While regrouping after the holidays, it came as no surprise to me that the brand-mess conglomerate of Kmart and Sears announced today that they are closing more than 100 stores after they bombed during the holiday retail season.
My only surprise is that it’s taken so long. As we’ve said before, this was a disaster waiting to happen when the two once-great retail giants came together in 2005. Both were hurting as brands and it was a misguided attempt to bring them both back into relevance.
This became the equivalent of an NFL team having two mediocre quarterbacks, which means it really had none. Two mediocre brands do not make one great brand and here’s the proof.
Both have failed for years to be relevant. Kmart was one of the many casualties by the brand emergence of Walmart, which owns “low price,” and Kmart responded by losing focus. Been in a Kmart lately? (Judging by its sales figures, probably not.) It feels like a dollar store with no focus on who they are or, more importantly, who you are as a customer when you shop there. Kmart is completely lost.
Sears is a more interesting case. It used to have a real stake in the ground, especially when it came to appliances. It had a reputation of “solidity” and it was a place you could count on for quality and a thoughtful, smart choice. When you shopped there, you were smart and dependable.
Two things happened to Sears. The emergence of Home Depot and Lowe’s cut into its appliance business, then it went down the long road of losing focus where you could get numerous products without a focus on what they meant within the Sears brand.
The interesting thing is that the Sears brand could be salvaged. There is still a place for what it once represented, but it needs to bring back its focus. Right now, it feels like Target.
The fact that holiday shoppers stayed away is not a surprise. Going forward, I doubt Kmart and Sears will make the proper adjustments to stay alive. But I do have just one word for them: Focus.