It's official. If you want a Whirlpool appliance, you won't be able to get it from Sears in the near future. The struggling retailer announced early this week that it was cutting ties to the Whirlpool brand and will sell off any remaining Whirlpool goods. The decision marks the end of a partnership of more than 100 years (the two companies joined forces in 1916).  

Maybe it's the money

On the one hand, Sears' move is totally understandable. Sears has been losing money for years, and the company claims that Whirlpool's demands made it hard to keep selling the brand's products at a competitive price. Sometimes you do have to take a hard look at your budget and make a tough call to survive for the long term. And when companies have visions that start to diverge, it honestly can be best for both parties to take different paths.

But maybe it's the leader

But critics have said for years that the poor leadership of Sears' CEO Ed Lampert is killing the company. And this isn't the first time that Sears has kicked a long-time partner to the curb. Earlier this year, Sears sold the iconic Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker. And even before that sale, Lampert reportedly was cannibalizing its brands by bringing in others. So this isn't simply one ouch moment. It's just the latest in a long line of examples that prove that Sears doesn't understand the relationship between long-term partnerships and customer trust.

Retain the partners, hold the buyers

A partnership that's lasted over 100 years means something, and not just on the business side. Customers look at those kinds of relationships and feel confident in the stability. They take comfort in the familiarity. They make all kinds of assumptions about leaders being able to work together in positive ways to protect mutual interests. They believe that that relationship will continue to provide a source for Product or Service A, and so they're less tempted to explore competitors. That's why companies who have been around the block normally aren't shy about touting their decades in the field.

Then something like this happens.

To be fair, I haven't seen Sears' latest financial records as an insider. Maybe selling off Whirlpool while it still has a semblance of value makes monetary sense, even if it can't totally pull Sears out of its hole. And Lampert, for all his faults, isn't alone. There are many other leaders labeled among the worst CEOs of all time. But in saying goodbye to another decades-old partnership, Sears inevitably forces customers to question whether they should have faith. If they can't trust Sears to exhibit some loyalty to long-term pillars like Whirlpool and Craftsman, how can they trust Sears to put customers first, too? What can Sears do now to prove to buyers that their relationship isn't equally disposable?

In business, every relationship matters. And when the relationship has aged into the triple digits, it's nothing to toss away lightly. Customers can feel shaken if you do. That lesson might have come too late for Sears. You, however, are more than capable of tucking it away.