The death of Sears and the long demise of dying brands

When iconic Sears filed for bankruptcy in October, it ended another chapter in the slow, drawn out demise of once iconic American brands now fading from the retail landscape, along with the shopping malls they once proudly anchored.

Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck founded the company in 1893 to sell watches by mail. As recently as the 1960s, 2 of every 3 Americans shopped at Sears in any three-month period, and more than half of households had a Sears credit card.

Currently, the company operates 687 Sears and Kmart stores and employs about 68,000 people. By the end of the year it is expected to close 142 stores with liquidation sales expected to begin shortly. The closings are in addition to 46 stores Sears previously said it would close by November.

While we have been forecasting the slow, agonizing shrinking of once formidable department stores for decades, the fall of Sears is particularly reflective of the trend line global forecaster Gerald Celente identified in his book, “Trends 2000” in 1995 and numerous times since.

For decades, Celente predicted and wrote about his “Pall on the Malls” trend, noting there was a gross overdevelopment of malls and shopping centers, while America’s once thriving middle class was shrinking. Thus, there was a declining population of enough people with enough money to “shop until we drop.”

And the bigs, who grew bigger through mergers and acquisitions, failed to identify that trend, and the new products and service lines that meet new customer needs and interests.

Today, they’re paying the price. Burdened with massive debt and focused only on building their bottom line, they built a homogenous retail landscape based on sterile data-driven corporate models of shopping patterns and buying habits that replaced original, unique product development.

In 2017, more than 5000 stores of major retailers closed due to declining sales and competition from online retailers.

This high rate of closures is continuing in 2018 with close to 4,000 expected from Walgreens, Toys R Us and The Gap. Many have already closed or will be shut down by the end of the year.

Other retailer closings are planned to continue into 2019 and beyond. Ann Taylor is closing 500 stores, Teavana 380, Best Buy 250, Sears/Kmart 142 and Mattress Firm 200. The children’s clothing retailer Gymboree announced in July that it would close 350 stores. The Children’s Place is planning to close 144 stores by 2020.

While the dramatic decline of big chain stores and shopping malls is often blamed on the rise of online shopping, Celente has long identified other more powerful underlying trends that fueled their demise: “Their lack of future vision that blinds them to new possibilities…rather than providing consumers with diverse and original products, and they focused on a one-size-fits-all corporate strategy.” TJ


Dying brands will be a trend that accelerates in 2019. The Bigs have taken the joy out of shopping, and inventive, creative Brick and Mortar OnTrendpreneurs® now have a wide open field of opportunity to fill the product, service, customer experience shopping gaps they’ve left behind.

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