Last week Sears announced that it was closing over 100 stores across America. That was the bad news. The good news was that Sears was still alive and trying to figure out how to gain customers. The problem is that senior management at Sears is at the same spot that GM Motors was in the late 1990's, arrogant white males, unable to identify with its potential customer base.
The art of selling power tools, dishwashers, stoves and refrigerators has been a problem for Sears management and sales force for at least the last 25 years.
Let me take you back in time with my Way-Back-When Machine, to the year 1987.
It was a Tuesday in Frankfort, Kentucky on a bitter cold day in February. I had just spent the last five hours moving a house full of furniture out of harm's way. Mary and her law partner had been trying to rescue the partner’s family home belongings, just ahead of a raging and out of control flooding Kentucky River. The house in question stood some 30 feet above the river, in the bend, the River takes as it flows around Frankfort. On this day the river would hit almost 40 feet above the bank’s edge.
Back home again to our home three blocks from the River. It was 10:10 a.m. and I was having a great time taking a shower after we had moved most of the furniture and appliances. When I turned off the shower, I thought that I could still hear water running in the house.
This was a 1903 house with three stories and a full basement. So, standing there at the first floor bathroom door I slowly turned toward the sound of running water. Ever more and ever more taking baby steps down to the basement door, the sound of running water grew louder.
As if I was making the motions in a cheaply made horror movie, I could hear the audience screaming at me , “Don't open the door!!” But I did anyway.
No monsters. No blood. No brain eating zombies. Staring me in the face, deep within my very own basement was a water geyser some eight feet tall exploding sewer and river water into the house. Like a deer in headlights, I slowly just sat down on the first step on the basement staircase and watched the water rapidly move up the twelve steps.
In a strange morbid way, I (must of been in stock) calmly watched the water reach the hot water heater, washer and dryer, electric fuse box (six feet off of the floor) and finally come to a stop just below the windows. So, still in my bathrobe, the morning had presented me with eight feet of very nasty water in my basement.
Four days later with insurance cash in hand, my wife Mary persuaded me that it was time to rebuild the basement. The first task was to secure a new washer and dryer. So, off to Sears land she took me.
Somewhere deep in my mind I knew that this was not going to be a pleasant experience.
“Yes dear, you are right of course.”
Now, for those of you still in the audience, you must understand my job at state government was to be very good at long range strategic planning between federal and state government. Still in my early thirties, I had somehow avoided the task of ever having to buy things for a house like washers or dryers or stoves.
The appliance section of our Sears reminded me of a used car lot. They had some 30 to 60 units on the floor with some eight white males working the floor. All men were dressed in white button down shirts with black ties.
I stepped three feet into the washer and dryer section when two very aggressive men stood at my side. As I opened a dryer door, both men offered to help with the Sale-of-the-Day.
The tall one asked me what type of unit did I need. I replied that I wasn't sure. The other man inquired what color I wanted. This really surprised me since all the units were white.
I said to both of them, “Look, We just went through a flood. Insurance paid off. I have money for a new washer and dryer.”
“Well, what does the little women want?”
Oh boy, not that statement. I could feel Mary’s anger starting to build.
“Why don't you ask her, she standing right here with us?”
No fights. Mary controlled her desire to teach then some new martial arts moves. So, I told the salesmen after about twenty minutes of having them crawl all over me for “help with my decision”.
“What does $600 dollars buy?” The answer was the units I had been looking at to start with.
Finally. I could see day light. We were just seconds to completing the paperwork. Done.
Then, a male voice as if it were miles away, down some forgotten railroad tunnel, said, “That will be forty dollars for delivery.”
The feeling is like the instant you know you are about to get a very bad cold because in that special spot in your throat, a sore spot become alive.
“What!!!!!” How can you justify $40 dollars for going less than a mile?
The older one look at me with a satisfied smirk and said. “OK, you move it yourself.”
They had me and they both knew it. With no truck and no help, it would be disaster for me to attempt to move these units.
“Fine. Just Fine. You bring to our house next week.”
“Cannot do that. We only make deliveries on alternate Thursdays”
Feeling like I could take the big guy with one strong blow to his stomach, I somehow heard these words cut through my fog of anger: “Do you want the hoses for these units? They cost an extra $25 dollars each pair.”
I heard myself ask this question,” You mean after spending $600 with you, hoses are extra.”
All I remember after that was sitting in the car with Mary slapping me to wake me up. It seems I went berserk in the Washer and Dryer section of Sears, trying to beat two salesmen with long black rubber hoses. Thank God when we got out of there, before the police showed up.
Mary took us a half mile down the road to an independent appliance store. In ten minutes we had selected another washer and dryer set, complete with hoses, $50 dollars cheaper, plus they promised to deliver the same day.
That's been 25 years ago, and I haven't been back to Sears store since.