Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Is The End Drawing Near for Sears?

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Edward Lampert, whose hedge fund ESL Investments Inc. controls over 50% of Sears' shares, will be taking over as the CEO of the company.   Lampert merged Sears and K-Mart several years ago, and he has been Chairman of the company since that time.  He succeeds a former IBM executive who ran the company for the past two years.  Before that, Sears had an interim CEO for three years.   Hmmm... That's a pretty long period of instability at the top, and now we will be continuing with a person at the helm who lacks retail industry experience.   Can Lampert turn this ship around, or is it too late?

Same-store sales have decreased for six straight years.  Sear lost $441 million through the end of the third quarter, and it expects to lose roughly $300 million in this quarter. Concerns have been raised about liquidity at Sears.  The firm is clearly in rough shape.

What should they do now?   I think Sears really has to think long and hard about what assets it has that are truly valuable and distinctive.  It's future must rest on building around those assets.   What is valuable and distinctive?  Craftsman and Kenmore appear to fit the bill.  Perhaps Lands End does as well.  After that, it's not clear that the firm has a future.  So, if I were thinking about the future strategy, I would be thinking about those three brands, rather than trying to preserve the entire traditional department store business.  Maybe the future is in small stores and/or an online retail presence that just sell Craftsman, Kenmore, and related brands, with Lands End sold off to another clothing catalog retailer.  For certain, the future does not seem to bright for the traditional brick-and-mortar business that they have been trying to preserve for years, amidst a clear and tragic decline. 

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