Sears to Shutter Up to 120 Stores

Discussion
Dec 28, 2011
Tom Ryan

Following another poor holiday selling season, Sears Holdings Corp. on Monday announced plans to close between 100 and 120 Sears and Kmart doors.

The company’s comparable store sales fell 5.2 percent quarter to date along with margin pressures and rising expenses. Fourth-quarter adjusted earnings are now expected to come in less than half the $933 million reported for the same quarter last year. Comps fell 4.4 percent at Kmart and 6.0 percent at the Sears banner.

“While our past practice has been to keep marginally performing stores open while we worked to improve their performance, we no longer believe that to be the appropriate action in this environment,” said Lou D’Ambrosio, who became CEO last February, in a statement.

Before Monday’s announcement, Sears had closed 171 of its large U.S. stores since 2005, when billionaire hedge-fund manager Edward Lampert orchestrated the Sears/Kmart merger. It has over 2,100 full-line Kmart and Sears doors.

The store closings are expected to generate $140 million to $170 million in cash as inventory is sold off and real estate is subleased or sold. Sears will also take a non-cash charge of $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion in the quarter to write off the value of carried-over tax deductions, and may recognize an impairment charge on some goodwill balances for as much as $600 million. It also plans to lower its fixed costs by $100 million to $200 million, aggressively trim its inventories, and focus on improving gross profit dollars “through better inventory management and more targeted pricing and promotion.”

In an interview with Dow Jones Newswires, Mr. D’Ambrosio said freed-up capital will help it improve operations, including those at remaining stores. A particular focus will be on building its loyalty program, increasing its online presence, providing technology to store associates, and “signage, fixtures and paint” in stores, said Mr. D’Ambrosio.

“We were not pleased with the results we issued, but in no way does that have us question the clarity of where we are taking the company,” Mr. D’Ambrosio stated.

But investors weren’t convinced, sending shares down 27.2 percent on the day to $33.38, its lowest point since March 2009. Besides a difficult economy for sales of big ticket items such as appliances, both banners were hurt by weakness in consumer electronics, a heavily-promoted category this holiday season. Kmart’s layaway business was checked by heightened competition from Walmart and Toys ‘R’ Us.

But the disappointing results cast further doubt on the restructuring efforts by Mr. Lampert. The latest turnaround efforts involved moving toward smaller stores and licensing the Craftsman, DieHard and Kenmore brands.

Wrote Gary Balter, an analyst at Credit Suisse, in a research note, “The extent of the weakness may be larger than expected but the reasons behind are not. It begins and some would argue ends with Sears’ reluctance to invest in stores and service, effectively asking customers to pay for a poorer shopping environment than available at competitors and online. We do not see how that will turn around.”

Mr. Balter added that Sears’ weakening performance may lead vendors to start worrying about their exposure.

Discussion questions: What ongoing hurdles does Sears face in its turnaround efforts? Where should investments be made? What strengths or advantages, if any, are they failing to capitalize on?

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29 Comments on "Sears to Shutter Up to 120 Stores"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

120 stores is the tip of the 4000 store iceberg here. It seems they are executing a plan to starve this legendary brand.

Freed up capital remains too little too late in the game. It’s all about the real estate.

Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 4 months ago
I hope that the Sears in my neighborhood is on the list of store closings, so that the site (part of an otherwise thriving “lifestyle center”) can be re-purposed for a stronger mall anchor. The lack of any investment in this store, while everything around it was remodeled or rethought about five years ago, is emblematic of how Sears Holdings has mismanaged its best asset: its physical stores. How about replacing burned-out light bulbs, or a fresh coat of paint? Everyone knows that Lou D’Ambrosio is not the real CEO of Sears Holdings, and that Ed Lampert calls the shots. So the “clarity of where we are taking the company,” as Mr. D’Ambrosio puts it, is as clear as mud. As long as the company’s cash position declines along with its comp sales, this becomes a more difficult problem to solve. As Mr. Potter said to George Bailey, “You’re worth more dead than alive!” At some point Sears Holdings will throw in the towel and recognize that its most valuable assets are its brands and… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I think all their stores are marginally performing stores, especially compared to normal retail standards. Sears has made one blunder after another for several years now. The biggest ongoing hurdle is simply having better competitors who are serious about retail. No further investments should be made considering the company has no track record of ever doing anything right. Perhaps its time to get into some other kind of business.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Sears is where “Americans used to shop.” Why, because at one time they were well positioned to respond to America’s needs. A couple of things happened. First, America’s needs in terms of shopping changed and Sears did not, thus forcing Americans to change or shop elsewhere. Americans did the latter. Second, competition changed or rather emerged which did not require customer compromises. From Walmart to the specialty stores to the Internet, shoppers were provided with better options and offerings than once provided by Sears. Sears got stuck in the “big middle” — a lesson for all retailers.

