Sears Finds Need for Part-Timers

NEW CATALOG CENTER

SEARS ROEBUCK is looking for a few good men and women. Part-time. ``We don't want full-time people,'' for the new Telecatalog Center that opened here Aug. 22, said C.W. Rule, director of public affairs for the Sears merchandise group. ``We're looking for five-hour [a day] employees.''

Thus, the nation's biggest retailer wants a work force of about 1,200 in ``an area that has an abundance of the kind of work force we're looking for'' - students, housewives, and retirees. And this is the area to find them.

Tucson is home to the University of Arizona, with a student population of 34,725. The state's warm winter weather has attracted retirees from other parts of the country for decades. Currently, nearly 13 percent of the Tucson area population is 65 or older. In five southern Arizona counties, 137,943 people are Social Security beneficiaries.

Nearly 14 percent of the area's population consists of ``homemakers.'' Tucson will be the 10th city with a telecatalog center. Sears has established centers in such locations as Greensboro, N.C.; Roanoke, Va.; Mobile, Ala.; Louisville; Johnson City, Tenn.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Witchita, Kan.; and Provo, Utah. Most of them are southern; most have low wage scales.

However, Rule insists that low wage costs are not the reason for hiring part-time workers. He says it's the nature of the work. ``Sitting before a screen all day long is a terrible task. You're watching a CRT screen and answering a telephone and it's just not conducive to full-time work.''

The Sears center, which Rule believes will eventually employ 1,700, perpetuates a trend in Arizona. According to Arizona State University's Center for Business Research, ``the greatest employment growth during the 1980s primarily has occurred in relatively low-paying service and support sectors.'' In the period 1980-87, employment in ``business services'' increased 122 percent. ``Most are low paying.''

The telecatalog centers are a new development for Sears. In past years, it has had telephone units in stores accepting catalog orders.

Now a single centrally organized order system can search through inventory in any of seven distribution centers throughout the country. An order clerk can advise a customer whether or not a requested item is available and how soon to expect its shipment. If one distribution center has run out, the clerk can reserve the item from another.

According to Rule, the key to the system is service. ``We're not necessarily trying to achieve lower cost. There are certainly plenty of costs'' associated with the telecatalog centers. ``Whenever you talk about a payroll-intensive business, you've got cost factors. Also transportation of the ordered merchandise is a rather large factor. And the telephone cost is also a factor.''

Catalog sales represent 22 percent of Sears' total business. ``We're looking to get better customer service,'' said Rule. ``We are not looking to save money in this particular program. Of course, better customer service means more business.''

To avail themselves of the telecatalog service, customers usually consult printed catalogs. To get a catalog, they must place catalog orders or make a catalog purchase in a retail Sears store. They can buy a catalog at a store. A ``hard-line'' catalog is published once a year; ``soft-line'' catalogs are mailed out six times a year.

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