Sears Chairman Lampert Grasping at Straws in Apparel and With an Amazon-like "Marketplace"

Last Updated May 6, 2010 1:00 PM EDT

Eddie Lampert's scatter shot strategyEddie Lampert, the reclusive millionaire hedge fund investor that lords over Sears and Kmart (SHLD), predicts that in five years his company is going to be "unrecognizable" to decades-long loyalists. But as his management strategy to get there continues to go off in all directions, it's hard to imagine how it can have a positive effect on Sears bottom line.

My BNET colleague Mike Duff has documented some of Lampert's contradictory moves lately, most notably with a simultaneous effort to grow and shrink stores -â€" while failing to refurbish, or at least clean up, the shabbier outlets.

Now a recent initiative to remake apparel is underway. That includes opening a new design office in San Francisco with former Kmart honcho John Goodman at the helm and hiring a whole new crop of minions tasked with bringing tired proprietary brands back to chic.

Sound familiar? That's because this move echoes a similar one in 2006 when Sears opened a design office in lower Manhattan. And it's not like the company hasn't hit its "softer side" hard in other years past. After the installation (and quick dispatch) of former Macy's (M) exec Kathy Bufano in 2002 to head up a similar effort to beef up its style cred, Sears has limped along in the fashion category.

Lampert's no doubt buoyed by the recent props showered on a new Lands' End brand called Canvas aimed at a younger style-savvy consumer. He's also feeling good about Kmart's gains in apparel (really? With comps up only 3.2 percent after a dismal 2009? Tut, tut).

What's also caught Lampert's eye is the Web. Touting the Internet as a key component to the future of Sears, Lampert walked shareholders through Kmart's MyGofer pick up service designed to lure a new mobile customer to his stores. That's in addition to the under-the-radar Marketplace at that launched earlier this year, which is reported to carry 10 million products, most from third party vendors. This smacks of a move to compete with Amazon (AMZN), although Lampert is simply billing it as a way to "overwhelm" customers with choices and "not wake up some day and find we missed the big trick."

To that end, Sears Craftsman brand tools and Kenmore appliances have also been allowed to stretch beyond traditional store borders popping up at Ace Hardware and specialty boutiques.

There's one possible positive about Lampert's scatter-shot strategy: if he fires off that many initiatives simultaneously, he may just sink one in the corner pocket.

Image via Flickr user INTVGene CC 2.0