Discussion Thread: Sears: What do you think happened and why?

In another thread, Sears as a viable place to buy automotive tools was discussed. The fact is that at one time Sears was THEE place to buy tools, tires, batteries, and get your car worked on.

What happened (in your opinion)? Was it their transition from a catalog retailer to a brick and mortar store? Was it a change in management? Was the competition with discount stores too tough?

The decline in working family income has pushed Sear’s customer base into Wal-Mart.

At One Time Sears Had A Tool Warranty That Was Second To None. Then It Was The Same As Others.

At One Time Sears Was The Only Place To Find Automotive Tools (Besides Pro Snap-On, Mac, Etcetera). Now They Are Available In Lots Of Places.

I still buy hoses and rakes at Sears. I quit buying tape measures there when they ended the life-time warranty.

At one time everything they sold had an unconditional warranty. Not so much, now.

The proliferation of specialty outlets has cut into the Sears market base in all areas. The local Flagship Sears store here closed and is now a Nordstrom. The Sears automotive was closed years ago and given over to a local to chain.

Sears Automotive always had trouble retaining qualified technicians and the automotive service just deteriorated. The last time I used them was in 1989. The last item I bought from Sears was a microwave three years ago and I had no end of trouble getting warranty service. It was a lot like dealing with a stubborn government department.

@RodKnox is partially right; Walmart has taken over a large segment of retailing from Sears but I do not agree that lower working class incomes are the cause of their automotive decline. I live in an areas with above average incomes and nobody I know wants to have his car serviced at Sears. Sears has lost the confidence of those buyers that matter. The last 2 sets of tires I got from Costco.

Sears tools were good at one time, but now there are all sorts of specialty outlets that are more competitive. In short the Sears business model has lost a lot of its validity and even in online ordering where Sears should be a world leader, they are not doing well.

It’s no coincidence that the tallest building in Chicago is no longer called the Sears Tower.

I dunno but ask anyone that worked for them in a management capacity and the writing was on the wall back in the 70’s. Sluggish management unable to change to meet changing retailing conditions. Then reducing quality to keep the profit margins up as their customers dwindled. Excess floor space taken up by highly competitive soft goods in good but high priced locations. Failure to integrate internet shopping when they eliminated the famous catalog. It is virtually impossible to order anything from Sears on-line anymore, even though their name pops up all the time. Then in my opinion, they should have quit their own lines like Kenmore and just taken on Whirlpool etc. like everyone else. Kenmore and their other private lines just advertises the fact that a lower level buyer is the purchaser of these items. In fact their is not much difference between Kenmore and Whirlpool but the class of people furnishing their homes with these is quite different.

Craftsman tools and lawn and garden is just the last gasp if they don’t align their price with the current quality. Too bad too. Their lawn mowers are made by Husquavarna and MTD but carry the Craftsman badge which makes buying parts a problem at non-Sears outlets. They really have a better offering too but ruin their potential sales with the badge. You don’t buy a Home Depot lawn tractor, why a Craftsman? They think its an asset but I see it as a liability.

“The decline in working family income has pushed Sear’s customer base into Wal-Mart.”

I agree. I think this is the most succinct answer we could hope for. The reasons are many but this just boils it down.

Take a look at the Sears clothing department . . .

Do you see anything you would wear?

I don’t

Everything I see there screams “I’m a loser”

Just because you earn little money, doesn’t mean you have to look like it

Target has figured that out, but Sears has not

Another big problem . . . the stores are mismanaged. For instance, 1/2 the people in the store aren’t there to make a purchase. They’re waiting in line to pay down their balance. And that takes far longer than making a purchase. They should either have a dedicated cashier for that, or just more cashiers in general

I still consider their tool department to be good for diy projects and home repairs. Their tools aren’t the greatest, but at least most of them still have lifetime warranty. I know guys that use them on a regular and professional basis. But most guys I know eventually upgrade to snap on, matco or mac. and then they take the craftsman tools home, and keep them in the garage for home use

I bought a kenmore dishwasher several years ago. Every few years, like clockwork, the control panel quits working, and I have to replace it. I replace it myself now, but it’s still about $100, and a few days without a working dishwasher. At least the kenmore toaster has been reliable . . .

