon G. Stranzl said. 

The new management structure will attempt to take advantage of the different skill sets of the executive group — Stranzl's expertise on the financial side, coupled with Kirkman's experience in merchandising and sales.

Retailer faces image problem

It's going to take both those skill sets and then some to turn around the retailer, which has struggled with same-store sales declined for seven quarters in a row. The retailer has managed to improve its topline numbers from time to time with asset sales and leasebacks, but much of the company's value in recent years has been perceived to come from its valuable stable of real estate assets, as many Sears stores sit in some of the oldest and most central downtown locations in Canada.

The company hopes to turn around its recent fortunes with a new strategy tailored at bringing in younger shoppers without ostracizing existing ones, a fine balance than many retailers struggle with.

"We have two target customers," spokesman Vincent Power told CBC News in a statement. "Linda and Amy."

The former is the current core demographic: she's about 58 years old, she has adult children and is already a consistent and loyal shopper of the chain. "Linda is important to us, and we want to continue to serve her needs and make sure she continues to shop at Sears," Power said. 

The tougher job is doing that while still trying to attract more of Amy.

Amy is between 35 and 50 and is married with younger children.

"Based on the population data for geographical areas near our stores and the data of our shoppers, the percentage of Amys who shop in our stores is not where it should be based on the amount of Amys available in the area," Power said. "But the potential to Sears is significant if we can grow the number of Amys who shop with us."

Kirkman's job will be to find more Amys to come into the stores, without making the Lindas feel unwelcome.

At least one retail analysts says it a tough sweet spot to find, and a hard road for the new head of the company.

"I wish her luck, it's such an enormous task," retail analyst Doug Stephens said. "You have this old dilapidated battleship that you're trying to clean up and navigate through incredibly dangerous waters full of online players and brick and mortar rivals," he said. "It's going to be a Herculean task but I wish her luck."


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