Sears, we hardly knew ye.
Sears Corporation announced to it’s shareholders that the company, along with acquired company Kmart, will probably go under this year. Sears has posted losses of $10.4 billion since 2010, and the trend has continued downward. While out socializing, I had mentioned this to my buddy sitting next to me, who looked up from his smartphone, and muttered, “Damn internet, it’s ruined a lot of retail businesses.” After that comment, he promptly went back to his smartphone (irony, kids, irony). Yes, that ‘damn internet’ – the bane of many, the darling bridesmaid of the modern shopping masses, though. Many businesses HAVE navigated the waters of implementing our digital sales world to great success – some even retain a brick-and-mortar presence. It’s oh-so-tricky if you don’t have the right mix, and be relevant, hip, have product everybody wants, and GREAT customer service, then poof – like the Amazing Kreskin type poof, where you lose a miner’s heart of gold, and a bunch of jobs. But before we get into the logistics of that, let’s reminisce a bit about “America’s Retail Store.”
It used to be a thrill for me, as a wee lad, to jump in my dad’s pickup, drive from north of Des Moines over to the great suburb of Urbandale, Iowa, and go to the once wonderful lynchpin of area shopping malls, Merle Hay Mall. I really dug the futuristic/retro design of that place, a ton of stores, casual atmosphere, and of course, Sears was located there. You needed bed linens, parts for your Craftsman mower, sporting goods? Look no further than your friendly, neighborhood Sears store. It was classic one-stop shopping at Sears, buddy boy. To go back even more, the infamous Sears catalog saved many a farmer’s family from that time-consuming drive into town by providing shopping by mail. For me, some items from that catalog have become collectibles, such as the Silvertone line of guitars and amps. These puppies, if still in good shape, can command a pretty shiny nickel these days on eBay and reverb.com. Who’da thunk it? Sales were so good for Sears for so many years that they could even kick it with the celebrity endorsers (Jaclyn Smith of “Charlie’s Angel’s“ fame, anyone?). If you had Sears stock, that was good money in the bank for a long time, due to the sheer market dominance.
Then, alas, the Damn Internet came to pass, and with hellhound fury, swiped a path of non-biased destruction across the open plains of retail sales. Internet companies took their many swords, and usurped many titans of industry. Like the Empire walkers from “Star Wars,” Sears fell down to their knees eventually. Reports of mismanagement, myopic visions, and ignorance about the oncoming eve o’ dee-struction ran rampant, wounding this once beloved hallmark of shopping giants. Sad for boomers such as myself, but even though I’m a little verklempt about the whole ordeal, it’s woulda, coulda, shoulda at this point. It’s been a brave, new world out there for quite some time, and many retailers have learned how to right the shop, and move forward. Instead of bemoaning the fact of what technology was doing to them for lost sales, visionary businesses adapt, or die.
It’s dang hard to see some staples of your childhood ride off into the sunset. But you can get cranky all you want about change, and the damn internet, because, newsflash – it’s here to stay, if you haven’t figured it out yet. Change in life, especially from my experience even running home based businesses, can either be a cruel mistress, or your best, big buddy, if you can figure out how to use it right. For Sears as our example, look at the signs that kept creeping in, the biggest being the question customers asked: if I can buy the same thing on-line cheaper, why schlep it on out to Sears? Or why go to the Sears website when I can buy it at Amazon? The same thing? Cheaper? With the same guarantee? Plus, there’s that slayer of most dragons lurking in small towns, Walmart. Add to this bubbly gumbo the ingredient called “corporate complacency,” such as the mindset, “Hey, those folks will always be there to buy from us, because we’re Sears, baby!” But noooooooooooo... (your best John Belushi imitation here, boomer kids). Hindsight is 20/20, but sometimes it’s 20/70, so time for corrective lenses.
It’s soon to be water under the bridge, from the sounds of it. So, let us not come to bury Sears, but to remember the good times, and remind ourselves that sometimes, even the best laid plans can go asunder, or just plain go. Unforeseen things can bring down a business, but methinks in this case, if the right people had the right vision 20 years ago, you might be seeing a new, leaner, meaner Sears today. But what do I know, I just write crap, ya know? Reinvention is tough, but it’s tougher to save a burning building, you know. This is just another scorcher of a reminder that the “Damn Internet,” if not treated with respect and a well-laid plan of attack, will hold no prisoners.