Dave Henderson

The decline of Sears

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On ‎6‎/‎5‎/‎2018 at 1:54 PM, Akstraw said:

 

.........My Dad bought my first Craftsman tool set for me at the very same Sears store in Hazleton, PA.  I got it for Christmas in 1971......... I still have those tools, as well as the metal toolbox.  Most are still in service. .............Just goes to show how much Sears is a part of the American experience.   Sad to see their decline.

 

It is sad to see after how much they affected most car guy hobbyists.  I am 50 and starting in my teens would slowly build my tool collection with Craftsman tools, most of which I still use.  Virtually all boys my age who needed tools had the same experience.  Then during a time I intended to work on cars professionally I much admired the fancier Snap On, Mac and Matco tools but bought Craftsman wrenches and sockets for 1/4 the price knowing they were guaranteed and I had a Sears store within a 30 minute drive virtually anywhere I would be going.

 

By the late 1990s I had a Lowes and Menards nearby and a new Sears moved in too.  I preferred Sears tools generally but the others were convenient, well stocked, and had quick and cheerful returns and exchanges.  I bought kitchen appliances in 2005 and got them from Lowes.  I bought a Kenmore washer in 2005 and it failed and was junked in 5 years.  I needed a push mower in 2012 and wanted a Sears model but found a better deal and better experience at Menards--the Sears felt slow, stodgy and difficult to deal with.  After more obvious shrinking and cutbacks they closed by 2015 as the two big boxes were the top retail businesses in town.  It is a sad end to what really was the Amazon of 100 years ago and a fixture for generations, Todd C           

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I don't have any craftsman tools as I have refused to buy from Sears.   I've been collecting Snap On tools for 20 years.  I guess I'm a little bit of a poser as most of them only get used once or twice a year.

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I was working at Eastman Kodak in the early 1980's when it started swirling down the toilet. I live in Rochester, New York, Kodak's home, as well as the home of Bausch & Lomb and Xerox. I looked into their histories to see how once successful companies could blunder into such predicaments. One common situation arose.

Within 20 to 30 years after the death of the founder the companies lost their identity to misdirected leadership that generally saw the stockholder as their prime customer.

The 20 to 30 year time period coincided with the attrition of the employees who worked with the founder and shared the vision. At the end of that time CFO's began to build internal profit silo's that tend to give up corporate survival for their own black ink.

George Eastman gave cameras to people so they would buy his film. He died in 1940. In 1960 construction started on the new apparatus division, where profit drove each department, and tore down the old camera works.

Look into other companies and find similar stories. Some live longer or die slower, but typically, the turning point is in the time frame I mentioned.

 

Back in the "In Search of Excellence" days there were lots of stories about companies on the brink of disaster that were brought back by inspirational effort. I don't remember one story of a mediocre company plodding along and suddenly reversing. They either continue to plod or wonder why they died.

 

In my case, I found quality tools at NAPA in the late 1980's and got online in 1998. Sears never gave me a reason to drive the 25 minutes to get there. When I did go everything was on sale every time. I'd stock up on a few screwdrivers or some combination wrenches if I walked through on the way to the mall. If I walked through and something I wanted was not on sale I figured it would be next time. I could wait.

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"Within 20 to 30 years after the death of the founder..."

 

Very interesting point Bernie. One can make almost the same parallel with most of the dynastic families of the last century as well.

Be it oil, lumber, railroads, gunpowder, media, politics, etc. You can fill in the blanks with any of half a dozen names.

Once financial giants with vast fortunes that it seemed could never be depleted, seem to shudder and cracks appear in the foundation by the time the third generation takes over.

Agreed, the originator's vision is simply lost.

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3 hours ago, poci1957 said:

By the late 1990s I had a Lowes and Menards nearby and a new Sears moved in too.  I preferred Sears tools generally but the others were convenient, well stocked, and had quick and cheerful returns and exchanges.  I bought kitchen appliances in 2005 and got them from Lowes.  I bought a Kenmore washer in 2005 and it failed and was junked in 5 years.  I needed a push mower in 2012 and wanted a Sears model but found a better deal and better experience at Menards--the Sears felt slow, stodgy and difficult to deal with.  After more obvious shrinking and cutbacks they closed by 2015 as the two big boxes were the top retail businesses in town.  It is a sad end to what really was the Amazon of 100 years ago and a fixture for generations, Todd C           

 

Obviously that raises the chicken vs the egg question. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? And here, did you quit going to Sears because they declined, or did they decline because you started spending your tool and appliance money at Lowes instead of Sears. Profit margins declined due to competition from Lowes, Home Depot and Harbor Freight. And loyal Sears customers thought it fine to spend a large chunk of their money elsewhere. Sears tries to stay in business by having only minimum wage part-time employees. Should anyone be surprised customer service declined?

