Major moves at Big Lots

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After opening 80 stores last year and with plans for another 90 units this year, Big Lot’s made several merchandising moves to facilitate its planned growth.

The nation’s leading closeout retailer announced it has hired former Sears merchandising executive Doug Wurl to serve as its EVP merchandising. He assumes responsibilities previously held by John Martin who was named EVP administration with responsibility for store operations and human resources.

“Doug [Wurl] is a proven merchant with broad based experience and knowledge from his past positions with regional and national department stores and discount store retailers.  I am pleased to welcome him as a member of our senior management team,” said Steve Fishman, chairman, CEO and president of Big Lots.

Reporting to Wurl will be Bob Segal and Steven Smart, who hold the titles of SVP/GMM. Also reporting to Wurl will be Norm Rankin, SVP Big Lots Capital and Wholesale and Charles Ellis, VP global sourcing.

Wurl previously served as vp/gmm and business unit president at Sears Holdings with responsibility for the retailer’s home division. Prior to Sears, he was a SVP/GMM at Shopko and also held leadership roles as Macy's and May Co.

In addition to Wurl’s appointment, the reassignment of John Martin to the role of EVP administration is seen as a growth enabler since he will have new responsibility for store operations and human resources after leading Big Lots merchandising and global sourcing efforts for the past eight years.

"John [Martin] brings seasoned leadership to two critical areas of our business. As we continue to focus on new store growth, developing our store operations talent and strengthening our bench will be key to driving our future success,” Fishman said. “We wanted a leader who could combine the synergies of human resources and store operations and allow us to focus on attracting, developing and retaining top talent."

Reporting to Martin will be Chris Chapin, SVP store operations, Jo Roney, VP human resources services and Mike Schlonsky, VP associate relations and benefits.

The personnel moves follow the recent release of record financial results and the anticipation of continued growth in 2011. Big Lots opened 80 new stores last year, including 27 in the fourth quarter, which, coupled with a 2.5% same-store sales gain, helped the company grow total sales by 4.8% to nearly $5 billion. Those sales translated to profits of $222.5 million or $2.83 a share compared to $200.4 million or $2.42 a share the prior year.

“We grew sales productivity and gross margin dollars while recording the lowest expense rate in the company's history,” Fishman said. “We successfully opened 80 new stores where the sales performance exceeded our expectations.  And, the financial model got stronger in 2010 as we generated a significant amount of cash to reinvest in our business and return to our shareholders through our repurchase efforts.”

Big Lots ended last year with 1,398 stores in 48 states and plans to open 90 new units this year while closing 45 others.