Going forward, as noted in the article, Sears needs to invest in stores and service. But that is not enough. Sears needs to determine what it can do better than its competitors. I am certain that if Sears still owned the Sears’ tower, executives would be trying to find the answer to the very question that will influence its long-term survival.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

In my opinion it seems that Kmart has become aimless. They seem to try one new strategy after another however they make only small changes and then do not stay the course. Their competitors are much better at what they do and with so many advantages in their competitors favor. Sears, and particularly Kmart, needs to re-invent themselves in a much bigger way and then stay with the plan. In my opinion it will also help to improve partnerships with vendors.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 4 months ago

The last statistic I saw was that there is over 40 square feet of retail selling space for every man, woman, and child in America. In Europe that number is 2.5 square feet. America is grossly over-stored. Add to that technology disruption and even great brands like Barnes & Noble are in trouble.

The marginal players will disappear with increasing speed. Sears figures prominently on that list.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

A real estate and financial play that spins cash for a period of time. It eventually ends badly.

With no interest in capturing a better understanding of the consumer and their existing customers, and a message of limited investment in stores, the outcome cannot be any other destination — a failed retailer.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Sears reminds me of a prize fighter in the ring getting pummeled by the opponent. They have been on the ropes since the Kmart merger. Even the prime lines of Kenmore are not the premier line that people would go to Sears for. There are many other brands equally as good or better performing at better prices. This is sad, but not surprising. What is surprising is there are only 112 locations closing.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 4 months ago
The greatest hurdle in front of Sears Holding as a viable retailer is continued hands-on meddling of its first CEO, Eddie Lampert. Get out the way, Eddie, you aren’t a great retailer. Lampert took Sears and Kmart, retail mentalities that had become static, and placed himself into the personification of Sam Walton and expected his iconic financial wizardry to translate over into retailing genius. That twain has never been pulled together. Both Lampert and his current CEO, Lou D’Ambrosio, have said the company needs to keep up with the changing retail landscape where shoppers are going online for convenience and finding better prices on the smartphones, even once they’re in a Sears or Kmart store. That evokes the question, “Duh, why haven’t you been listening for the past two years?” Both Sears and Kmart were both once retail giants. Today, they are injured and battle fatigued. Sears, which started as a watch seller in Minnesota in 1886, defined the mail order industry. But instead of being ahead of the curve in today’s online paradigm, Sears… Read more »
Cynthia Sherman
Guest
Cynthia Sherman
9 years 4 months ago

It’s tough enough to survive in a bad economic climate, but add that to deplorable customer service and nothing to differentiate it from other stores, and it’s a losing combination.

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
9 years 4 months ago

Like many of the retail companies that failed in recent years closing so few stores will do little to solve the problems at Sears. After a revolving door of executives the company needs a solid, consistent management team that understands and responds to the neglect and poor leadership Sears has experienced since the takeover by Mr. Lampert’s investment firm. This is a company with real problems that won’t be solved easily or quickly leaving serious doubts about its long-term viability.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Losing control of the key brands — Craftsman, etc. — in exchange for some licensing revenue was a poor move.

So, other than the stock price run-up, was joining the fate of Sears and Kmart in the first place.

Richard George is right when he observes Sears is where America used to shop.

You can perfume a pig all you want but you shouldn’t be surprised when it keeps going back to the mud.

Sears Holdings needs to figure out if it wants to be in the retail or real estate game and then take some drastic action.

And, yes, I’m afraid 120 stores is just a very poor start.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Every analyst who has weighed in here has agreed that Sears Holdings is rudderless, capricious, and slow. The tragedy is that this iconic retail brand could survive if it took the time to listen to its critics.

