Sears HomeCentral was introduced to customers in 1998. It gathered a wide variety of services under one banner, including parts and service, heating and cooling services, carpet cleaning and installed home improvements. Sears Brand Central added Maytag appliances to its lineup and the paint selections of Martha Stewart Everyday Colors began brightening Sears customers' homes. 1998 was also the year on-line shopping systems slowly began to ramp up. Customers could now visit www.sears.ca and order from a selection of 500 products. The site drew over 500,000 visitors. Sears Canada was truly a multi-channel retailer.
At year-end, it had 109 department stores, opened 12 new Furniture and Appliances stores for a total of 20, added 14 more Dealer Stores that raised its total to 93 and opened new-format Outlet Stores in Vancouver, Calgary, Brampton and London for a total of 12 stores. It also added 146 catalogue pick-up locations.
The numbers on the balance sheet were even more impressive. The Company posted revenues of just under $5,000,000,000 and record net earnings of $146,400,000. Net earnings per share were $1.38, up 25% from the previous year.
It was also the year James Clifford moved on after five years of service to Sears Canada. He returned to Chicago to become President and COO, Full-Line Stores, Sears, Roebuck.
On December 30, 1999, Sears Canada Inc. acquired all of the common shares of The T. Eaton Company Limited ("Eaton's"). The acquisition included 16 Eaton's store locations, the "Eaton's" name, and other selected assets, including trademarks and other intellectual property, the Eaton's website, and Eaton's tax losses. Effective the same date, Sears Canada Inc. and Eaton's amalgamated and continued as Sears Canada Inc. The common shares of Eaton's were delisted from The Toronto Stock Exchange.
By June, Sears website, www.sears.ca, became a full-fledged online store. Sears Brand Central appliances were added, as was the Sears Gift Registry. The 1999 Sears Christmas Wish Book was made available on-line for customer orders in October, for that year's Christmas season.
Twelve full-line department stores were renovated in 1999. Over the past three years the Company had reclaimed, expanded or retrofitted 2.5 million square feet of additional retail selling space. On June 10th the company added yet another selling channel with the opening of two Sears Floor Covering Centres, one in Hamilton and the other in Kelowna. They were the first of many that were planned to open from coast to coast. A new store was opened in Abbottsford, British Columbia and a new relocated store was opened in Granby, Quebec.
Net earnings hit another all time high, coming in at a very impressive $199,600,000. At year-end, net earnings per share were $1.88 and the share price on the last day of 1999 had risen to $40.00, an increase of more than 120% from the previous year's last day.
A new identification to represent the Eatons banner was launched in April, 2000. The apostrophe was to be dropped, and the stores to be opened later that year were to be known as Eatons, reflecting the change from a family name to a brand name. Sears introduced the new Eatons card in October, 2000. Seven urban Eatons banner stores were repositioned and relaunched on November 25, 2000. They included the flagship locations of Toronto's Eaton Centre and Vancouver's Pacific Centre. The other prime urban locations were in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Victoria, and at Toronto's Yorkdale Centre. A new Eatons catalogue appeared for the first time since 1976 and an interactive Eatons web site, www.eatons.com, was introduced. "Eatons now" became the advertising slogan. Of the remaining 12 former Eaton's locations, one became a Furniture and Appliances Store, another an Outlet Store and 10 became Sears full-line stores.
Two new state-of-the art distribution facilities were opened in 2000. One was located in Vaughan, Ontario, just north of Toronto, and the other in Calgary. Together they totaled 1.3 million square feet, enough to replace four older facilities.
With the announcement in January that Paul Walters was leaving the Company, Mark A. Cohen was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, leaving his post as Sears, Roebuck's President of Softlines and Chief Marketing Officer. Cohen soon promoted two long-service executives by appointing Brent Hollister to President, Sales, Service and Store Planning and William R. Turner to President, Merchandising, Logistics and Marketing.
The Company was the country's most extensive multi-channel retailer. Over 93 percent of Canadians were now within a 10 minute drive of a Sears location. More fashion dollars were spent at Sears than at any other Canadian retailer. As well, the Company sold more furniture and appliances than any of its competitors.
The Company's retail website, www.sears.ca, was now the most popular retail internet destination, and over a million orders were placed online in 2001. The catalogue channel now boasted 2,157 pick-up locations. An order could be delivered to almost all of them within 48 hours. Following the opening of a new store in North Bay, the Company had 125 stores operating coast to coast.
In February, the Company decided it had to consign the Eatons name to history. The seven Eatons locations across the country were converted into Sears stores, while retaining their distinctive "urban" look and feel. The Eatons catalogue was shut down, Eatons Card holders who did not own a Sears card were offered one and website customers were re-directed to www.sears.ca .
The Company's online operations, which included the Catalogue, the Call Centres and the country's most popular retail website were flourishing; www.sears.ca received over 27 million visits in 2002 and sales jumped by 27% over the year before.
In March the first phase of a new three-pronged value strategy was introduced called: "Sears More Value". Introduced part-way through the year, it was a resounding success, selling more than 3.3 million units across all retail channels and generating more than $170 million in sales.
The Sears Credit Card business remained one of the cornerstones of the Company's success. It represented Canada's biggest single credit card franchise with over 9.2 million cards in circulation. That meant that 75 percent of all Canadian households held a Sears Card. In September, the Credit Card operation added even more muscle with the piloting of a new Sears MasterCard.
In November 2002, Sears officially launched its new online travel service, SearsTravel.ca. It offered up-to-the-minute prices as well as an easy-to-use on-line booking service. By the end of the year two new full-line stores had been opened in Cambridge, Ontario, and Rosemere, Quebec and eight full-line stores had been renovated. In 1953, the Company's first year of operation, its two retail stores and some 300 Catalogue Sales Offices had generated $110,000,000 in revenues. In its 50th year, Sears produced $6,500,000,000 in revenue through the most comprehensive and wide ranging multi-channel retail network in Canada.
The Company said farewell to Bill Turner in 2002 after 36 years of distinguished service to the Company. Brent Hollister was subsequently appointed President and Chief Operating Officer.