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4 minutes ago, mike6024 said:

loyal Sears customers

 

Last year I bought my second John Deere mower since 2001. I walked into the Deere dealer and there it sat with what I wanted and a price tag. I stopped at Sears, but couldn't figure out the total price.

 

It was like standing in line at Burger King deciding if I wanted a number 1 with an extra cup or a number two with extra napkins.

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25 minutes ago, mike6024 said:

Obviously that raises the chicken vs the egg question......did you quit going to Sears because they declined, or did they decline because you started spending your tool and appliance money at Lowes instead of Sears. Profit margins declined due to competition from Lowes, Home Depot and Harbor Freight. And loyal Sears customers thought it fine to spend a large chunk of their money elsewhere. Sears tries to stay in business by having only minimum wage part-time employees. Should anyone be surprised customer service declined?

 

All good points and true.....we lament the loss of old retailers but when was the last time we supported them?  Why did I and others drift away?  One reason was as I hit my 40s I naturally needed to buy less stuff.  But I guess as a Sears customer in the 1980s and 1990s I must have felt like I got my perceived quality and value and later I perceived that I got a better quality/value equation elsewhere.  And remember, I live in Illinois and know Sears is an Illinois company--I PREFERRED to support them.      

 

Regarding employees I would contend that the local stores all pull from the same pool and in fact Sears may have had slightly higher paid legacy employees.  But I think they seemed demotivated, probably from company policies during the shrinking of the chain since you can't shrink your way to prosperity and keep everyone's chin up, and customers notice the gloomy vibe.  It is a shame, Todd C       

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9 hours ago, poci1957 said:

 

It is sad to see after how much they affected most car guy hobbyists.  I am 50 and starting in my teens would slowly build my tool collection with Craftsman tools, most of which I still use.  Virtually all boys my age who needed tools had the same experience.  Then during a time I intended to work on cars professionally I much admired the fancier Snap On, Mac and Matco tools but bought Craftsman wrenches and sockets for 1/4 the price knowing they were guaranteed and I had a Sears store within a 30 minute drive virtually anywhere I would be going.

 

Todd C           

 

I started in the auto repair trade right after high school. I had some basic hand tools and needed a box. My first new purchase was a Sears roller and top box, one of the biggest they offered at the time. Paid cash. It was gray & red, the mid 70s colors. Bought it the store on Lake Street in Mpls, a 12 story building. I remember it being brought up on a freight elevator from below the first floor level. Couldn’t have been happier. I planned on filling it with Craftsman tools. I applied several times for a Sears credit card so I could buy sets, not just a few tools at time. Always denied. Where I was working, the tool truck guys were in every week. And gave us credit. Still have all those tools today, mostly Snap On & Mac. Sears started sending me applications for credit after I bought my first house, but never saw a need for them by then.

 

Mark

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We bought nearly every major from Sears.

Either Kenmore or Whirlpool and got stellar service from all of them.

Having no appliance now that is more than 7 years old I expect we'll be buying more down the road.

I'll buy them from Sears IF Sears still exists....... :unsure:

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A few thoughts on Sears...

Being in the real estate field and having grown up in NH in a pre 1800’s colonial, from which I acquired a love of older homes, I have a love of the California Kit Homes as well, (as they are often called in Oregon). Most of them were built in the 1915-1930ish time frame, from what I gather, especially the 1920’s. I have toured many at open houses. They typically feature lots of beautiful built-in wood bookcases, trim and floors. They often have arched doorways, stained glass windows and many, beautiful architectural touches. They are my favorite style of home here in the NW. 

