Not all Sears changes are for the betterArthur C...

CONSUMER MARKETPLACE

April 10, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Not all Sears changes are for the better

Arthur C. Martinez, brought in last year to turn around Sears Merchandise Group, has been doing an exceptional job.

Under his leadership, the chain's stores are showing signs of innovation after a long period of decline. And analysts applauded in January as he made the long-overdue decision to put Sears' money-losing catalog out of its misery as of the end of 1993.

But before Mr. Martinez starts practicing his acceptance speech for the CEO-of-the-year award, he ought to listen to Kathleen Corasaniti of Baltimore.

Mrs. Corasaniti, 69, is a longtime catalog customer who has been buying a special kind of girdle from Sears for years. She needs it because of a health problem affecting her legs. It's not available in stores, but she'd like to get some before the catalog goes out of business, and maybe find out which company makes them for Sears.

The trouble is, the Sears catalog's phone bank apparently isn't staffed as well as it used to be.

"All you get is busy," said Mrs. Corasaniti. Sometimes she got a recording telling her to call the number she had called to get the recording.

When she couldn't get through on the 800 number, Mrs. Corasaniti tried calling Sears' Hunt Valley and White Marsh stores for help. After she was told there was no way the stores could help, the people at the complaint desk wouldn't take her complaint.

She couldn't help but compare the treatment she got from Sears with the assistance from salespeople at Nordstrom in Towson Town Center. The store didn't have special support hose she needed, but her salesperson found the product at a store in Alaska and had it sent to her.

The problem for Sears: Folks like Mrs. Corasaniti don't make a distinction between its catalog operation and its stores.

"Sears is Sears," she said. "Do you think I would go to Sears today and buy anything when what I'm remembering -- what's seared into my brain -- is they're not listening to me?"

Mary Jean Houde, a Sears spokeswoman, said the problems were a result of the catalog's "Sale of the Century" final clearance, which began last month. Calls were running at a level of 1 million a day, twice the volume of the busiest Christmas season day.

Beginning this weekend, the company is adding 4,000 operators to its catalog phone lines.

Aspiring entrepreneurs to get franchise pitches

More than 400 franchisers from around the world will make a pitch to aspiring entrepreneurs April 23-25 when the International Franchise Association holds its annual exhibition at the Washington Convention Center.

The exhibition, which drew about 25,000 people last year, is one of the best opportunities for people interested in launching a small business to explore franchise concepts. Even if you're not actively shopping for a franchise, the exhibition is a fascinating display of innovative business concepts and technologies.

One caveat: Visitors to the exhibition will be exposed to a wave of high-intensity evangelism on the fabulous opportunities and minimal risks of franchising. Many claims will be true -- up to a point. Be especially wary of the IFA's claim that 94 percent of franchise owners are successful.

Experts advise that before signing any agreement, would-be business owners should examine the franchise company and consult a lawyer or accountant (or both) before signing any deal. Many a nest egg has been broken through franchise agreements that didn't work out.

Sally Noble, a public relations spokeswoman for the expo, stressed that no final deals can be concluded at the show. By law, potential franchisees have 10 days to rescind any signed deal.

"IFA is really stressing that this is an informational forum, not a grab-your-money forum," Ms. Noble said. The three-day exhibition will include 52 free seminars, she added.

Hours for the show are 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. Admission for one day is $15 and three days is $25. For more information, call (800) 433-4636.

Nasella steps down as Staples president

One of the nation's fastest growing retailers, Massachusetts-based Staples Inc., is making some changes in the executive suite.

Henry J. Nasella resigned as president and chief operating officer Thursday, after leading the office superstore pioneer's expansion from 11 stores to 180 over five years.

Louis R. Pepi was named president of Staples' U.S. retail store division, and Joseph S. Vassalluzzo executive vice president of growth and support services.

Mr. Nasella will remain with Staples through June 30 to ease the transition. Afterward, he will remain on the board of directors.

Mr. Nasella said he wants to spend time with his family and pursue other opportunities in business, education and public service.

Steed Associates wins 3 Telly awards

Noble Steed Associates Inc., a Lutherville-based advertising agency, rode off with three 1993 Telly awards for its television commercials.

The agency won a Silver Category statuette and a Bronze Finalist statuette for two public service spots it created for the Maryland Department of Human Resources as part of the state's "Beat Your Habit, Not Your Kid" campaign, showing the effects of drug and alcohol addiction on children. Noble Steed picked up another Silver award for a spot produced for the Prudential Health Care Plan.

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