Steven Collinsworth
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

After the “Eddie Lampert takeover,” it is painfully obvious to me that the company is doomed. If there is any question about this, you must have been in a coma for the last 7 years.

The Kmart franchise is virtually worthless. Real estate value is questionable at best, and consumers just don’t see a reason to visit a Kmart store. There is no differentiation. Unless you think higher prices are that point.

Mr. Lampert should allow the leadership at Sears Holdings to do their jobs. Establish some sense of stability. And, rebrand Kmart to something else. A mass merchant discounter it is not. But I am not sure how you would categorize them now. They appear to be just another point of distribution.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
9 years 4 months ago

Frankly, I’m amazed that it has taken this long for the market to catch on. I agree that 120 stores is nothing for a retailer this size – in fact, I would argue that 2012 will be the year of announced store closings as retailers shift their assets in response to the rise of online and cross-channel. And Sears’ closings fit into that story.

But Sears has been staggering for a long time and I think the market is right to take this announcement as a herald of things to come. The Kmart merger fell into the “two drunks” category of merger — two drunks together have better odds of making it home than one drunk alone. Neither company was a prize, even then. In a world where even Walmart is struggling to find its way, I just don’t know where Sears fits in. That, I think, is the biggest problem. Clarity of where to take the company, indeed.

Phil Masiello
Guest
Phil Masiello
9 years 4 months ago
Sears and Kmart have sat on the retail sidelines far too long. There is not really any key category that Sears can claim as a competitive advantage for the brand where the consumer would put Sears top of mind. I recently walked through a Sears store in a very busy mall and found it to be dull and lifeless. In order for Sears to survive, they would need to blend the online and in-store experience together to stop customers form using their stores as showrooms to view product and then make the purchase online from another retailer such as Amazon. This would require an entire rebranding effort for the stores and company. Product categories would need to be energized with some exclusive brands. The strengths that Sears has are in real estate penetration. A deep location analysis needs to be done to determine where investments should be made. But before any of that is done, the company needs an entirely new go to market strategy to reinvent themselves in the consumers eye. This will require… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I could write to Mr. Lampert, “Please, please don’t put a penny back into the stores. You will be wasting your money.” But, I don’t have to. He knows that. From the beginning the only play that Lampert has been making is a real estate play. He knows there is no future in these stores and he is managing the company simply to maximize the return on the asset base. From day one, these stores were worth more dead than alive. The company, without the real estate, has a negative net worth.

I should add, he has done an exceptional job of moving this challenge to conclusion without destroying the retail real estate market.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I tried hard to identify a positive factor in the Sears-Kmart story, and the best I could come up with was this: The press release is relatively factual and transparent.

Mr. Lampert has followed his canny real estate strategy down the recession rabbit hole, I’m afraid. Before the economic collapse, his moves made a kind of cold-hearted sense: Run the stores as cheaply as possible, sell off assets as opportunities arise and deliver a return to shareholders.

This week’s plunge in share price reveals how bad a bet that is turning out to be. Now Sears is cauterizing its bleeders and trying rather haplessly to sustain the value of its best remaining assets — its brands.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Surprise, surprise! Since when does having years of declining comp sales not lead to store closings? Keep in mind, this new round of store closings will not solve the problem. When the hedge fund bought and merged Sears and Kmart, the assumption was that it was a real estate play. How is that working out? It is not, as many markets are over stored and where these retailers have locations, few other retailers want them. The decline in residential, commercial and industrial real estate values has not turned around. What the company needs is a merchant not an accountant. Additionally, drop the two banners and create a new company. Remember Kmart was once S. S. Kresge, so it has been done.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
9 years 4 months ago
As Rodney Dangerfield used to say, “this is a tough crowd.” I can only share with you that the talent at SHC knows what they are doing, has a vision and is doing very innovative things. Those initiatives are making a difference. Sadly, they aren’t noticed by those on one particular side of the desk. Dig a little harder ;-). True innovation is coming out of Hoffman Estates to address not only the web shopping experience, but dig a little further to see what is being conceived, delivered and reinforced in the areas of: loyalty (ShopYourWayRewards), mobile, shop at home/store pick up, preference center, gaming, two-way dialogue online, call center customer service and, yes, licensing to expand the brand footprint. When you’ve got 4,400 stores in total, you are ultimately going to have under performing stores. This isn’t unique to SHC — remember Home Depot closing or putting a big halt on new stores during the early stages of the recession? It’s easy to critique those at the top; they are ones making the statements… Read more »
Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Sears is in a death spiral and closing 100-120 stores isn’t going to do much at all. As mentioned above, the real estate and brands are the real value of Sears. I’m sure we’ll be revisiting this topic again and again until they take the necessary drastic steps.

