Sears is trying something new.
The department store chain announced on Thursday it opened its first Sears-branded appliance and mattress store in Pharr, Texas.
Word of the new store comes the same day reports surfaced that Sears is planning to close an additional 20 Sears and Kmart locations across the U.S. That’s on top of the more than 200 stores it’s already slated to close this year.
This first-of-its-kind store for Sears showcases appliance brand Kenmore, and mattresses from Tempur-Pedic, Beautyrest, Sealy and Serta, among other well-known labels, the retailer said.
Plans are also underway to open additional freestanding Sears stores dedicated to these two categories — what Sears is calling “two of its strongest.” Dating back to the department store chain’s early days, appliances have always been a part of Sears’ so-called bread and butter.
The Texas store’s manager, Albert Silva, told CNBC his store is about 20,000 square feet with 22 employees so far, and he plans to hire more. At Thursday’s ribbon cutting, Silva said he saw a supportive showing from the local community, with many people excited about the brand’s return to Pharr.
Back in 2015, Sears closed a full-line store a few miles down the road. Many shoppers had grown to rely on Sears for household items, so the chain’s return — now in a slightly different format — is promising, Silva added.
Pharr is also situated about three miles from Mexico, so international “border business” should really help Sears’ new store thrive, the manager said.
Notably, even though this store is branded as only selling mattresses and appliances, Sears said, shoppers can order any item from the company’s website and pick it up at the new Texas store without paying any shipping fees.
“Our members tell us they want an integrated and seamless shopping experience,” the company said in a statement. “They want to shop on their own terms — which means sometimes shopping online, sometimes visiting a store and sometimes a combination of both.”
Last year, Sears introduced a similar new store concept in Fort Collins, Colorado, selling only appliances. This latest launch in Texas is a bid to replicate the success Sears has seen in Colorado, the retailer said, adding the Colorado store has “surpassed projections since its opening.”
Silva said he’s only been working at Sears for three months but is excited about the growth potential of the new store concept. “We are trailblazers of what the future is.”
It’s a rare spot of optimism for the troubled retailer, which warned earlier this year that there were doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern.
In order to fend off a possible bankruptcy, Sears has been closing hundreds of underperforming locations, conserving cash as its sales shrink.
While this smaller-format store may be a less expensive way to continue to keep the Sears brand in front of consumers, it will be difficult to expand this strategy widely given the retailer’s heavy debt load.
“In some ways [this store] makes sense,” GlobalData Retail’s Managing Director Neil Saunders told CNBC. “Sears is best known for appliances and mattresses, and that’s where its strengths still lie. A stand-alone store in the right location is more likely to attract customers. … The format looks good and incorporates technologies and services that customers will value.”
The biggest issue, though, is that this is a “drop in the ocean” compared to the wider problems at Sears, Saunders said.
The landscape remains competitive, and more and more home-improvement companies want a share of the appliance category, he added. “Sears has its work cut out to compete.