Sears, J.C. Penney Launch Post-Martha Home Collections

Last Updated Apr 8, 2009 11:05 AM EDT

Home furnishings has been a tough business over the past several years but the departure of Linens 'N Things and other retailers from the market and the migration of Martha Stewart to the department store realm with Macy's has created opportunity particularly in the mass-market sector where discounters, warehouse clubs and mid-tier retailers such as J.C. Penney and Sears compete.

The economy provides another opportunity. With budgets tighter, more consumers are trading down in their shopping even as they remain home more often, trends that seem to have helped bargain home décor specialist Kirkland's improve and could provide opportunity for discounters such as Kmart. In home furnishings, trading down isn't exactly a new phenomenon, as sales have been gravitating from department stores to the mass market for years. It's ironic now, but Martha Stewart was a major factor in drawing home furnishings consumer into the mass market with the better styling, store display and quality standards she helped establish at Kmart.

A Martha vacuum is influencing the latest home brand rollouts. With the Martha Stewart Everyday brand departing, Kmart and corporate sibling Sears are launching a new line of home furnishings products conceived with Hearst Brand Development and Country Living magazine. The Country Living Collection, a line that includes bedding, bath, tabletop, furniture and home decor, will debut this summer in both Kmart and Sears stores to provide a style similar to what Martha originally brought when she debuted at Kmart, one that focused on traditional looks updated to give them a current twist.

Martha got more modern over time. Glen Ellen Brown, vice president, Hearst Brand Development, said the Country Living Collection would be more firmly grounded in traditional sensibilities but with a "cleaner" look. So the requisite ruffles will be subtly scaled back and the inevitable blue fabric colors will give way at times to hues like apple green.

Both Kmart and Sears employ a good/better/best approach to product price and quality at stores. At Kmart, Country Living has been installed at Martha's former tier, while at Sears, it will be more central to a portfolio of exclusive brands. "In general, Country Living will be part of the best category in Kmart's merchandising strategy," said Sears Holding spokeswoman Amy Dimond. "It will be part of the better category in the Sears' merchandising strategy. This distinction allows for higher price point lines at Sears." The higher prices at Sears are attached to its Lands' End and Ty Pennington Style home furnishings collections. In the meantime, J.C. Penney is debuting Cindy Crawford Style, a collection crafted by the supermodel turned home doyen. The line, which hits stores in September, includes bedding, window coverings, bath, decorative accessories, tabletop, area rugs, lighting and wall décor. J.C. Penney spokesperson Kate Parkhouse said the Crawford collection, "offers a clean, fresh, updated look to traditional styling," which puts it firmly in the comfort zone established by Stewart a decade ago. At J.C. Penney, the Crawford collection complements the more luxurious Chris Madden line at the retailer's better price/quality level and supports the Ralph Lauren-styled American Living group at the best tier.

It's worth noting that some JCPenney locations will carry Cindy Crawford Style furniture. Crawford began her expansion into the home sector with the Cindy Crawford Home furniture collection, which sells through furniture specialty stores. Also, Wal-Mart launched a Better Homes & Gardens brand some months back, another home furnishings line tied to a shelter magazine. Celebrities, magazines, it's all so Martha-esque, but she did set the standard.