Sears, Roebuck & Co. has hired the Baltimore architecture firm RTKL Associates Inc. to design a prototype for its "store of the future" as part of the retailer's $4 billion effort to overhaul 500 stores.
The contract for a joint venture between RTKL and a New York interior design firm was signed in August, but Kurt Haglund, assistant to RTKL chairman Harold L. Adams, said yesterday that Sears initially asked that RTKL not announce the transaction.
"We're trying to respond to what Sears wants to be. . . . They're a full-line department store," said Joseph Scalabrin, vice chairman of RTKL and head of the firm's Dallas office, which is directing RTKL's role in the project. "We want to give them a look that will say that."
Mr. Scalabrin said the firm is working on prototypes for new Sears stores and on renovating the 800-plus existing stores as part of Sears' hopes of maintaining traditional strengths such as hardware and appliances, while strengthening soft-goods lines such as women's clothing, where the store's weak performance has been blamed in part on store design that hurts merchandising display.
"The general sense is to give the customer a better sense of what we offer in apparel," Sears spokesman Greg Rossiter said. He said the company is renovating 500 of its 800 stores initially because about 300 newer or more recently overhauled stores already look "close enough to the way we want them to."
Mr. Scalabrin said RTKL and its joint venture partner, HTI/SDI International, have about 20 people in Dallas and New York working on the prototypes, which are expected to be finished in early 1994. RTKL's Baltimore and Los Angeles offices are expected to join the work eventually.
"We've spent the last two months getting briefed by just about every one of their executives," Mr. Scalabrin said. "You're going to multiply it [the prototype] by 500, so you want to get it right."
Mr. Rossiter said the chain has already renovated about 120 of its stores this year, but Mr. Scalabrin said the changes that RTKL will propose go beyond what Sears has done.
"It will be a much more extensive renovation than what's going on now," he said. "They're not looking at the exterior shell of the building," which RTKL will, he said. He said the recently renovated stores will eventually be converted to the completed prototype, but will likely wait until after stores based on still older designs are converted.
Mr. Rossiter said Sears has not decided when local stores will be renovated. The Frederick store was refurbished earlier this year, he said.