Helping to salvage the Sears brand

I’ve blogged a couple of times about Sears and its troubles. Even though I’m oriented toward small business branding, I feel qualified to at least offer my opinion and a little advice to this beleaguered retailer.

According to Thom Forbes in a Wall Street Journal article last month, “Retail experts say it is now clear that Sears Holdings chairman Edward S. Lampert must engineer a radical makeover of the 121-year-old retailer to prove it can thrive alongside bigger rivals … such as Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Target and Wal-Mart.

“Lampert …hoped to rejuvenate the retailer with a prescription of financial fixes. While he was at first successful in raising profit by cutting costs, rivals chipped away at Sears’s clothing, appliance and home-products businesses.”

Now finally, Sears becomes aware of its basic problem – a lack of differentiation and identity with a younger generation or two. Neither Sears nor its running mate, K-Mart, are distinguishable. Neither stands out in the collective mind of the 25-to-45 age group.

So what to do?

First of all, recognize that some of the Sears brand names still speak of quality and reliability: Craftsman, Die-Hard, Kenmore come to mind.

Perhaps spinning off certain portions of the business and set up specialty stores like Sears did with The Great Indoors. I don’t know how profitable that venture is, but it is distinguishable. It represents a home furnishings supermart with class. It is one of a kind now that Office Depot abandoned their response to The Great Outdoors.

I could see a string of re-named, Sears-sponsored stores selling Craftsman tools.

Think of a chain of Kenmore appliance centers.  And auto service shops, too.

I’d also direct the Sears home improvement services business in a new direction with a new name and attitude.

If each of these spin-offs were headed by brand-minded, innovative management types, I’ll bet they could establish defensible positions in a relatively short time. And if they were given the freedom to venture onto the Internet and into joint ventures and co-branding activities, I think they could forge viable businesses with only token acknowledgment of the Sears ties.

Sears tried the “all things to all people” when they ventured into the insurance and brokerage businesses several decades back. I think this way of thinking has led to the reason they’re rudderless today.

In this scenario, I’m not sure Sears as a retail name will survive, but the holding company should enjoy profits and growth over time.

Now if there were something besides reintroducing the “blue light” to distinguish K-Mart.

Martin

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