Is Sears Giving Up?

by Steve McKee

Is Sears Giving Up?Is it me, or is Sears abandoning its brand?

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal was headlined “Sears Seeks Trendier ‘Vibe’ With Forever 21.” The article explained that Sears is giving up 15 percent of its floor space—some 43,000 square feet—at a store in California to “give Sears rental revenue and also supply some much needed fashion pizzazz for the retailer.” Customers will be able to enter the Forever 21 “store within a store” from inside Sears or through a separate entrance.

Sears spokeswoman Kimberly Freely said of the decision, “We want to optimize and leverage our real estate portfolio to third-party tenants.” The article goes on to report that Sears is discussing alliances with other retailers; it already has a similar arrangement hosting a handful of Edwin Watts Golf Shops and several dozen Land’s End Shops (a brand which at least Sears owns).

Sounds to me like Sears is throwing in the towel on its own brand and its on its way to becoming little more than a mall. That could get interesting if the malls in which Sears operates begin to take issue with it effectively sub-leasing space to other retailers. And the move could be dangerous for brands like Forever 21 as well; while their presence may make Sears appear more hip by association, it could make them appear somewhat dowdy.

Sears has been down for some time now, but it has a wonderful brand heritage and plenty of remaining equity (not to mention a strong real estate portfolio, no small advantage). I would love to see Sears re-establish its own relevance rather than trying to survive on the relevance of other retail concepts. As a poster child of the seven destructive dynamics I highlight in When Growth Stalls, Sears could become an equally compelling turnaround story. If only.

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Steve McKeeSteve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of “When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, and What To Do About It.” Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at https://twitter.com/whengrowthstall.

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