(Published Feb. 12, 2007, 10:38 a.m.)
What entrepreneur hasn't had the dream of owning his or her own store in a small town or rural area? Yet, for many, the dream never becomes reality because of the hurdles of start-up costs and competition. Fortunately, retail giant Sears has helped eliminate some of those hurdles for hundreds of small-town entrepreneurs with its Authorized Dealer program. It's not a franchise operation, or even a network of store managers. Instead, Sears' authorized dealers own their own business while Sears owns the inventory.
The very first Sears Authorized Dealer store was opened by Chuck Platts in Lake Geneva in June of 1993. Previously the store had been a Sears catalogue store, but when Sears began closing those stores, Platts converted his store to the first Authorized Dealer store to be open in the country.
"We were the first to ever open up," said Platts, who also opened a store in Delavan last November. "This will be our 36th year as a Sears store in Lake Geneva."
As with other Sears dealers, Platts pays no fees or royalties. He earns a commission on what he sells, while Sears owns the inventory. Commission percentages vary by product, with incentive bonuses paid for overall volume. Platts has to cover the cost of the building, store fixtures, office equipment, insurance and utilities, and is also responsible for payroll and taxes.
Sears flexes its considerable corporate muscle by offering assistance in nearly every area of the store-opening process. Its team guides the store owner through the market analysis, site location, financing options, lease negotiations and construction/retrofit. They also provide instruction on fixturing and merchandising the store and help prepare for the opening. In addition, store owners are given extensive training in one of the Certified Training stores for operating their business.
The two stores here in the Lakes Area provide a unique shopping opportunity for area residents. The Lake Geneva Sears Store, 248-8571, is moving by the end of January from its old location across from Wal-Mart on Highway 50 into the old Sentry grocery store building about two blocks away. The move is doubling the size of the store to about 13,000 square feet and allowing the addition of new inventory items.
"We'll offer additional items such as tools, year-round exercise equipment, mattresses, electronics, including plasma TVs, LCD screens and all the latest," said Platts. "We'll also be carrying the Pro-line appliances which include some of Sears' top-of-the-line items. You won't have any reason to go anywhere else for all your appliance needs."
The Lake Geneva store will be holding a grand opening sometime in April, Platts said.
The Delavan Sears, 308 S. Wright St., Delavan, 740-9135, near the Pick n' Save grocery store, will hold a grand opening March 3. The grand opening will include a live radio broadcast from the store as well as prizes and special promotions from Sears along with extra saving discounts.
The store carries a variety of appliances and lawn and garden items, along with a limited amount of exercise equipment.
"These stores are designed to feature Sears' best-selling items," Platts said. "And in addition to what we have in stock, we can get anything for you that Sears.com offers."
The Delavan store carries a wide variety of grills, lawn tractors, mowers, snow-throwers, line trimmers, blowers, chain saws, pressure washers, generators, and maintenance items and parts for tractors. An even wider variety will be stocked during spring and summer months, Platts said.
"We also have a full line of refrigerators, washers and dryers, dishwashers, microwaves and hoods, built in ovens and ranges," he said.
Both the Lake Geneva and Delavan stores are currently open Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Platts said his dealer stores are all about buying locally and giving excellent customer service.
"We do have a bilingual staff with Carlos Campos, our sales rep here in Delavan," he said. "We want to be able to serve the Hispanic population as well."
Campos, who has been working at the store since it opened, said he believes such shopping opportunities are important for smaller towns.
"It's a great opportunity to be able to stay shopping locally," he said. "And also, if the customer has any kind of problem with an item, they can have it handled locally without driving to Janesville or Kenosha. It just comes down to better customer service."
Sears corporate offices believe the same thing. With a goal of establishing 1,000 Authorized Dealer stores across the United States, the giant is well on its way with more than 800 stores now in existence, all in smaller towns and suburb areas.
"The Sears Authorized Retail Dealer Store program has grown over the last several years because of the commitment and hard work of our owners," the store says on its Web site, www.sears.com. "The drive to serve customers, strong commitment to their communities and a devotion to their business is what sets our owners apart. Together, we've created a winning team that works in harmony to do just one thing--serve the customer."