Sears' Growing Pains

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Sears is experiencing some growing pains with its Lands' End division, the Chicago Tribune reported last week. It seems that many mothers don't want to pay $24 for a pair of Lands' End shorts for their growing children when a private-label pair costs $8 on the sales rack one aisle over. When Sears acquired Lands' End for $1.9 billion two years ago, it said it wanted to attract younger, more upscale Lands' End customers who are used to shopping at home. Is that happening? Guess not.

During a recent conference call, one analyst asked Sears executives whether it should stop selling clothing entirely, according to the Tribune. Since the company sells $4.5 billion in apparel yearly, that won't happen anytime soon. But isn't it funny how analysts can turn so quickly? Stock market watchers called the Sears-Lands' End merger a win-win situation at the time, but those who knew better weren't cheering as loudly. Dick Hodgson of Sargeant House told us the week the deal was announced: "At best, I would give it a 50 percent chance of being successful." Sounds like Dick was right on the money.

Now that I think about it, didn't analysts use the same win-win rubbish regarding the Federated Department Stores-Fingerhut merger in 1999? That marriage was all about Federated's need to create a Web presence, and when the dot-coms went bust, it had no idea what to do with Fingerhut's low-end customer base. The Sears-Lands' End marriage is a different story. It's about fitting pricier inventory from Lands' End into Sears' discount philosophy. And Sears desperately needs to get Lands' End shoppers into its stores, since regular Sears customers don't give a whit about the Lands' End label.

Someone Referred Me for This?

You gotta love the mail piece I received the other day from the National Training Conference with a "special invitation" to a Financial Super Stars get-rich-quick conference in Secaucus, NJ. The mailer included two complimentary tickets (worth $149 each!) and began with the opening line, "Because you were referred to me ..." Too bad the outer envelope was addressed to no one in particular, not even "Current Resident." Instead, it said: "Your RSVP is requested." How un-personal can you get? The invitation also promises "All speakers live & in person." Wow, exciting as it sounds, I'm busy that day.


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