A Look Back At Sears' History

The Wall Street Journal published a timeline for Sears and Roebuck in a recent weekend edition. Titled “The Rise and Fall of an American Icon” it chronicles the significant years and events for the retailer now likely headed for bankruptcy. I’d like to share with you some of what I learned. I hope you find it as interesting as I do.

1893 Sears, Roebuck and Company established by Richard Sears, a railroad agent and Alvah Roebuck, a watchmaker. The company sold mail order watches.

1906 The company goes public, offering preferred stock at $97.50 a share, the first American retailer to do so.

1913 Sears introduces the Kenmore brand with sewing machines. Over the century it adds all major appliances and as of 2002, 4 in 10 appliances were sold at Sears.

1925 Sears opens its first brick-and-mortar store in Chicago. Up until then, it was all mail order catalog business. By the 1950’s Sears is an anchor tenant in malls across the country with 700+ stores.

1927 Sears introduces Craftsman Tools. Craftsman sold to Stanley Black and Decker in 2017.

1933 The first Sears Wishbook is launched, featuring toys and holiday merchandise.

Do you remember poring over the Wishbook bending pages to mark things you wanted? This was launched in the middle of the Great Depression (1929-1939), a bold move at a time when people barely had enough to eat.

1952 Sears offers a mail order car but cancels it the next year due to poor sales.

1962 Walmart, Kmart, Kohl’s and Target ALL OPEN their first stores. I wondered what was going on in America that inspired discount retailers to take stage all at once, and after a little research learned that both the middle class and the suburbs were growing rapidly making conditions perfect for value shopping to compete with traditional department stores.

1967 Sears debuts the DieHard battery with great success.

1973 The Sears Tower opens in Chicago boasting 110 stories and claimed the title of world’s tallest building of its time.

1985 The Discover Card, owned by Sears, is introduced into the credit card marketplace, accounting for 60% of its profits when sold to Citigroup in 2003.

1991 Walmart tops Sears as the nation’s top-selling retailer.

1997 Amazon.com goes public, “beginning a meteoric rise that changes the way people shop and upends the business of traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.”

2002 Sears buys catalog retailer Lands’ End. Have you looked at Lands’ End lately? It’s obvious time and money are being spent developing, marketing and rebranding this company

2012 Sears reports a huge annual loss, the first of 7 straight unprofitable years.

2018 Sears partners with Amazon to install tires purchased on Amazon, a move that top executives hoped would spark a turn-a-round.

2018 Sears hires advisers to prepare for bankruptcy.

Analysts say Sears had an inconsistent internal strategy and lack of adaptability that allowed big box retailers to surpass them and then Amazon to crush them.

Amazon has been called the Sears Catalog of the modern age. I guess it is, you can get anything you need with a quick search and click on the world’s largest online retail platform. But at what cost? What other retail icons will buckle under the pressure of this online giant? Time will tell, I guess.

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