Sometimes when a corporation fails you could have seen it coming decades ago and so it’s not news.  But rarely you could have seen it coming decades ago and it’s still news.  Thus with Sears’ bankruptcy filing.

“Attention, attention must finally be paid….”

Linda’s Monologue, Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller).

Only, of course, if we believe the story harbors a lesson for our readers.

Sears was the original “Everything Store” in the early 20th Century and it got there by capitalizing upon a confluence of newly available technologies:

  • Nationwide rural postal delivery that could deliver its famous catalogs, ultimately to nearly every household in America;
  • Likewise national rail freight penetration to deliver the products it sold, from lingerie to entire flat-packed houses;
  • and radio to advertise its wares across the country.

And it made a transformative pivot in the first half of that century, opening its first retail store in Chicago in 1925 and going on a furious expansion spree–opening one store a day at its peak–and capitalizing upon, rather than being dismissive of or baffled by, the post-WWII explosion of suburbia and invention of the American car culture.

It pioneered anchor tenant/stores in suburban malls with huge parking lots; it opened on Sundays; it distributed its Sears credit card into the hands of 90 million customers. It created and brought to ubiquitous market penetration classic and worthy brands including Craftsman tools, Die-Hard auto parts, and Kenmore appliances.

But it never pivoted again.

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