Every single time I ordered an appliance, there were major problems. If I went to go pick up myself, it usually wasn’t there, even though I called ahead to check. And if they delivered, they usually had an incorrect address, or had the wrong delivery date. That’s inexcusable, IMO

My brother bought a diehard battery for his toyota several years ago. I installed it, and he probably got a good 5 or 6 years out of it. No problems. The price was fair and it fit correctly, unlike some napa batteries. Napa batteries are slightly overpriced, in my opinion. And they only have a 2 year warranty, versus the 3 years most of the other guys offer

Sears, in my opinion, really threw away a gold mine with mismanagement, not looking to the future, not servicing what it sold, not taking care of its employees and downright fraud. The fraud occurred in the auto service centers with the centers doing unnecessary repairs. The attorney general in two different states sued Sears and won. Sears then bought Western Auto in some areas and ran the auto repair through these locations. Our son worked at Sears in the hardware department and was the top sales person. However, Sears would never give him enough hours to receive benefits. After he moved on, that Sears store was closed. Sears service on its Kenmore appliances was never very good in my area. Furthermore, Sears didn’t want to supply parts to independent service shops. I remember in the late 1950s going to an independent shop to buy parts for a LawnBoy mower. There was a big sign in the shop that read “We do not service Sears equipment”. When I asked the proprietor about the sign, he said that he had plenty of work and getting parts from Sears was so frustrating, he didn’t want to deal with the problems it caused. I heard the same story from independent appliance repairmen. Sears service didn’t look to the future when it closed its catalog sales. Many merchants could envision online sales at that time. I have read that Sears Kenmore had 50% of the appliance business and the refrigerators, ranges, washing machines, etc. often had high ratings by Consumer Reports. Craftsman tools had a reputation for high quality. I think had Sears really given top notch service on what it sold, not gotten into this “Brand Central” business of selling different makes of appliances, and employed knowledgeable, career employees in its various departments, Sears would be competitive. I can buy a washing machine at a local big box store, but the store farms out its service. If I knew that anything purchased from Sears would be serviced competently by its own service area and parts would be available for a reasonable time period, I would be happy to shop Sears. I once bought a vacuum cleaner from Sears. Sears didn’t carry the bags in the store. I had to order the bags through the parts department. Once when I had the vacuum opened up, I saw that it was made by Singer. I could walk into the Singer Sewing Center shop and immediately buy bags over the counter. Of course, Sears wouldn’t tell me that.

Look at Sears for why it failed. Couldn’t compete. I would buy tools, and I got appliances when they offered 10% extra with a credit card. Nothing else there of interest.

I may be wrong on the private branding thing but I guess once you ruin a brand, you’re better off to dump it for a mainstream brand. I disagree on the stagnant wage issue causing a problem. I can look at Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and those stores were anchor stores in upscale areas. The lots are full of shoppers and they are and have been buying. There was really no shortage of people with money to buy and still isn’t in those areas. The difference was the merchandise appealed to the Walmart or Kmart market but the shoppers coming to the shopping centers were more upscale. So it was a mismatch. Across the street often is a Target, appealing to a more upscale shopper and the lot is full too. I agree you would never buy a suit or a dress from Sears so why in the world would they devote so much space to these items?

Take a look at the Sears clothing department . . .

The mens department in the Sears closest to me is smaller then my living room. They are phasing out clothing but keeping the more profitable items. That’s a good sign the company is on it’s way out. I give them 5 maybe 10 years.

Way back when, I had a friend that worked for sears, he sold tv’s. He told me Sears added extra specs and quality into the products they sold. Things became more generic, and it was odd, I wanted to replace a dead Kenmore microwave to fit our 1917 built in cabinet, it was a Kenmore, height limitation was the issue, Sears did not carry it, but Kmart did.

I think the Kenmore stuff of days past (although made by other companies) was pretty durable stuff. Back in 1995 when my now wife and I moved in together we didn’t have any appliances. So off to Sears we went and bought a washer, dryer, stove, and fridge. We’ve moved the washer, dryer and fridge with us twice. The dryer had a bad switch a few years back, so I took the opportunity to replace all the rollers, belt, and a few other things and I think it will last another 10 years. The fridge had been relegated to garage fridge duty until it lost refrigerant charge last summer. 20 years isn’t bad though.

I wasn’t about to start drinking warm beer, so we bought another basic Kenmore for the garage, we’ll see how long this one lasts.

We bought a Kenmore fridge that is actually an LG at a good price there a few years back. But the clothing has been no go for my wife and kids (I would wear anything, so that does not count!).

As far as tools, when I was shopping for a torque wrench, it was overpriced, had only a one year warranty and the reviews were very poor. As much as HF get a bad rep, I have bought two from them and they have been fine for my occasional use. I do not see myself paying X150 times for the Craftsman name.

