The gravitational pull of the black hole that Sears Holdings
Last May, the U.S. government's cash-for-appliances program helped Sears boost sales. As that handout has faded, so have the sales.
This was hardly a surprise, though, as Whirlpool
Nothing up his sleeve
With little else going for it, Sears has been reduced to gimmicks to gin up revenue, and I'm not referring to Chairman Eddie Lampert's use of total return swaps, which have proven to be a hit or miss proposition (though they seem mostly to miss).
No, I mean Sears' Christmas in July program and layaway promotions that have done little to spark consumer interest. Or the decision to become the neighborhood pawnbroker and offer cash-for-gold services. Or $150 tablet computers. All of these ideas thrown at the wall have failed to drive shoppers to the stores, but Lampert isn't done yet. His latest idea is for Sears to open its doors for the first time ever on Thanksgiving Day.
Promoting its strengths
But there is hope. Appliance makers like LG Electronics are looking to lure customers back to big-ticket purchases through promotional campaigns over holiday season. Although Home Depot
Appliances have always been one of Sears' saving graces. When consumers do want to shop for a washing machine or refrigerator, by and large they turned to Sears. It still owns around 32% of the major appliance market, though admittedly that's well below the 41% it had at the start of the decade. That just highlights the folly of Lampert neglecting to invest in his own stores, and any money he's thrown their way recently may be a case of too little, too late.
Applying lessons learned
Of course, Sears would welcome any bounce it gets from appliance makers discounting their products, but the benefit will be temporary and of as much lasting value as any other gimmick Lampert's employed. Like the real estate buried in its balance sheet, until the retailer can find a way to unlock the value possessed by its appliances, investors are going to have to rely upon these one-off ideas to get people in.
Management began the process by monetizing its Craftsman and DieHard brands, making them more widely available by selling them at locations outside of Sears. Putting that kind of thinking to work on its appliances may be what brings Sears back from the brink.
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