Editorial: We're rooting for Sears to come back from the brink
Sears chairman Eddie Lampert has ensured that the company's stores will live to fight another day. By bidding a reported $5.2 billion, he prevailed in the bankruptcy auction for Sears Holding Corp., and apparently has saved the iconic brand from liquidation, pending approval from the judge overseeing the bankruptcy.
Whether all Lampert has done is buy Sears a little time before an inevitable demise, we can't know. He says he wants to keep the remaining 400 stores open and operating, but here in the suburbs, all we can do is wait.
Since the last Sears store in Chicago closed last year at Six Corners in Portage Park, the suburbs have the last vestige of Sears in the region. The suburbs and Sears have evolved a partnership of sorts over the years.
In 1989 the company headquarters moved from the city of Chicago to 200 picturesque acres in Hoffman Estates. Just last year the company donated new appliances to The Knolls Center for Autism to help students learn how to do household chores. The Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates is a fixture for area sports and entertainment.
Sears kit homes abound in the suburbs. Elgin has more than 210, reportedly the most of any city in the country. And a case can be made that practically every house here has some evidence of Sears in it somewhere -- from plumbing to paint.
The iconic Sears Roebuck catalogs, which made shopping for goods possible anywhere in North America that mail could be delivered, once reinvented retailing by moving trade away from that early American staple, the general store. Can Lampert somehow do it again?
If he's going to succeed, he needs a retail model updated for the 21st Century, and a plan that invests in Sears' strengths of quality merchandise and good customer service. Serious carpenters and repairmen buy Craftsman tools and suburban homeowners buy Kenmore appliances. Why? Because they are known for being well made, with a legendary level of service backing them up. Sears no longer owns those brands, but continues to sell them.
Other business commentators suggest Sears Holding Co. should dump the Kmart line, make Sears a male-focused retailer, and repeatedly, be known for knowledgeable, never-steer-you-wrong appliance salespeople. Sarah Halzach, writing for Bloomberg in a story on our Business Ledger website, www.dhbusinessledger.com, suggests Sears' marketing would do well to remind consumers of Sears' heritage in their own lives.
"I'm imagining some ads showing the remarkable story of how Sears evolved from selling America horse buggies by catalog to offering us 4K TVs via our smartphones," she writes, " ... or ... grandparents recalling the pride when they bought their first Craftsman toolbox."
If it can no longer be the nation's retail powerhouse, with the right ideas and direction, Sears still can have an important place in American consumerism. The suburbs, for one, are rooting for that.