Sears, which was once one of the most iconic brands in American history, but whose reputation and relevance had crashed hard since the advent of the Internet, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy early this morning in White Plains, N.Y. according to multiple reports.

The company, technically known now as Sears Holding Corp., was virtually synonymous with large scale retail sales for much of the last century. But its market share is now a tiny fraction of what it once was, even while it still has roughly 700 large stores around the country, operating under both the Sears and Kmart names.

About 150 stores will close immediately under a deal the company struck with some creditors, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Currently Sears has about 70,000 employees. It's not clear how many will stay on ahead of the holiday shopping season.

However, as I wrote recently, Sears actually revealed in a recent corporate filing that its plan to eliminate some retail jobs at a dozen stores included a store where they planned to lay people off two days before Christmas

The company has its roots in a 19th century mail order watch business launched by Richard Warren Sears in 1886.

By the turn of the 20th century, the company was sending a 532-page annual catalog to people all over the United States, including everything from sewing machines to clothing to the blueprints and lumber needed to build houses. 

This was a giant retail innovation, as was the company's later push to build big retail department stores in U.S. cities.

But ultimately a failure to keep up with innovation in the late 20th century, along with giant losses and a rush to sell off valuable assets, led to its spiraling demise. 

The Sears bankruptcy will be unusual in one key respect, in that its CEO, Eddie Lampert, also runs a hedge fund that Sears owes a lot of money to.

As a result, "Lampert's strategy could be put to the test in bankruptcy, where he is expected to act as both debtor and creditor," according to USA Today, "an unusual position that corporate governance experts have said could bring about scrutiny."

It comes in the wake of the experience of a much-more beloved brand, Toys 'R' Us, which skated right up to the end of bankruptcy and liquidation, only to survive to fight for at least another holiday season.

But while Sears is definitely the more historical brand of the two, it's hard to imagine the same kid of consumer feeling driving the brand to ultimately survive in anything like its current form. People just don't care about Sears anymore.

"It's hard to overlook or overstate the dynamic impact Sears had on the retail industry in the United States," Greg Portell, lead partner in the retail practice of global strategy and management consulting firm A.T. Kearney told USA Today, "and also how the failure to reinvent ultimately leads to extinction.''

Published on: Oct 15, 2018
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