As a sign of the times, venerable Sears Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday and plans to close 142 more stores come November. Last year the company shuttered 379 full-line stores. The company has not made a profit since 2011.
Who could forget Sears, launched in 1886 and granddaddy of retail consumption. One old grandma told me she built her home from a prefabricated DIY Sears kit in the early 1920s. Others fondly mention its mail-order catalogues with merchandise from toys, medicine and gramophones, to automobiles and tombstones. Sears boasted the world’s tallest building in 1973. It’s products were across the US for decades. News website CNBC called Sears “the Amazon of the 1930s”, while Gordon Weil, author of “Sears, Roebuck, USA,” tagged Sears “The biggest and the richest retail business in the U.S.A.”.
E-commerce took over.
Giants like Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target had the temerity and tenacity to jump the bridge and launch commerce over the web. Sears retained its old model and fumbled as it closed 3,000 of its 4,000 stores, and as its performance was harnessed by CEO Eddie Lampert — who, critics say, let the stores deteriorate as he tried to turn them around.
Since 2014, Sears shed its most valuable assets to avoid liquidation, but last month lost $508 million, or $4.68 per share, from $250 million, or $2.33 per share, a year earlier.
Today, Sears is in the red at $11.3 billion, with little money to reinvest in its company and zilch resources to battle competitors like Amazon.
The company’s closure could leave its 90,000 employees without jobs, and strip its shareholders off their investments.
Also a sign of the times is that the stores replacing Sears are mainly gyms, off-price retailers, and grocery stores, according to a recent report by the commercial real-estate company JLL.
Businesses, no less people, have to keep up with the times, otherwise they lag behind.
Problem is: The times, they go a-marching.
Offline retailers, like Sears and Toys R Us, succeeded in an earlier pre-internet age. It’s the savvy, flexible and lucky that survive.