Lampert: Sears to be ‘unrecognizable’ in 5 years

Posted May 4, 2010 at 12:55 p.m.

By Sandra M. Jones | Sears Holdings Corp. is looking more seriously at selling its proprietary brands outside of Sears and is pouring money into beefing up its online business in an effort to become relevant to a new generation of shoppers.
Sears and Kmart stores aren’t going away, but they could be a hybrid of what they are today, said Edward Lampert, Sears’ chairman and majority shareholder at the company’s annual meeting Tuesday.

“Five years from now I believe this company, to some people, will be unrecognizable to what it was 30 years ago,” said Lampert, addressing a crowd at the retailer’s Hoffman Estates headquarters.

Shopping behavior is changing, and the Internet will be a key component of whatever shape Sears takes, he said.

Lampert, who rarely speaks to investors outside of the company’s annual meetings, spent 30 minutes standing behind an Apple computer walking shareholders through Sears’ Web sites in detail.

The billionaire investor created “Eddie’s grocery list” of milk, Kleenex and allergy pills, bought the goods online at Kmart’s MyGofer in-store pickup service and showed the audience how it all could be done from their seats with an iPhone if they get bored listening to him.

Sears has expanded its Web site dramatically in the past year, he said, offering an abundance of items from vendors not available in its stores, akin to an Amazon-style marketplace. To make his point, Lampert searched for sunglasses and pulled up 67,000 choices.

“We don’t want to wake up some day and find we missed the big trick,” he said.

Sears also is moving forward with a plan to sell its exclusive brands outside of its stores. The company needs to reach customers who don’t come into a Sears store, especially young people who shop differently than their parents, he said.

“I don’t believe it has been an optimal strategy historically” to sell Craftsman and Kenmore appliances only at Sears stores, Lampert said during the two-hour question-and-answer period that followed his presentation.

“When I think of the great brands of the world, Apple and Nike both operate stores and sell to third parties,” Lampert said. “Their focus is, how do we expand our customer base. I believe that the Craftsman and Kenmore customer is much broader then the Sears customer.”

Earlier this year Sears agreed to sell some Craftsman tools through 100 Ace stores and began offering its DieHard brand as a franchise to shuttered auto dealers. Sears also opened a temporary popup shop in Chicago to promote and sell its Kenmore products.

Critics contend that selling the brands outside of Sears will hurt already-depressed sales by keeping shoppers out of the retailer’s stores.

The Craftsman deal with Ace will expand to almost all Ace stores for Father’s Day in June. After that, “the goal is to determine the value-add, the effect on Sears stores and the effect on the Craftsman brand and make a determination at that point,” said W. Bruce Johnson, Sears interim CEO and president.

Sears is undertaking a renewed effort to prop up its apparel business, a daunting task that has been attempted repeatedly in the past two decades.

At a press conference after the annual meeting, Sears said it expects to lay off an unspecified number of buyers at its Hoffman Estates headquarters as it shifts the heart of its apparel operation to San Francisco in search of new talent.

In February, Sears opened an apparel office under newly hired apparel and home chief John Goodman, who made opening the office a condition of his hire. Sears expects to staff the office with about 200 buyers and merchandisers as it trims the Hoffman Estates staff, Johnson said.

Johnson declined to specify the timing or scope of the layoffs, and said some workers are being offered jobs in San Francisco or at other parts of Sears.



  1. Jack May 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    I thought Sears is called Willis now. Willis Tower…Willis and Roebuck. Didn’t Bruce Willis buy Sears?

  2. Innocent III May 4, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    “Let’s move everything to the Web” is what all failing retailers do– presumably in a desparate effort to reduce costs.
    But, the Web is a harsh master as everything on the Web is a commodity, with competitive products just a click away. To compete in e-commerce, Sears would have to drastically reduce its already outsided expenses. And how does Lampert expect Sears will do that?
    In short, the announcement seems dramatic, yet doesn’t really say anything that we don’t know already– which is, that most of Sears Holdings stores are (still) not performing well.

  3. James May 4, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    People shop at Sears still?

  4. WolfDaddy May 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Eddie must have his head up his… It won’t take 5 years to accomplish his goal. Sears already is “unrecognizable to what it was 30 years ago.” Maybe that’s part of the company’s problem? It’s the big reason most people I know don’t show there anymore.

  5. Dave May 4, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    I agree Wolf, Sears is already unrecognizable from what it once was. Sears continues to wrestle with positioning itself to be relevant to today’s consumer. We see nothing but a series of independent initiatives but no long term strategy. It’s been this way for many years now. The thought of firing hundreds of apparel employees to move to the west coast to appease John Goodman is ridiculous. Notice there were no specifics given at the company’s annual meeting … because they have none. The executive suite continues to be a revolving door. It’s abandon ship … going …. going … gone!

  6. Montemalone May 4, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    How many times does Lester expect people to come to the stores only to find empty shelves? I gave up after going a couple times and never finding what I wanted.

  7. Jeff May 4, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Completely agree with everyone else, Sears is unrecognizable from its storied past. The remaining Sears stores are practically indistinguishable from their trashy Kmart cousins. The web is the great equalizer when it comes to shopping. The lowest prices and the most unique merchandise wins. Sears has neither. This Sears swansong is taking an eternity to end. Just put it out of its misery already. Sell the tool brand to Home Depot or Loews and fade into the sunset a la Montgomery Wards. I honestly don’t know how the other former great catalog driven retailers, J C Penney survives, either. I assume the J C stands for just crap.

  8. Jorge Jeston May 4, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I wonder if they’ll be selling their goods in India? It seems that their advertising is being done over there by a US company called Schawk which just fired a number of Americans and moved the work to India. Will the Indians buy from Sears? Americans won’t have any money to spend at Sears if it keeps outsourcing to companies such as Schawk who lay off American workers and send our dollars to India.

  9. Wayne stuck in AL May 4, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Sears is dead; Lampert is trying to perfume up a dying corpse.

  10. Reverend Dewey Cox May 4, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    “To make his point, Lampert searched for sunglasses and pulled up 67,000 choices.”
    This is the problem with online shopping. Who wants to sift through 67,000 items to decide what they want?

  11. John in Glenview May 4, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    If Sears is going to do better, they better figure out why the top two selling items under a “sunglasses” search are two garden tables?

  12. Lindell May 21, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Wow, such negativity! All i know is that the and personal shopper are a big hit here in the south. And you would be supprised at the deep customer loyalty Kmart has built over the years. I for one am glad to see Sears & Kmart still working hard to compete with the Mega Wally world machine. But like everything else, time will tell…