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Sears's New Focus On Retail Business Pays Off Nicely

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`IF you haven't been in our stores lately, I suggest that you come in and take a look, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you see,'' says Edward Brennan, chief executive officer of Chicago-based Sears, Roebuck & Company.

After undergoing what has been called the largest repositioning of a company in United States business history, Sears has emerged leaner, stronger, and is ``very well-positioned for the future,'' Mr. Brennan told a group of fellow CEOs at a Northeastern University business school forum in Boston last month.

``Clearly, people are going back to Sears,'' says Joseph Ronning, an analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., an investment banking firm in New York. ``With the exception of the automotive business, where they still have lingering problems ... the business really has turned [around], which is a remarkable performance for a company that size.''

CORPORATE statistics indicate that Sears's efforts to focus on retailing have paid off. After what Brennan called a ``disastrous year'' in 1992, Sears earned a record $2.3 billion in 1993 and has been showing better comparable store sales gains than its competition in 1993 and in 1994 to date.

After spinning off its Dean Witter Financial Services Group, and selling its Coldwell Banker residential real estate business, Sears Mortgage Corporation, and 20 percent of Allstate Insurance Group, the retailer today does $50 billion in annual business. It comprises Sears Merchandising, Homeart Development Company, which develops store sites, and Allstate, which is 80 percent owned by Sears.

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