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Sears to Close 96 More Stores Citing ‘Difficult' Environment

Eliza Ronalds-Hannon and Lauren Coleman-Lochner
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Sears to Close 96 More Stores Citing ‘Difficult' Environment

(Bloomberg) -- The owner of Sears and Kmart is closing almost a third of its remaining stores just months after buying the struggling retailer out of bankruptcy.

Transform Holdco LLC’s shutdown of 96 locations will leave just 182 outlets for the company, which was once America’s biggest department store chain. The merchant “has faced a difficult retail environment and other challenges” and is “pruning operations that have struggled due to increased competition and other factors,” Transform said in an emailed statement late Thursday.

The company is getting $250 million of new capital from its owners, led by Eddie Lampert’s hedge fund ESL Investments Inc., along with a third-party investor.

“This is an acceleration of the death march that Eddie Lampert began when he combined Sears and Kmart over a decade ago,” said Burt Flickinger, managing director of the retail-advisory firm Strategic Resource Group. “It is a classic illustration of how most Wall Street types have a deficient understanding of what’s required for a Main Street retail company to be effective.”

The announcement shows that Sears, which narrowly escaped liquidation after its 2018 bankruptcy, is withering as consumers move on from the chain. Lampert bought Sears’s assets out of bankruptcy earlier this year, expressing faith in its future and vowing to preserve jobs, but it’s still facing the same fundamental problems that led it to seek court protection last year.

Real Estate

“We will endeavor to create and deliver value through a strategic combination of our better performing retail stores and our service businesses, brands and other assets, and expect to realize a significant return on our extensive portfolio of owned and leased real estate,” the company said. It listed the Kenmore and DieHard brands among its assets.

Details of the announcement were reported earlier by Reuters.

ESL can recoup some of its investment in Sears through the sale of properties it closes, but the hedge fund may need some help, according to Jim Sullivan, an equity research analyst at BTIG who follows the commercial property industry.

“To develop these assets and maximize the returns you really need to be working with one of the major established retail real estate developers,” Sullivan said.

Lampert bought Kmart out of Chapter 11 in 2003 and merged it with Sears two years later. But the combination of the two ailing retailers lagged behind ascendant merchants like Walmart Inc., Target Corp. and Amazon.com Inc, and it spiraled into a tailspin that produced almost $11 billion in losses until the company finally filed for bankruptcy in October 2018.

Hometown Advantage

Lampert’s vision for the new company involves smaller locations emphasizing appliances and other home items. To that end, he bought the remaining stake in Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores Inc. he didn’t already control, bringing the unit spun off in 2012 back under his oversight. The smaller Hometown stores feature appliances as well as lawn and garden merchandise and are located in areas not served by full-sized Sears stores.

Gabriella Santaniello, founder of retail consulting firm A Line Partners, said she’s not surprised by the latest round of store closures from Sears, and that it makes more sense for the company to focus on the Sears Hometown chain.

Sears has “lost so much of their footprint and their relevance with the American consumer,” Santaniello said. “It’s not that crazy of a strategy for them to just focus on” appliances, she said, adding that “in terms of apparel and being a competitor in that space, that ship has sailed completely.”

--With assistance from Jordyn Holman.

To contact the reporters on this story: Eliza Ronalds-Hannon in New York at eronaldshann@bloomberg.net;Lauren Coleman-Lochner in New York at llochner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anne Riley Moffat at ariley17@bloomberg.net, ;Rick Green at rgreen18@bloomberg.net, Jonathan Roeder

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