SPEARFISH — When Phil and Stephanie Rebsom announced in March that they planned to retire as owner/operators of the Sears Hometown store in Spearfish, it seemed possible that the appliance and home supply store would need to find a new home to continue serving the Black Hills. But thanks to a creative agreement between building owner Mark Kazmer and Sears Hometown corporate offices, it looks like the store is here to stay.
“It was never totally planned for being shut down,” Kazmer explained. “Sears was always trying to find a new owner/operator for it.”
Kazmer said that when the Rebsoms decided to retire from the business, it left a management gap, which would need to be filled if they wanted the Hometown store to remain in Spearfish.
“All along, Sears was very adamant that Spearfish was an important market to them and it’s expensive for any retail operation to move, so their hopes were always to stay in that location,” he said.
“If we have the opportunity to stay in the market, we want to,” added Robert Sanstra, manager of real estate contracts and new stores for Hometown stores. “Typically, we would bridge the gap with a month-to-month occupancy agreement that we utilize while we actively identify and approve a local individual to take over the business.”
But with competition for business heavy in the area, Sanstra said the company broke with tradition and agreed to sign a three-year contract with Kazmer to secure the prime location with the option to transfer the lease once a new owner/operator is found.
“If it wasn’t a viable business opportunity, we wouldn’t be there,” he said. “This is definitely a one-off situation and it took some creativity from both sides to continue, but we don’t want to leave a market if we don’t have to.”
Sanstra explained that Hometown Stores are their own entity, which leases the Sears brand name, so it’s important that their stores be managed and operated by local individuals to provide the best service for each unique community.
“The business is designed for an owner/operator to be, obviously, local,” he said. “We want somebody to be involved with the day-in, day-out operations.
Sanstra said Sears Hometown Store branches operate as a dealer program so there’s no franchising fees charged to the owner.
“Once we approve an owner candidate, they go through a full background and credit check; they don’t have to have any overhead for merchandise inventory, we provide it all, and we pay them a commission based on what they sell,” he said.
Sanstra said that new owners typically pay around $15,000 up front for any fixtures and equipment the previous owners had in the building.
Until a new owner/operator is identified, Sanstra said they typically work with a transition store manager, who floats from store to store to keep things running. Any current employees of the store would then be interviewed and considered to remain, or, if additional staff is needed, the transition manager would conduct interviews and hire to fill positions. Once a new owner/operator is found, they may keep the staff on hand, or bring in their own personnel.
Sanstra said Sears Hometown stores are on a path to open between 150 – 200 new stores across the country over the next two years.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people still don’t associate Hometown with being locally owned and operated, … but we’re trying to change that perspective, and over the course of the next two years, I think we’re going to be able to do that.”
For more information about becoming an owner/operator for a Sears Hometown Sore, visit www.ownasears.com, or call Sanstra at (918) 809-2337.
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