I used to buy tools and batteries and even had my truck repaired at Sears. The reason I moved away from Sears on car batteries was that Costco batteries seemed to last longer and about the same price as Sears or even a bit less.

On tools, number one reason is I’ve already purchased most of the tools I need. So I don’t need to purchase tools much any more. When I need a new one or to replace an old one I still purchase tools at Sears, that’s my go-to store for tool purchases still. But sometimes I’ll purchase tools at Harbor Freight too. For the most part Sears tools seem to be better quality than Harbor Freight. But sometimes Harbor Freight has a tool Sears doesn’t, or in the exact form I need. Or the Harbor Freight versions is considerably less expensive, and I don’t expect to need it to last long. If it works ok for a dozen repairs, then breaks, that’s often all I need.

On car repairs, years ago I decided it was easier just to do those myself. This was b/c of some unfortunate happenings at a dealership shop involving the repair of my 70’s VW Rabbit. There’s a Sears near by and I sometimes take an afternoon walk by the auto repair place and will shoot the breeze with the mechanics taking a break. For the most part they seem quite knowledgeable and willing to offer some advice if I ask. But some of them I notice – often the newer ones – tend to offer various magical elixirs like flushes and the like as advice for most any question I have. So even if I didn’t do my own car repairs, that would make be shy away from Sears for auto repairs. When I did use Sears for auto repairs back in the 1970’s and 80’s I didn’t get the “a flush will fix everything” that seems to be common now. I expect this is due to Sears business model being more profit motivated than before, as opposed to customer satisfaction motivated.

The decline of Sears corresponds to the demise of mail order catalogs. There are a lot of factors involved including the birth and evolution of WalMart, and ultimately the evolution of the internet. Sears tried to keep their same business model alive, not adapting to changing times.

As regards auto repairs, Sears never recovered from the class-action lawsuits won against them for dishonest repair practices.

All businesses have life cycles. Sears lives in the KMart Hospice Care facility now. It’s the intensive care part of the life cycle.

Aligning themselves with K-Mart wasn’t the smartest move either. What killed them was maximizing their short term prodfits, and screwing their customers in the process. People are not stupid, once they figure out that they are paying too much for inferior goods , they go someplace else.
Sears Auto shops also got caught cleaning up and selling as new Diehard batteries. My last battery experience with Sears was stopping to buy a Diehard battery for my lawn tractor. When the salesman put it up on the counter, it had a made in Mexico sticker on it. I told him I wasn’t going topay Diehard prices for a Mexican made battery and bought a US made Exide for less than 60% of the price.
This week my 30 year old Craftsman needle nose locking pliers finally wore out. I stopped at Sears to get them re[laced and the new ones have jaws that are half as long and wider to boot. I know it is because they are not made of as good a grade of steel but you can’t make them give you what they no longer manufacture.

Here’s what’s a little upsetting about the craftsman tools . . .

Your craftsman tool with such and such part number breaks, and sears warranties it for another. The new one is clearly inferior and foreign-made, but it has the same part number

A cruel joke . . . ?

As the other guys mentioned, I also buy craftsman gardening and lawn tools. I know they’re made in china, but there’s no questions asked when they break. I find the garden hoses to be a great deal. I really like the fact that you don’t need to save some stupid receipt. Buying something just once is peace of mind

Professional gardeners and landscapers would probably frown on craftsman tools, but I think they’re just fine for home use

I think the internet and the proliferation of free shipping enticements has something to do with it.

The Sears here was closed a few years ago but recently a smaller version was opened which is called Sears Hometown. It’s a 5000 square foot store located between a Dollar General store and a Sherwin-Williams paint store.

I’m in agreement with db4690 about the newer replacement tools being clearly inferior to an older one that breaks.

Before the big store closed here they would not even replace a stripped out ratchet with a new one. They kept several boxes of ratchet mechanisms by the register and would replace the guts rather than the entire ratchet.
It’s pretty much a waste of time because one can feel a horrible amount of slop in the ratchet head even with a new gearset.

There’s nothing worse than being in tight quarters and having to wrestle a ratchet half a turn just to grab a tooth or two. The only Craftsman tools I will buy new are screwdrivers, sockets, and wrenches. Everything else is pretty much borderline junk.

My parents bought everything for the house they were building in the 70’s on their Sears card, continued to shop at sears up until a few years ago when dad had to battle to get a warranty repair on the new lawn tractor. They did eventually do the repair but It turned dad into a loyal Costco customer for the vastly better customer service.