12/01/2016

Sears: Tearing Failure from the Arms of Success

When I was a kid in small town western Kansas, back in the 1950’s, Sears and Roebuck was king of retail; mail-order retail, that is. Every home had a big Sears catalog somewhere prominent and Sears was the place to go for furniture, appliances, hand and power tools, and clothing. By the 1960’s, my hometown had an actual Sears store which stocked the most popular items and made ordering from the catalog even easier. Over the years, Sears morphed into full fledged department stores and, now, these things they call “Hometown Stores”: which are micro-stores that offer free “delivery” (to the store) of items not stocked in the store. Sears is sort of like Amazon with an inconvenient delivery system.

Still, that could work if the Sears mismanagement team had some idea what the 21st Century looks like. They don’t. Sears has been losing money, consistently every quarter, for years. Sears Holdings, the TBTF holding company that now clings to Sears and Kmart, appears to be completely clueless about modern retail, website presence, and management of a business in general. It’s almost impossible to imagine that some senior executive from Sears Holdings would not end up in Trump’s cabinet: they are that stupid. Almost as if he was created by a Hollywood screenplay writer for the part, the Sears’ CEO’s name is “Edward Lampert.” I shit you not. Right out of 1880, his advice to Sears employees who are staring unemployment in the face was, “I’m asking each of you to work faster and smarter and to sharpen your efforts throughout the year.” Of course, Eddie Lampert will be sitting in his corner office, twiddling his thumbs or dialing an Aspen real estate broker as he looks for a place to spend his unearned and undeserved $4,300,585 salary. No chance any responsibility for Sears’ failure belongs to the top guy, right?

It’s almost worth buying something from a local store to get a feel for how backwards Sears Holdings is. I guess I performed that experiment for you when I bought a super-cheap Kenmore/Maytag dishwasher from my local Hometown Store. The store was, of course, a well-run, neat and organized local business, but the on-sale item I wanted to buy had to be ordered. Supposedly, the appliance would be delivered in a week or so and “we’ll call you” when it arrives. You’d think Sears would have an automatic notification system for when products can be picked up, like almost every other big box retailer on the planet has, but you’d be wrong. I discovered my dishwasher was waiting to be picked up by calling the store and getting a clerk to check the delivery area to see if it was there. Turns out it was and had been for more than a week. This isn’t a local store problem, the store is barely manned by what looks like a high school kid and a part-time mostly-retired woman and they do a good job of greeting customers, ringing up sales, and maintaining the store. This is a front office back in Chicago mismanagement problem. The useless and lazy bums staffing those corner offices, raking down huge paychecks, and issuing stupid “work harder and faster” memos are not doing any part of the job of management.

A terrific and entertaining way to see how badly mismanagement is performing is to buy something at Sears and experience the customer feedback on-line form at www.hometownfeedback.com/. Every part of this survey is right out of the bad old days of the computer “inmates are running the asylum.” The form doesn’t fit on the screen, the questions are formatted so badly they are unreadable, the questions are clearly written by non-English-speaking authors, and the questions motivations are obviously designed to put blame on the lowest level employees and deflect any responsibility from the deadbeats at the top.

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