For women shoppers who find home decorating and remodeling a frustrating process that involves endless trips to myriad home furnishings stores, Chicago-based Sears, Roebuck and Co. has found a way to ease their troubles. The company's newest concept, The Great Indoors, targets females in both product and design.

"It's a store that's absolutely built for the woman customer," says Susan Smith, vice president of operations for The Great Indoors, a division of Sears. Whether the shopper is planning to revamp her entire kitchen or simply change the colors in her bedroom, the store caters to all types of projects, both big and small.

"It's a store built for ideas and solutions," she says. The company's first location opened in February 1998 in Denver, and another one is scheduled to open this fall in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Great Indoors is designed around the four main rooms in the home: kitchen, bath, bedroom and great room. It offers integrated merchandise assortments for the interior of the home, from stylish bath fixtures, fashionable bedding, decorative accessories and flooring to surround-sound home theater systems and appliances. The store, which averages 140,000 sq. ft. to 158,000 sq. ft., stocks more than 50,000 different products, including 650 appliances, 1,500 lamps, 700 rugs and 500 faucets.

It has a showroom-type environment that features 75 lifestyle vignettes, with each room offering solutions to help inspire the shopper. "It feels like a house ... it's much more residential" Smith says, which is exactly what the customer asked for. In the planning stages of the concept, Sears conducted numerous focus groups with female shoppers to determine their ideal shopping experience.

"The customer built this store," she says, adding that one-stop shopping, ever-changing decor, and frequent seminars and events (i.e., faux painting and how to throw a party) were three of the ideas generated from the groups.

"We do a lot of theater in the store," Smith says. The Great Indoors also offers a resource library, custom-cut countertops, installation services, custom frame shop, floral department, Vie de France cafe and gift registry.

Geared for do-it-yourself and install-it-for-me customers, the store features more than 250 knowledgeable associates and design consultants. The company offers extensive training and product knowledge courses, Smith says, and is recruiting specialists, such as plumbers, in many of the areas.

The Great Indoors targets a 25- to 54-year-old female in the middle- to upper-income bracket or higher. But Smith is quick to point out that the store offers a wide assortment of competitive prices. For example, she says, a customer can go all out remodeling her master bathroom, yet do the powder room on a really tight budget.

Site selection hinges on residential areas, preferably with a mix of old and new construction, Smith says. The company generally builds its own store but is not opposed to retrofitting an empty building.

A more important requirement is for the store to match the market it enters, Smith says, adding that 30% of the merchandise should relate to the area. The new Scottsdale store, for example, will feature a patio and garden area and a children's bedroom department, as well as an expanded emphasis on bedding and home decor, ensemble/collection cookware for ethnic foods, and furniture geared for home entertainment and theater.

"One of our goals is to make it relevant to each market," she says. "As we grow bigger, we have to keep this vision, that we want the store unique to the market and unique to what the customer wants."

With that in mind, the company plans to open two more locations, for a total of four, by second quarter 2000. By then, Smith says, it will be able to determine how fast to grow. "This could be a 250-store chain."

Retail outlet: The Great Indoors

Headquarters: Sears, Roebuck and Co., 3333 Beverly Road, BC 091A, Hoffman Estates, IL 60179; (847) 286-2500

Real estate contact: Richard Shoemaker, real estate director, (847) 286-3054

Number of units: 1

Average size: 140,000 sq. ft. to 158,000 sq. ft.

Niche: one-stop home decor and remodeling store

Expansion plans: four units by second quarter 2000, with future goal of more than 200 stores