If Kim Kardashian couldn't help Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLDQ) turn its retail operations around, what makes it think singer Adam Levine, or rapper-turned-American Idol judge Nikki Minaj, will do any better? The diminished stature of the once-venerable retailer is simply taken down yet another notch as it slaps a new pop icon face across its banner.
Sears is developing a new business unit called Shop Your Way Brands that focuses on entertainment-driven fashion and lifestyle brands, and the Levine-Minaj tag team duo represent the first two also-rans to populate the stage. I'm just not sure the "authentic personal style of iconic artists" is exactly what the typical Sears shopper is looking for.
Levine's t-shirt and jeans might carry over, but exactly how that differentiates what Sears offers from the clothes found at Target and Wal-Mart is beyond me. And the big curves of Minaj seems to have already been tried with the Karadashian line, though perhaps the pink hair might be a new draw.
It's easy to understand why Sears might want to hitch its wagon to celebrities, as revenues at the retailer continue to ebb away, dropping more than 4% in 2012, and down 25% since 2007, the last year it recorded a gain. The ShopYourWay social shopping experience drove over half of its revenues at Sears and Kmart in the fourth quarter and for all of last year. But its half of a quickly dwindling pie. In contrast, Wal-Mart sales grew 4% in the fourth quarter, to $127 billion while Target's sales were almost 7% higher, and neither had to rely upon pop stars to achieve the growth.
It's true that every retailer has a stable of personalities it relies upon, though more often than not, they're related to true fashion designers rather than the latest popular reality TV star. But Sears is making an art form out of trying any new shtick to see if it can reverse course and, by this point, you'd think it would realize it's making some horrible choices.
At this point, I'd be willing to bet J.C. Penney has a better shot at making a viable comeback than does Sears. Perhaps it was done tongue-in-cheek, but a blog yesterday speculated about the chances of Sears buying out Penney, though it concluded adding yet another wounded retailer to its mix of dying brands would probably not serve anyone's interests.
From Christmas in July to being your quick cash-for-gold broker, financial gimmicks like total return swaps to calving off divisions like Orchard Supply and Sears Hometown, the retailer has thrown a lot at the wall over the years to try and return value to shareholders, but hardly anything has worked.
Despite what it heralds as a new entertainment-driven fashion business, Sears isn't singing any new tune that shoppers -- or investors, for that matter -- are likely to want to hear.