PROPOSAL FOR A TROUBLED SEARS
A MODERN PROPOSAL FOR A TROUBLED SEARS
Sales are slipping. Promotions are falling flat. Sears stock has dropped by almost half since April. A great name in American retail history - maybe the greatest name - is in real crisis now.
And no one at Sears, with seven full-service stores on Long Island, knows what to do.
Chief executive Aylwin Lewis was bum-rushed out this weekend. Some interim guy is in charge. Chairman Edward Lampert, the hedge-fund billionaire who vowed to make Sears hot again, has run out of new ideas. He’s giving up his day-to-day responsibilities and will “no longer have any direct reports.”
There’s a technical term for Sears’ current predicament. A muddled mess, it’s called.
But I love Sears. I’ll bet you love Sears, too. How could we not love Sears? We all grew up on Kenmore washers, DieHard batteries and Craftsman socket wrenches. I even had a Silvertone guitar amp. Sears brands all.
So as Wall Street panics and Sears execs throw up their hands, I’m not just sitting around. I’m doing my part to help save Sears. Which mainly means showing up in a bright loft office on lower Broadway and asking Geoff Vuleta to please, please, please do his stuff.
Vuleta, a wiry New Zealander with a casual demeanor and laser-intense eyes, is co-founder and chief executive of Fahrenheit 212, a tiny innovation-consulting firm with a huge reputation for reviving aging brands. Part blue-sky idea factory, part down-to-earth product lab, this small New York company has cooked up unexpected futures for some of the world’s most recognized brands. Hershey. Smirnoff. Samsung. Warner Music and NBC Universal.
“The epicenter of innovation,” Esquire recently called Fahrenheit 212.
“We invent products for companies and help those companies take those products to market,” Vuleta explains.
Minimum target: $100 million in new revenue.
“We’re a firm of great generalists, not specialists,” he says. “Our work is often disruptive to corporate cultures. Our obsession is only with outcome. What we create is going to work, and it will be extraordinary.”
So what about Sears?
Vuleta and his team of creative directors, finance experts, strategic analysts and pop-culture obsessives agreed, just for fun, to kick that question around.
Well, they’ve hatched an idea so fresh, so different, so beyond conventional retail thought, I swear it could change the American way of shopping - and save Sears, too.
“Lifetime ownership,” Vuleta says with fully rounded Auckland vowels, letting the phrase just hang in the air.
By this time tomorrow, mark my words, Mr. Hedge Fund from Sears will be on the telephone to lower Broadway.
The strategy involves more than luring customers to Sears, one purchase at a time. “Let’s really turn them into lifetime customers,” Vuleta says. Invite people to “join” Sears, not just shop there.
For a monthly fee priced like an insurance policy, customers will get a lifetime’s worth of home appliances or lawn-care equipment or auto repairs - delivered, maintained, upgraded and replaced by Sears.
Or as Geoff Vuleta puts it: “Guaranteed reliability and complete peace of mind.”
And in exchange? “Sears gets a lifetime customer - and a lifetime stream of recurring revenue, built on the actuarial certainty of a life-insurance policy,” he says.
The category possibilities are obvious.
SearsElectronics: “Making sure your TV, stereo and home theater stay ahead of the curve.” SearsComputer: “A home-computer system that evolves as your needs do and is never out of date.”
SearsAuto. “A service partnership for the life of the car.” SearsGarden: “Because the only thing better than a shiny new lawn mower is a shiny new lawn mower you’ll never have to repair.”
Customer trade-ins could be then resold in Sears discount stores - “Sears serviced and verified” - undercutting even Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.
Truly, it’s an approach to selling that only a trusted brand like Sears could achieve, borderless thinking for a new business age.
“Each sale is for the life of a person, not for the life of a product,” Vuleta says.
What do you think, Mr. Hedge Fund? Does Sears have a future yet? By now, the phrases are spinning like a trusty Kenmore inside Geoff Vuleta’s head.
“Weaving Sears into life and putting life into Sears,” he says. “In a way only the world’s most reliable brand can.”
“A one-time sale for an eternity of purchasing.”
Or “Sears and you. Partners for life.”
And maybe just “Sears - for life.”
By Ellis Henican