Mark Heckman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

When I see a retailer struggle, I immediately think of Neil Stern’s book, “Winning at Retail” in which he and co-author Willard Ander lay out a simple but very accurate depiction of why some retailers excel and others fail. The “EST” theory fundamentally states that for a retailer to win, they need to own a position, i.e., the cheapest, the fastest, the friendliest, etc.

As I see it, Sears and Kmart fail to win as they have not achieved “ownership” of a viable marketing position. The Sears brand still possesses some cache and offers the best opportunity to achieve a healthy and profitable marketing position, most notably their tools and hard lines. Kmart, on the other hand, has long lost the battle to Target on the high end, and Walmart on the price and variety side.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

What ongoing hurdles does Sears face in its turnaround efforts? Simple: by this point, probably nothing will help and everything is a hurdle. Here we have the corollary to Livingston’s Law (a well-run business will always do well regardless of the circumstances): a poorly-run business will always do poorly, regardless of the circumstances…and of course the circumstances at the moment aren’t all that good to begin with. Mr. D’Ambrosio summed it up very well, even if his irony is unintended.

Drew McElligott
Guest
Drew McElligott
9 years 4 months ago
The notion that this retail hedge fund is innovative and substantively changing the online shopping experience is frankly a joke. By the time SHLD began tinkering with the “online experience” they had already lost credibility with the consumer at large. Another retailer reaching for innovation would be better received. Sears or Kmart doing it (MyGofer as example) becomes a punchline. Behind the scenes, I’m sure there are some well-intentioned MBAs. But for years they’ve desperately needed legitimate, expensive, iconic window-dressing for leadership to both change the stained image and provide some substantive direction, and instead Eddie and his retail hedge fund have produced the sound of crickets. Even if there is/was a master scheme to dispose of bricks for clicks, the image problem will remain as will the “always low prices” problem. As will the “how are we going to dispose of millions of square feet of big box vacant real estate?” Too many challenges. Too little behind the curtain. Today is the 11th year anniversary of Montgomery Ward announcing they’re shutting down, closing their… Read more »
jeff fernandez
Guest
jeff fernandez
9 years 4 months ago

Amazon.com, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Lowe’s, to name a few, have been taking market share for the last 10 years from Sears/Kmart and will continue for the immediate future. Their real estate is the only true strength, as their upper management has failed to turn this company around and appears to be driving the business south. Sears should capitalize on the strongest brands they have — Kenmore, Craftsman, and their automotive business — and Kmart might as well shut the remaining doors and sell off the real estate to satisfy the investors. Sears is trying to play in the online arena but are too late to really impact. Adios amigos!

Verlin Youd
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Retail 101 — define a value proposition that appeals to a large enough segment of customers to be able to sustain a business. Seems to me that Sears/Kmart is struggling with all of the above, including:
– defining who they are
– defining a value proposition
– defining a target customer segment(s)
– defining a sustainable business model

There are some good ingredients (Kenmore, Craftsman, Lands’ End), but less than half required for a good recipe and that doesn’t address the requirement for a good cook with vision, passion, and experience driving a successful retail enterprise.

If things continue as they have for the last 10 years, the long, slow, disappointing decline will continue.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Location and price are key to Sears’ success. Their overhead costs are tremendous and cannot compete with their other mass retailers including Walmart, Target, and Costco (yeah, those guys). Kmart needs to clean up its image, lower its prices more and find their niche (which they lost). Sears needs to focus on hardware, appliances and their winning departments. Close the losing Kmart store locations and move the winning departments over to Sears stores. Close the losing Sears locations and move the winning departments over to other local Kmart stores….