The End Must be Near For Sears

Once upon a time Sears billed itself as “Where America shops.”

It turns out, though, that Sears was only “Where America shopped when there was nowhere else to shop.” Now that there are plenty of other places to shop, Sears can’t compete. Why not? Because it’s hard to compete when your stores are shithouses, your prices are high, your service is bad, and your selection is lousy.

Sears has been in a downward spiral for years: closing stores, closing cash registers within stores (who needs registers when people aren’t buying?), discontinuing its big catalogue (after you could look up prices of comparable products on the internet, all the catalogue did was show customers, in black and white, what a rip-off Sears was), and becoming partners with the only retail chain in the country that may – may – be as pathetic: Kmart.

Sears's success over the years was proof that P.T. Barnum was right:  there's a sucker born every minute.

Sears’s success over the years was proof that P.T. Barnum was right: there’s a sucker born every minute.

There are often tell-tale signs of retailers trying desperately to hang on. Certainly closing stores and laying off staff are such signs, which Sears has been doing for years. With a lot of retailers the tell-tale sign is when they go into the appliance business – and yes, we’re looking at you, J.C. Penney, from your spot on the endangered retailers list alongside Sears and Kmart – but that doesn’t apply to Sears because Sears has always been in the notoriously low-margin appliance business. Before there was competition it wasn’t so low margin because Sears’s appliance prices were so ridiculously high.

Another sign is selling off assets, and Sears has been doing that for a while now, closing stores as it realizes that the real estate it owns and the leases it has are more valuable than anything it can do inside those buildings.

And last week came another pretty big sign: Sears announced that it’s selling its signature “Craftsman” line of tools to Black & Decker for less than a billion dollars.

Sears hasn’t had much going for it for decades now, but Craftsman was one of those things. After easy access to information made possible by the internet revealed to customers that Kenmore appliances were nothing more than appliances made by other appliance companies and then marked up grotesquely to give Sears the extra profit to which it always felt entitled, Craftsman was all that was really left that separated Sears from everyone else. Oh, it tried other things – The Curmudgeon recalls once needing a washing machine repair, and not knowing whom to call, he tried to schedule an appointment with Sears, a name he knew, but Sears said it would get someone to his house in two to three weeks (the guy The Curmudgeon eventually found came the next day and apologized for taking so long) – but none of it stuck. But people know Craftsman: Craftsman tools were good and guaranteed forever, and if you inherited a simple Phillips head screwdriver from your grandfather and it wore out after years and years of use – yes, for the uninitiated, Phillips head screwdrivers can wear out –­ you knew you could take it to any Sears store and get a free replacement, no questions asked.

And now Sears is selling Craftsman, perhaps the last aspect of its legacy that meant anything to customers.

You have to think they’re getting ready to close their doors forever sometime in the not-too-distant future.



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