Sears CEO looks beyond Target closures as he meets with potential staff

TORONTO – Sears Canada has followed through on a promise to begin meeting with some of the workers who are losing their jobs at Target Canada.

Chief executive Ronald Boire says about 140 Target employees were bused to its Sears headquarters in Toronto last week, part of a nationwide effort to network with potential candidates.

“We felt like we had to reach out and say ‘We’re here,'” Boire said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“Saying ‘We care about you’ and ‘We may not have a job for you today, but we may in six months’ — it’s the right thing to do.”‘

The first wave of meetings focused on office staff, management and directors.

Earlier this month, Sears Canada extended a discount to 17,600 Target employees losing their jobs, along with the promise of local job fairs across the country.

That raised some eyebrows for its timing, especially since Sears Canada faces its own financial problems.

The company cut 2,200 jobs last year — with a large chunk from outsourcing call centres — and thousands more were eliminated in 2013, as part of widespread cost-cutting.

But Sears Canada has unfilled positions at its headquarters and recently began recruiting merchandise, finance and IT support applicants, Boire said.

The company plans to hire about 8,000 people this year, mostly in part-time and seasonal jobs at its stores, he added.

While that may seem like a high figure, it puts the company at a comparable level with others in the retail industry where turnover is heavy for part-time workers, said Sears Canada spokesman Vince Power.

In total, Sears Canada has about 22,000 employees with about 19,000 in stores, 1,200 at its head office and the rest in distribution centres and other facilities.

Boire assumed the role of president and CEO at Sears Canada on Monday after holding the position on an interim basis since October.

He faces a number of challenges this year, including Sears Canada’s struggling operations. Losses nearly doubled in the third quarter to $118.7 million on weaker sales, higher taxes and writedowns.

What’s left behind by Target may give Sears a fighting chance at bringing more customers back.

“It’s certainly an opportunity for us to accelerate our transformation and an improvement of our business prospects,” Boire said.

Other changes are still in the works, including the possible elimination of some merchandise lines. While decisions have already been made, Boire said he was not prepared to outline them until this spring.

Big ticket items like flatscreen TVs and other large electronics, which take up more room than they’re worth, have been pegged by Boire in the past as product lines that could be scaled back or eliminated for higher margin categories like home decor and bedding.

Target’s exit from Canada leaves 133 retail locations vacant across the country, but Sears Canada isn’t chasing many of them, since the “vast majority” are near an existing Sears store, Boire said.

“A handful of them have been brought to my attention where we may have opportunity … but we’re not making any official inquiries at this point,” he said.

— Follow @dj_friend on Twitter