In its latest effort to restore its stature as a leading and profitable retailer, Montgomery Ward & Co. Inc. yesterday unveiled its redesigned Annapolis store, calling it the model of future Ward's stores around the country.
Montgomery Ward President Bernard F. Brennan said the remodeled store represents Ward's desire to become a "value-driven specialty store . . . . The big old stores of yesterday are outdated."
Ward's officials like to refer to the Annapolis store -- the first full test of the chain's new retailing strategy -- as a series of seven specialty stores all under one roof. These stores are: apparel, appliance, automotive, home care (paint, hardware and lighting fixtures), home electronics, home store (bedding, linen and kitchenware), and recreation and leisure.
Ward's has eliminated many of its traditional merchandise lines -- such as garden supplies, guns, career uniforms, bedroom sets and other large furniture pieces, stationery and records -- to provide greater depth in the seven areas in which it has decided to specialize.
In the recreation and leisure department, for example, more than four dozen bicycles are on display, ranging from $79 to $350. Nearly four dozen refrigerators -- of various sizes -- are on display in the major appliance store while 1,400 handbags hang near women's dresses.
In the retailing industry, "the winners over the last five years have been those who have specialized," Brennan said. During the same time period, Brennan noted, Ward's has been far from a winner, incurring four years of losses between 1979 and 1983. Although the company bounced back in 1984, earning $53 million, Brennan said "that's not enough," considering that the company sold $6 billion of goods.
"We are staking our future on" the specialty store concept, Brennan said, aiming to compete with some of the best, such as The Limited, Toys 'R' Us, Linens 'n Things and Circuit City.
Ward's selected Annapolis as its first test because it is one of the company's best performing units and because of the area's demographics. Among other things, the median income of the Annapolis Mall shopper is $40,000.
Brennan said the chain plans to completely remodel two more stores by the end of the year. At the same time, it plans to experiment with its concept by opening some new, smaller stores, containing only three of the specialty stores -- the home center, the appliance store and the home electronics department.
Additionally, with fewer and fewer shopping malls being built, Ward's may consider installing smaller units in existing malls. A prime candidate could be its new "Store for Kids" with its broad and colorful array of children's clothing, Brennan said.
Although Annapolis is the test store, Brennan said Washington shoppers should begin seeing many changes in other area stores as the company introduces all of its new merchandise to area stores and upgrades some, but not all, of the stores' decor.
The remodeling is the chain's second major facelift in four years, as the company dropped 20 percent of its merchandise lines -- such as men's suits, carpeting and its labor-intensive installation departments -- and added brand-name goods to its line of major appliances and home electronics.
Even more brand names are prevalent in the latest refurbishing, with Jack Mulqueen and John Weitz tags hanging on women's clothes and Stanley Blacker tags on men's sportscoats.
"The first, second and third priority of this store is merchandise," Brennan said, reaffirming the company's recently announced decision to close its unprofitable catalog division.
The catalog division, Brennan said, "impeded our ability to be contemporary with our merchandise" because the same buyer who purchased items for the stores also purchased the goods for the catalog. And catalog buyers usually have to work six to 12 months in advance of store buyers.
The decision to close the catalog operations by the end of next year "is a final decision," Brennan said, denying rumors that the company was reconsidering its decision.
Overall, the new store resembles other newly remodeled stores of other mass merchants such as Sears Roebuck & Co. and J. C. Penney Co. Inc.
Nonetheless, it is dramatically different than the traditional Ward store with a far greater emphasis on apparel, which traditionally has been one of Ward's weakest departments.
"Even though we have not been a great apparel merchandiser, it is a very profitable business" for Ward's, Brennan said. "We have a good customer. The problem is she is only shopping part of our store. She goes right in and out the side door . . . . Our real challenge is to get the customers to shop the entire store."