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New owners take over the helm of Sears

MIDDLEBURY — Shoppers at the Sears Hometown Store in Middlebury are noticing some new products, a new store layout, some new ways to search for items, and new store owners.
Tom and Robin Coulter became owners of the store this past February, and they will showcase their changes to the store at 383 Exchange St. during a grand reopening celebration that will span this Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s a big opportunity,” Robin Coulter said on Monday of the couple’s acquisition of the Middlebury store. “It has huge potential.”
That potential is in part a product of the Middlebury Sears location, she explained. Coulter called it the only major appliance store between Rutland and Burlington. The Sears Hometown and Hardware stores are designed to provide customers with in-store and online access to a wide selection of national brands of home appliances, lawn and garden equipment, tools, sporting goods and household goods, depending on the particular store.
It was on Nov. 18, 2008, that Mike and Kym Harrington opened the Middlebury store, which allowed Addison County consumers to shop for name-brand appliances — including washers, dryers, stoves and refrigerators — closer to home. The Coulters plan to reinforce that geographic advantage to area shoppers through this weekend’s grand opening, and some aggressive advertising.
The Coulters are no strangers to Sears. They have owned and operated the Sears Hometown Store in Barre on the Barre-Montpelier Road for the past three years. So when Sears offered them the option of taking over the Middlebury store, they jumped at the opportunity. They have reassigned their Barre store Manager Leon LaRose to head up their Middlebury location. Robin and Tom Coulter will each spend at least two days per week in Middlebury. It’s a spot that will feature a new product assortment, redesigned merchandising, new fixtures and signage and comprehensive employee training, among other changes.
“Our community will find that the often overwhelming experience of shopping for new appliances, is now more approachable and has been greatly improved through our new retail strategy,” Tom Coulter said through a press release announcing what is being called a “refresh” of the Middlebury Sears. “Our dedicated sales team has been specially trained to help guide our customers to the leading brand names and high-performing appliances on the market and always at the low prices they’ve come to expect.”
The new store design calls for appliances to occupy more than half of the sales floor and include more brands with an improved presentation. The store will carry brands like Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Samsung and Kenmore. Three kitchen displays — or “vignettes,” as they are being called — demonstrate how groupings of appliances might look in the customer’s home. The laundry section of the store showcases multiple brands and innovations that allow customers to more easily see differences between the various product lines.
Also part of the new store set-up is a touch-screen kiosk where customers can browse through product options, or make purchases. The store’s sales associates will use computer tablets to review product features with customers while they are browsing around the sales floor.
And as has always been the case, if a customer can’t fund what he or she wants on the floor of the Middlebury Sears, sales reps will be able to order it for them, according to Robin Coulter.
While they have only been running the Middlebury store for a couple of months, the Coulters are pleased with how they have been received.
“People have been very warm and welcoming,” Coulter said.
She added she and her husband will focus very diligently on customer service. In doing so, the Coulters hope to retain regular customers and attract new ones.
“If you provide good customer service, they’ll come back,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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