Sales Force Will Call on Customers at Their Places of Business : Sears to Close 41 of 100 Computer Stores Nationwide to Cut Costs

Times Staff Writer

Sears, Roebuck & Co., which entered the computer retailing market with great fanfare six years ago, said Friday that it will close 41 of its 100 U.S. computer stores to cut costs.

In the Los Angeles area, Sears will close three of its seven "business systems centers." The Costa Mesa and Torrance stores will be shut and consolidated with the company's Cerritos center, and the Los Angeles-Wilshire outlet will be closed and absorbed by the Sears computer store in Encino.

Sears centers in Pasadena and San Bernardino will not be affected by the move, which in part reflects the company's decision to rely more heavily on direct sales personnel to market computers.

"We no longer need as many sales locations in each market because our sales organization will be calling directly upon our customers at their places of business," said John H. Rollins, national manager of Sears business centers.

Though originally conceived by Sears as broad-based business stores offering everything from typewriters to business magazines, analysts say the business systems centers found themselves being viewed mostly as computer stores--a retailing market that has struggled in recent years.

Analysts say ComputerLand, for example, suffered declining sales in 1984 and 1985 before turning around last year by focusing on selling bigger, more complete computer systems, going into direct competition with Sears.

Sears "sort of fell between the cracks of the personal computer lineup and the highly sophisticated business systems," said Allan G. Bortel, an analyst in San Francisco with the Shearson Lehman Bros. investment firm. "I don't think they were quite sure what their market was."

Sears officials declined to disclose financial figures for the business systems centers. The industry publication Chain Store Age has estimated, however, that in 1985, the centers posted sales of $262.5 million, 30% of which was produced by the direct sales personnel based at the outlets. Sears officials were quoted as predicting that the direct sales staffers would account for more than 50% of sales in 1986.

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