Steve Russell: The Decline and Fall of Sears





When I was a kid, the “wishbook” from Sears, Roebuck, was perhaps the most potent symbol of capitalism, a smorgasbord of reasonably priced consumer goods from all over the world.

Sears sold two wheel transportation under the Allstate brand, Vespa scooters from Italy and Puch motorcycles and mo-peds from Austria.

Sears had apparently bought army surplus Enfield rifles from England and if memory serves you could get one “as is” for under $20 and a sexed up version less a lot of wood and metal for a bit more. Order your military rifle and it shall be delivered to your door, until Lee Oswald ordered an Italian military rifle by mail and did major mischief with it.

Sears has fallen on hard times when it could have put its business plan on line and become Amazon. Instead, it moved to brick and mortar and has gone the way of most brick and mortar stores.

Sears stock was victimized by one of the bear raids made possible when Bush 43 neutered the SEC. The naked short rule went unenforced and the uptick rule was flat repealed to the detriment of ordinary Americans who had no idea why that mattered.

At one point during the Great Recession, a bear raid had knocked the stock down so far I was having a nostalgia attack and wanted to buy some–only to discover that more shares were sold short than existed in the float. I had not yet seen Bush 43’s tracks in that crazy state of affairs but the sheer absurdity of it scared me off big time.

Good thing, too, for me personally, because I would have let emotion into a trade and gotten hosed. Letting emotion into stock trading is an error like the one addressed by the maxim, “Never fall in love with a car” when shopping for transportation.

Anyway, yesterday the Wall Street Journal sent a bulletin to my iPhone saying that Sears–impecunious again–was about to sell the Craftsman brand to raise cash.

Oh, no! Craftsman to me always stood for excellent hand tools, well designed and well made and backed by a legendary warranty. Bring your broken Craftsman hand tool into Sears and they hand you a new one, without asking where or when you bought it, whether you abused it, etc.

Craftsman tools were mostly if not exclusively made in USA, and it never dawned on me that the company was somewhat protected in the US market by the oddball sizes our tools required in a world of metric.

Don’t get me started on British Standard–the bottom line was a garage that wanted to work on everything needed three sets of tools. Does anybody but me remember that we were on track to go metric when President Reagan reversed the decision of the Carter administration to join the rest of the world? Another Reagan idiocy, right up there with tearing down the solar panels Carter had installed on the White House roof.

Either Carter’s solar energy turn or Carter’s metric turn would have saved more US jobs than all the tweets Donald Trump offers to the same end.

Anyway, I was all “Oh no, not Craftsman,” thinking that the iconic brand could be acquired by some outfit making cheap tools in Taiwan or wherever and they would trade on the reputation of the brand until they managed to destroy it. Another victim of unregulated globalization.

This morning I read that the buyer is Stanley Black & Decker. I’m too old to use hand tools much anymore, so why do I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet?


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