Leadership, or the lack thereof, makes a difference.
It has been a slow, quiet death for an iconic chain, whose groundbreaking catalog and anchor position at many malls nationwide once made Sears both the Amazon (AMZN) and the Walmart of its day.
When Sears and Kmart merged in 2005, they counted 3,500 US stores between them and more than 300,000 employees. But both brands were already in a downward spiral. After the merger the company concentrated on selling off its more attractive real estate and buying back stock in an effort to prop up its declining share price, rather than investing in modernizing stores to make them competitive.
By 2018 the company had filed for bankruptcy. Eddie Lampert, the hedge fund operator who had engineered the disastrous Kmart merger and served as the holding company’s CEO, bought the remains of the business out of bankruptcy in early 2019. He had promised to turn things around after it had shed much of its debt, unprofitable stores and less attractive leases.
The company that emerged from bankruptcy in early 2019 — with the overly optimistic name Transformco — owned 223 Sears and 202 Kmart stores nationwide. But less than four years later, it is barely on life support, as the miniscule brick-and-mortar footprint and lack of shoppers demonstrates.