Sears recently made an announcement:
“Sears said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had ‘substantial doubt’ about its ability to stay in business…” (Link is here. Be warned it’s a USA Today article with an outlandish advertisement to content ratio.)
I’d assumed Sears was already gone. Who buys anything at Sears? Why?
It’s a lot like when Radio Shack went under and I thought “Radio Shack still exists?” That said, the self inflicted death of this particular dinosaur is a bittersweet moment to me. Here’s my true story about Sears:
Back in the stone age, Sears had a good reputation and I didn’t. I was young, unemployed, lonely, broke, and running on fumes. Shit happens and sometimes a young man (despite his best efforts) bottoms out.
But fortune favors the bold and I never quit striving. After many setbacks I landed a job! My future was looking better than my present.
All I needed was steel toed work boots. I couldn’t show up at the job site without them. (Even back then OSHA was utterly feared by employers.)
I didn’t have cash to buy the required safety boots. (Sounds like a country music song doesn’t it? Well it’s true so quit laughing.)
This was back before everyone and their dog had credit cards. (And yes, for the younger readers out there, there was a time when there wasn’t a Government program to provide every damn thing a person would want.) Until I figured out the boot situation I’d continue swirling the drain. None of this is complaining, I just want to set the stage.
People say “I spent my last dollar” but it’s rarely literally true. For me it was. I had half a tank of gas and when it ran out I was done for! My food was already gone. Asking for help from friends and relatives was unthinkable. I’d have died before I asked for money and I was 500 miles away from home anyway (both literally and metaphysically). (Listen to the song y’all. Many of us have been there.)
After various attempted solutions at solving my quandary. I wound up at a mall were I sought salvation… from Sears.
Back then the only way a man of modest means could buy on credit was from “store cards”. The only card a loser like me could get was Sears. No shit… there was a time when a man couldn’t easily get a Visa card. I lived in those times so I know it’s true. Yet from the modern point of view it seems remote and unbelievable.
Sears had literally one pair of steel toed work boots in the store. They weren’t cheap. I bought them (and nothing else). I was immensely grateful. I still remember that moment with a soft heart.
Surprisingly, the boots sucked. They trashed my feet. The job sucked too. I didn’t care. It’s better to have cut up feet (thanks OSHA!) and a shit job than be half a tank of gas from homeless.
That moment, when a pair of boots was a nearly insurmountable barrier, may not be my lowest financial point (there have been many to choose from) but it was certainly among the scariest. I had looked into the abyss and come back with nothing worse than blistered feet. I was very lucky. Six months later I bought vastly better boots (possibly Redwings). I paid cash and tossed the Sears footkillers in the trash.
Fast forward many years and I was slowly climbing the financial ladder. Because of the boots, I had a warm spot in my heart for Sears. They’d been a hand up in my time of need and I was inclined to “repay” by buying a shitload of top end stuff. Notably I “invested” in a pile of Craftsman wrenches & tools. I also sprung for car batteries, shocks, mufflers, sets of tires, power tools, jeans, household appliances, a fancy vacuum cleaner, and much of the other stuff a person needs to live a normal American life. I could have gotten all that crap cheaper elsewhere but I wanted “quality” and Sears still had a stellar reputation. I figured I’d buy the good stuff and only have to pay once.
Gradually I realized I was paying extra to get shitty stuff. The wrenches were good (I still have them) but everything else was crap. The sander conked, the appliances went belly up, etc…
I wanted to maintain brand loyalty for life. Yet I was getting screwed. How long should I reward them for those boots?
Finally, after my fancy vacuum cleaner conked out for the umpteenth time, I broke ties with Sears. It wasn’t the shitty vacuum that did it. It was shitty people.
I was in back trying to buy parts to keep my piece of shit running. Up front, a young couple was browsing shiny new vacuum cleaners. They looked like newlyweds from a Norman Rockwell scene. They were pondering the vacuum cleaners and debating the “investment” that was probably a big deal purchase in their budget (as it had been in mine). They were being assisted by a salesdrone. He was extolling the virtues of longevity and quality components.
The part I needed was out of stock. Parts were out of stock more often every visit. Meanwhile a different salesdrone was giving me the hard sell on a new vacuum cleaner. “Why bother with another belt? These vacuums are only meant to last a couple years anyway.”
That asshole! When I’d bought the damn thing I’d been at that very store! I’d paid twice what I’d have spent at a new competitor across the street. (A heretofore unknown Borg-like entity called Walmart.) At the time of purchase I’d been told ;”This thing will last a lifetime.” I’d been willing to pay higher prices based on the promise of quality and longevity.
I grabbed my salesdrone by the elbow and towed him bodily to the front of the store. I steered him between the shocked couple and their worried looking alternative drone. Then I engaged in a little “street theater”:
“This model is the one I own.” I waved at the vacuum cleaner that was exactly what I owned, couldn’t buy parts for, and the newlyweds were considering. “Go ahead, tell everyone what you just said to me.”
My salesdrone’s jaw dropped. He looked like I’d hit him between the eyes with a sledge. Finally, after a long pause, he shrugged and gave in; “Those vacuums are only meant to last a couple of years.”
Whether it was because they were freaked out by me manhandling salesdrones or because it dawned on them that plastic shit is cheaper at Walmart, the newlyweds left. I stomped away; leaving a salesdrone who’d just lost a sure commission glaring at the other who had stepped in it.
I never bought anything at Sears after that day. This comports with a standard Curmudgeonly Gem of Insight:
It’s inevitable that Sears will die. You can’t screw up worse than they did with me. I was hugely grateful and planning to pay top dollar for quality products as long as I lived. They had the world in their hands. They blew it for the one-time profit on an overpriced vacuum cleaner. They foisted shit upon a man so loyal I’d have crawled through broken glass to give them money. Sears didn’t lose to competition, it committed suicide.