No rivals' bags, please, Sears says

New CEO dismayed by employees with items bearing competitors' logos


CHICAGO -- Some companies have dress codes, but Sears Holdings Corp. now has a bag code.

Employees of the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based owner of Sears and Kmart stores are being discouraged from bringing bags, packages or anything else with the logo of a retail competitor to any company property.

The request was made this week in a letter to Sears Holdings workers from Aylwin B. Lewis, who took over the job of chief executive officer from Alan Lacy yesterday.

Lewis, a fast-food industry executive until about a year ago, also asked Sears Holdings workers to visit their nearest Sears or Kmart store three or four times a month, as well as to post product suggestions on internal company Web sites.

"We cannot become a great retailer until we earn the loyalty of our own associates," Lewis said in his letter.

What seemed to set off Lewis was a story he had heard about a Sears Holdings worker who was traveling with co-workers with a rival's shopping bag in tow.

"I don't know what bothered me more - that one of our own associates shopped the competition, or that he hadn't hesitated at all to display his shopping preference to co-workers on the flight," Lewis wrote.

The former Yum Brands executive noted that no one would dare serve Domino's Pizza at a meeting when Yum owned Pizza Hut.

When top Sears Holdings executives sign noncompete agreements, the pacts cover more than 30 companies, ranging from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to Best Buy Co. to Federated Department Stores Inc., according to a filing that Sears Holdings made with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

One retail observer said that while Lewis' high regard of Sears is admirable, it might be unrealistic.

"That should be the vision of every retailer: `We're so good at meeting the needs of customers,'" said Eli Portnoy, chief brand strategist for consulting firm Portnoy Group in Los Angeles.

"The question is: Is Sears the retailer who can pull that off? My feeling is the brand Sears is far, far, far away from ever becoming a brand that Americans will exclusively come to shop."

Becky Yerak writes for the Chicago Tribune

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