Sears Had Everything: The decline of an American institution

exitseven

Sears had everything.

Sadly, today I learned that the retailer Sears will close another group of stores, leaving only 30 retail stores remaining. This is from a peak of over 3000 stores.

Sears had always been the go-to store for millions of people for everything related to home ownership, electronics, clothing and automotive. They also founded Allstate insurance and Discover card.

I purchased everything from Sears. Craftsman tools were guaranteed for life, and they meant it. I had the occasion to break the handle on my 20-year-old Craftsman shovel and without any kind of receipt, brought it back to the store and I was handed a new one, no questions asked.

Everybody knew that Kenmore appliances were made by Whirlpool. Sears’ business model was to buy the excess capacity from the factories of well-known American companies like Whirlpool and have their own Kenmore branded products produced there. You could get the same quality at a reduced price. You could not beat Kenmore appliances when they were on sale.

I had a new home built 21 years ago and got an allowance from the builder for a stove and dishwasher. I thought the $1500 allowance would be plenty until I began to shop for them. The only way we could afford both appliances was to buy them from Sears when they were on sale. The helpful Sears salesperson advised us on when the items we were interested in would be on sale.

After moving into the house, it was only the beginning of my relationship with Sears.

A Kenmore washer and dryer soon followed. Then Sears garage door openers. Every birthday, Christmas or Father’s Day I was greeted with a Craftsman power tool. All the products were American made and of good quality. I used my Eager 1 lawnmower for so long a hole rusted through the body and I welded a piece of sheet metal over the hole so rocks would not go through it and hit me. The engine still starts every time.

Besides the good quality, Sears included an exploded diagram of every product.

A Dryer Exploded
A Dryer Exploded

There was a Sears repair shop near where I lived, and you could go there and buy whatever part you needed and do the repair yourself or you could take the appliance there and it would be done by their technicians. I used to go on a Saturday and there would always be a line at the parts counter.

Soon I found myself replacing drive belts on my Kenmore dryer or a circuit board on my Sears garage door opener.

It was that value added feature that set Sears apart from other retailers.

Sears also had an automotive department. They specialized in exhaust systems, shock absorbers and batteries sold under their Die-Hard brand.

Like Craftsman tools Sears mufflers were guaranteed for life. This worked in their favor because usually when the muffler had a hole in it, the rest of the exhaust system needed to be replaced as well.

It must be noted that Sears started as a mail order company aimed at rural customers. During the post WW2 boom was when Sears gained the reputation as having everything. They even had Sears prefab houses for sale.

Do It Yourself House
Do It Yourself House

The business expanded in the 50’s and 60’s. They often bought land away from the downtown areas and created whole shopping centers with Sears as the anchor store. They began to cater to people with automobiles with ample free parking.

Sears peaked in the 1970s and in 1974 completed the 110 story Sears Tower in Chicago. This was now the world’s tallest building.

110 Story Sears Tower
110 Story Sears Tower

In the 1980s Sears got into non retail endeavors. In addition to its Allstate insurance business, it got into the credit business with the Discover card. Sears also partnered with IBM to produce Prodigy, the early internet application.

This distracted management to lose focus from their core business and lose market share to Walmart.

In 1990 Walmart edged Sears out as the nation’s largest retailer.

Sears continued it’s decline. Instead of doing what they did best, which was offering good quality products at a reasonable price and then standing behind those products they began to copy Walmart and expanded their sales of brand-named appliances and less on their Kenmore and Silvertone brands.

In 2004 Kmart bought Sears and the decline continued.

Sears Had Everything: The decline of an American institution
Sears Had Everything: The decline of an American institution

Instead of making the K-Mart stores more like Sears with good products and outstanding customer service they continued to mimic Walmart, selling cheaply made Chinese imports and closing all the Sears Repair Depots. Now their products were no longer repairable losing the uniqueness that always made Sears the best choice for many different products.

At the same time Sears discontinued its catalog sales program. This was probably their biggest mistake that will be debated in business schools for many years to come. Sears could have been bigger than Amazon if they had converted their catalog business to online sales. They were a little ahead of the technology, but it was rapidly developing. They had everything already in place and they had one of the best name recognitions in the world.

In the years that followed the quality of the products had gotten worse. I no longer bought my appliances there. The last time I bought a Die-Hard battery there it was obvious it was not the same quality as in the past.