 

I grew up shopping for Father’s Day, dad’s birthday and Christmas presents in Sears’ tool department. I don’t ever remember dad having to exchange any tools. @JACK M has helped me sell many of my father’s, almost exclusively Craftsman, tool collection. I still have a couple tool boxes of his hand tools. They are the old school “Made in the U.S.A.” Tools. I can’t bear to sell them, even though I no longer have a garage to store them in Oregon. (I moved to a condo for my new job). Craftsman tools are quintessentially representative of my father’s garage and hobby. It is so sad to me, that this brand, and Sears, has become obsolete. Things change and life goes on. I must be getting old. 😉

Edited by victorialynn2 (see edit history)

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I was working for a company that renovated a Sears store at Square One in Toronto around 2003 . They had hired some hot shot who was changing everything and he ended up been let go . Sears used to keep clothes in a draw under the clothes on display . So if you needed a different size or colour the clerk would just reach down and get what you wanted . He eliminated the drawers so when you wanted something different the stock boy would have to bring it up from storage by that time the customer was gone . I was told the appliance salesman was on a salary / commission per sale and it was changed to salary . He did not care at all if he sold anything anymore he just sat there . They reduced the glory of the Tool department to a small area losing most of the big wood tables the tools sat on and the signage .

 

They said the perfume and make up department accounted for most of the store revenue .

 

Sears bought out was left of the Eaton brand stores and lost a fortune they ended up closing the Eaton's stores .https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/sears-abandons-eatons-brand/article18286708/

 

Just for interest sake the store was built around 1972 ? and the original escalator was sold to a South American department store . I guess they did not have all the safety requirements we have now ?

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Since the beginning of history technology waves have wiped out companies created by the previous wave.   The only large companies I can think of recently that have survived the next wave are Microsoft,  Apple and IBM.    Every other company,  Digital, Data General, Wang, Polaroid, Kodak, etc, etc have been wiped out.,

 

What is different is that 200 years ago the waves came much further apart.  Think of Railroads in the 19 century replaced by cars and trucks in the 20 century, etc.   Back then employees didn't last two waves because they were so far apart.   These days the waves are coming 10-15 years apart.    I'm not going to say that leadership isn't a lot to do with it,  but don't underestimate the inertia of an employee base raised on one tech wave and not adapting to the next.

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The local Sears store here has been an anchor store in a Mall built in the mid 1960s. They have been there as long as I can remember. I purchased many, many tools from them over they years after I purchased my first car and the vehicles after that.  I also purchased many other items after I purchased my house. I only remember a very few of those tools that I had to have replaced under warranty. Every time Sears publishes a list of store closing I check to see if we lost our local store. So far, so good.

 

Interesting to note that I used those tools a number of times in the last week alone. Last Friday at the AGNM I used them to do some unplanned maintenance on my car trailer. (I always carry a set of tools for meets & car events.) A few other times this past week I used them for maintenance on other vehicles I have and tasks around the house as well. 

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Three months ago I visited our local Sears store that was located at one end of the Asheville mall. The building was quite large with two stories, but I could not find anyone to assist me with customer service. I determined that there had to be no more than 5 employees in this large store. I spoke to my wife and told her that it sure looked like this store was going out of business. Sure enough a notice came out two months later that this store would be closing in July. This is sad to say as maybe they could have down sized a bit before closing entirely. They will be missed. 

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After being in Danville VA since 1936 the local Sears is closing Aug 18. Liquidation sales started last month. I went in there mid-March and remarked then I thought that store would close by year's end. There was hardly any floor merchandise out.

 

South Boston VA had a Sears hardware that often had things the big mall store in Danville was out of (and that was frequent in the last few years). It closed last summer.

 

Lynchburg VA hasn't had a Sears in nearly ten years. Liberty University bought that end of River Ridge Mall. A town the size of Lynchburg with no Sears was unthinkable at the time.

 

Closest one now is an hour away in Greensboro. My concern is if I buy some big-ticket item how and where will I get service? When I was in there in March I remarked to an associate that I was glad I bought all my Craftsman stuff when it was still US made. He says, well, if you have to replace it, this Chinese stuff is what we'll have to give you. No, because swap meets are full of vintage US-made Craftsman and other brand tools that have a lot of use left. 

 

And sadly the Chinesium at Harbor Freight and Northern Tool has the same lifetime warranty as Craftsman, and I've never had any hassle returning stuff there.

