W. Stanley Knipe has moved 14 times in twice as many years since his college campus interview with a representative from Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 1957. Each time it was for Sears and each time for a new job. But his latest assignment, as general manager of the Washington-Baltimore region for Sears, may not be just another pitstop on the long road to Chicago, the national retailer's corporate headquarters.

The giant retailer considers the area, which includes 32 stores in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District, to be one of its most important markets. In fact, the last five predecessors to Knipe have gone on to Chicago as corporate officers, including Richard M. Jones, who was named Sears' president last week. Charles J. Ruder, whom Knipe succeeds, recently was named vice president for corporate public affairs.

This area's large population means that Knipe -- whose most recent assignment was as general manager for the Gulf Coast region consisting of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle -- will manage more and larger stores and a larger volume, he said in an interview.

In addition to managing merchandising and buying for the stores, Knipe will direct two credit offices, regional advertising operations, and a commercial sales division, he said.

Although Sears has "no immediate plans" to expand in the region, Knipe said, it always is keeping an eye on new markets. "As a population corridor fills in, this presents a future opportunity" to open a new store, he said.

More important to the store's current development efforts are a spate of store remodeling projects and a national program Sears has launched to update the chain's 1960s look. Knipe said Sears plans to remodel 10 area stores to improve "the ease of shopping." And under Sears' national "Store of the Future" program, Knipe is planning to tailor product lines and improve presentation to create a more contemporary appearance.

In addition, Knipe said he plans to continue adding to smaller stores a line of financial products already available in larger outlets. Those services are offered by three Sears subsidiaries: Allstate Insurance Co., Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. and Coldwell Banker.

Knipe sees his customers coming from all social and economic groups. To keep them as customers, he said, Sears tries to keep the "product mix as wide as you would find anywhere in the area." Sears, he argues, is "the only true national department store."