Die Hard
Die Hard

The Sears store in my town closed two years ago. They did not even wait until after Christmas. Months before I took a walk through the store. It looked like a yard sale. The electronics department was gone. It was apparent all the electronics vendors had shut them off. Even the tool department had a lot of odds and ends they were trying to sell.

I can still buy Craftsman tools at Lowes which has been useful since I needed a transmitter for a garage door opener for my new truck.

It is a shame that an American institution has been driven into the ground through greed and mismanagement. It will be a sad day when the last Sears store closes its doors for good.

Sears Had Everything: The decline of an American institution
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Most Helpful Girls

  • Screenwriter
    This is what happens when cheap and disposable become more important than longlasting and made with quality.

    Though the store than once had everything no longer exists, there are still retailers that sell good products.

    I try to buy as much made in America as possible when that means the product is good. But now, you have to play the long game with many manufacturers.

    The bottom line is, avoid using products that aren't good. Avoid stores that sell said products. Braun is a great company. Honda and Toyota are good. So is The North Face, Rei. Sony does well. Read Consumer Reports ratings of products. Check out reviews written by users.

    There's very little one-stop shopping, like Sears used to be. It was a great business model that was an incredible convenience. But market pressures and money grubbing killed that golden goose. It's too bad we have to be more careful about our purchases.
    But that is the nature of the present market.

    Perhaps more folk will see the need to recapture that model. It worked and was profitable. and satisfied consumers. Others may see that light again. Keep looking.
    Is this still revelant?
    • exitseven

      Nah, everyone buys stuff online. I had a big shopping mall in my town. It was a big convenience to be able to go to radio Shack or sears any time I wanted to. A year ago it was bulldozed. At the town dump there was a dumpster and compactor for recycling cardboard. There was another one for newspaper. Now they converted the newspaper dumpster to be able to recycle newspaper. Everyone gets lots of boxes and nobody reads newspapers.

    • Of course we buy online when it's affordable. Brick and mortar have a place that online doesn't, though. The idea of having to try stuff on and send it back when it doesn't fit is beyond inconvenient. Boxes are recyclable and some people do read papers. I'm about to get a Sunday subscription of NYT or my local paper. But there are a lot of online resources of news and info too.

      I hope there's room for brick and mortar along with online. I use both. You can get bargains with onine orders and at store pickups. This is a hybrid model I like. Also, if you go to the store even though you ordered online, you might see something else you forgot...

      I like flexibility. Just like ordering from the Sears catalog. Didn't mean you didn't go into the store. My grocery is three blocks away. Makes no sense for me to order 90 percent of my goceries online. There are a few items; garbage bags, household cleaners that make sense. But the lion's share I get from my brick and mortar grocery.

    • exitseven

      Yes, because you and I grew up in a time where shopping malls were popular. The local mall was THE place to go and hang out when I was a kid. Kids just hang out on line today.
      I try to buy USA made goods as well. It is getting harder and harder to do.
      I just bought a new American Flag to replace one that was tattered. I ordered it online. The website said tht it was made in the USA. So I buy this thing and right on the packaging was the words "MADE IN CHINA. I called the company the next day and demanded my money back. I was pissed.

  • loves2learn
    Good take! I know how much you loved Sears. Too bad a series of unfortunate mistakes took them so far from where they’d come.
    .
    I’m pretty sure I saw a pre-fab house in South Carolina, or near there, that was put together wrong and all the windows were upside down. 😂
    Is this still revelant?
    • exitseven

      How can you tell a window is upside down?

    • humanearth

      She a window installer

    • Found it! It is in Savannah. Look at the trim:

      https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/20918

    • Show All

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What Girls & Guys Said

39
  • BlueWalker
    I miss the days when I could buy a horse carriage, a horse saddle, a farm plow, a corn husker, a cotton ginny, a windmill, a gold filled pocket watch, a Colt revolver and ammunition, a roller organ, a stereoscope, a phonograph, a telegraph, a moving picture projector, a bellows still camera, an anvil, blacksmith tools, an iron forge, a wood stove, a oil lantern, incandescent gas light fixtures (what an age we live in!!!), an "invalid's" chair, a treadle sewing machine, a straight razor and leather strop, a barber's chair, a brier tobacco pipe, a railroad oiler, a hand crank drill, a schoolhouse bell, a washboard, an ice chest, a wall bucket, a dairy can, a butter churn, a carpet loom, mens' double-breasted woollen underwear, mens' linen collars, a truss, a bowlers hat, a silk top hat, a voyager's trunk; a shoe repair harness and tinware's outfit, a mens' oiled cotton overcoat, a woollen women's Mackintosh cape dress, women's elbow-length gloves, a silken handkerchief, a women's bonnet, an ostrich feather, a fruit hat, a lace ladies' fan, a Trousseau outfit, a silken ladies' waist, a ladies' lounge robe, a ladies' automobile coat, a fur cape, bust growth cream, and brain and nerve tonic containing cocaine to alleviate "women's distress" - all in one mail order catalogue! Those were the days...
  • DaveToo
    KMart was a losing entity when the last Kreske passed away. It was near bankruptcy when it bought Sears. I was dismayed when that happened. Neither KMart nor Sears went to online sales soon enough and other companies had already taken a foothold in that market.
    • exitseven

      K-Mart had just gotten through Chapter 11 reorganization. I do not think it was very prudent to take on all that debt.

    • DaveToo

      Sears was awa\sh with debt.

  • ohshee
    Sears was the first Amazon if you wanted to build a house you can go to Sears and buy it anything you wanted you could get it at Sears the old Victorian houses you see in Seattle and all over Washington most of those Victorian houses came from Sears
    • ohshee

      When I was a kid I remember going to the Sears catalog and dreaming I collect old things and I believe I have a very old Sears catalog one of the first ones that came out it's amazing what they sold

  • humanearth
    Sears left us a few years ago. It was the only store that was able to save the mall from closing. Once Sears left, the mall closed three years later. Now today they are tearing that mall down.

    For me to go to a Sears now I have to go to Mall of America in MN
  • Wiredone
    I used to love sears. Their cordless and gas powered tools went down in quality and that's when I started to lose interest in them.
    • exitseven

      Yes, the tools were no longer the same and the Die Hard batteries were not the same either. The lawnmowers have gotten better since they got Husquvarna to make them.

    • Wiredone

      I got tired of craftsman so I bought a John deer lawn. Mower

    • exitseven

      I have a Simplicity. Simplicity snow blower too.

    • Show All
  • SandandWaves
    It is very upsetting same with K-Mart. I really really love K-Mart.
  • 888theGreat
    I worked a Christmas there. They did have best tools and batteries, then they went cheapo and no more lifetime guarantees. They also changed batteries so often on tools , people had to buy new tools since they discontinued the old batteries. I can tell you people got pissed.
  • TrueConfection
    Wow, I didn't know Sears sold prefab houses. I didn't know they had their have in Prodigy either. I wonder if Amazon or Google will meet the same fate in 20 years.
    • exitseven

      Did you use Prodigy?

    • No. I knew of it. The earliest I used was... hmm.. I can't remember. lol! Sorry.

    • It'll come to me at 2 am.

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  • sage2021
    My favorite department was the candy counter. I loved their seafoam chocolate 🍬 candy the best.
    When I was in elementary school, that's where mom took us to buy our school clothes, shoes, nightgowns, you name it, Sear's had it. There food counter served some pretty good food too. If I needed to buy a Christmas present for a guy I was seeing at the time, I would head straight for the Craftsman tools. I liked the case you carried with all the tools you needed if your car broke down. Only $99.00 for all that. Great deals. The good old days!
  • b5fan
    Sears had everything, but a living founder/CEO. The management class has no vision beyond the next quarter. In the 19th century Sears was Amazon. com. It could have pivoted into creating a web based marketplace as well, but they didn't have the vision. They also didn't realize until too late that without a web presence they may as well be out of business. Now they are out of business.

    The same thing is about to happen to the big 3 automakers if they don't pivot into electric cars. Very few business survive a new business model when the old one becomes obsolete. Someone in the old organization must argue that the new product is the future and worth creating even if it completes with their old business line. A CEO that only looks to the next quarter's results will never do this.
  • Jamie05rhs
    I loved this MyTake, man. I was a Sears fan as well. I was very sad to see them go.
  • msc545
    Everything has a beginning and an end.
    • You sound like a Semisonic song. 😂😂😂😂

      https://youtu.be/xGytDsqkQY8

    • exitseven

      @loves2learn I love this song. I always tell the students in my night class that the don't have to go home but you can't stay here..

    • It’s a good song. I read that it’s about miscarriage. 😔

    • Show All
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