 

O how the mighty have fallen. Sears, the inventor of mass-merchandising mail order, has  let that upstart Amazon knock off its crown. Personally I won't fool with Amazon on general principle (I like to SEE what I'm buying in person, and to interact and build some relationship with a real live salesperson) but I'm one of a very small minority.

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There is an older book out, "Built to Last" which talks about why some companies are successful for a good period of time and others seem to go on forever. I remember reading a comparison between Westinghouse and GE. Westinghouse was a genius, but failed to build a leadership structure that would go on long after he died. GE continues to build a culture of leaders so that the company will be successful through one CEO after another.  

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2 hours ago, leon bee said:

I've been using my Monkey Wards torque wrench lately, good tool. Whatever happened to Wards?

 

Interesting read on Monkey Wards history at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montgomery_Ward

 

I still have and still use the Penncraft (J.C. Penny's) tools that were given to me back in the 1970s when I got my '33 Plymouth. Penny's is still around but I can't remember when they stopped trying to compete in the tool business with Sears Craftsman.

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I used to go to Montgomery Wards, until the 1990's. I bought car batteries and some other stuff there. Maybe a refrigerator too? That was Hawthorne, CA. I left the area in 1997. Not even sure if the store was still open then. It was definitely in business during the early 1990's though.

46898-hawthinsidefull-thumb-350x248-468946906-hawthorneinsideempty-thumb-400x265

 

Hawthorne Plaza remains empty as its abandoned presence contributes to the blight of Hawthorne Boulevard. April 30, 2008. Daily Breeze file photo.

 

http://www.businessinsider.com/creepy-abandoned-mall-gone-girl-2014-10                Good pictures in this link

 

543d574369beddd752c7210b-960-717.jpg

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Imagine if the entire Sears catalog and all their specialty catalogs had been available online. I would still shop at Sears. Years ago I bought a radial arm saw at Sears. Within a year the motor burned out. Sears replaced it no questions asked. Within another year the second motor burned out and they replaced it again and offered an apology. After the second replacement burned out they said there was a flaw in the original design and replaced the motor yet again.  Good service back then. I still have the saw and it has given flawless service since 1976 or so and it gets used hard in our commercial wood shop.

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Being a younger person (24), I guess I'm a bit of an outlier in that I prefer going to a store over buying online. Granted usually when I need a tool I usually shop at Home Depot, about a five minute drive away. There's three Sears within a 30 minute drive of me and its sad to see the condition of them these days, along with the other anchor stores. I vaguely remember when Caldor closed in 1999. And from what I see Sears seems to be having a very slow decent into that same fate. Its sad to see the list of failing and bankrupt retail stores growing. Toys R Us just went under, I don't think Sears, JC Penny and Macy's have a long life left. And I would love for them to prove me wrong, If they can adapt they can survive.

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Technology in in the architecture of the older stores did not keep pace and unexpected liabilities could ceate legal problems.

 

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2 hours ago, Kevin M said:

Being a younger person (24), I guess I'm a bit of an outlier in that I prefer going to a store over buying online..(but)...I don't think Sears, JC Penny and Macy's have a long life left. And I would love for them to prove me wrong,

 

For Kevin and our other younger participants note that the irony in the Sears situation is that they rose to prominence 100 years ago doing mail order with no retail stores just like Amazon.  In the 1890s-1920s Sears (and Montgomery Ward) served customers buying at a discount through the mail compared to local stores with limited selection and higher prices.  Sound familiar?  Virtually all rural and small town homes had their catalog and they built their brand through shipping and easy returns with the policy of “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.”  

 

So what happened next?  They decided they could expand into retail stores in the cities for people who would like to see the merchandise in person, then buy and take it home today.  That worked better for 20th century and suburban living and in the 1990s they decided catalog mail order was out and closed it down literally right before Amazon and the internet revived mail order household goods.  Google “Chicago Old Post Office” for interesting reading on the massive structure they needed to service their business and in a final irony note that the City of Chicago is working on repurposing the giant old post office Sears required in their package to entice Amazon to relocate there. 

 

So then in a few years Amazon can say “….after dealing with all this shipping and returning imagine how it could be if our customers could go somewhere to see the merchandise in person and buy it right on the spot?  That could be a great concept.....” Todd C

Edited by poci1957 (see edit history)
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