Sale ends Sears' shoe empire

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The Independent Online
Sears, the troubled retail group, finally closed the chapter on its disastrous footwear business yesterday with the sale of Cable & Co to US group, Nine West.

The deal netted Sears a profit of pounds 0.6m, making it only the second shoe format it has managed to sell without incurring substantial losses. The deal means that Sears has sold 10 footwear brands in the last few years, at a net loss of pounds 150m and a cost of 2,400 jobs.

It marks the end of a footwear empire built up by the late Sir Charles Clore in the 1950s, which grew to its peak in the 1980s when it had 2,500 shops. At that stage it accounted for one in four of all shoe sales in Britain.

Asked how a company came to fritter away a position of such market leadership, Sears' chairman, Sir Bob Reid, said: "At the time the business was state of the art but then the market moved on. The way people are buying shoes is changing. They don't use traditional shoe shops so much anymore but buy shoes along with their clothing. The business had a whole bunch of brands that weren't working any more."

He said British people had become a nation of training shoe and sports shoe wearers. They were less interested in visiting specialist shoe retailers such as Shoe Express and Dolcis but went to places like Marks & Spencer, Next and sports shops instead.

Sears' management has been criticised for being too slow to see changes in footwear fashion and for changing its retail formats too often. But Sir Bob said he looked forward to a better future for the group: "I've got rid of my losers. All I've got left now are winners." However, he admitted that some of the group's "winners" made insufficient profits.

Cable & Co has been acquired for pounds 6m by Nine West, the US group which also bought its concessions business. The company now has 180 shoe stores and concessions in the UK. It also owns Pied a Terre and Shoe Studio. It plans to rebrand the 25 Cable & Co outlets under the Nine West name.

Robert Galvin, the group's chief financial officer, said the UK shoe market was a good opportunity. "We are experiencing great success in the UK since we moved in."

Nine West has 1,450 stores worldwide, including 1,100 in the US, and had group sales last year of $1.8bn (pounds 1.1bn).

Sears will now concentrate on the demerger of its Selfridges and Freemans businesses, which will leave the group with only its womenswear chains such as Wallis. Sears shares rose 0.5p to 46.75p.