Sears Holdings Corp. doesn’t have much to show for its seven-year effort to become an integrated retailer that’s focused on its “Shop Your Way” members other than the ongoing cash bleed and the closure of more stores.
Robert Riecker, the company’s chief financial officer in a prerecorded company conference call Thursday for Wall Street analysts, said, “Our transformation strategy is designed to make Sears Holdings a new kind of retailer — one that is innovative, truly integrated and optimally positioned to meet the needs and preferences of today’s shoppers. As we work to achieve this goal, we will continue to explore creative ways to unlock the full potential of our company’s assets, including through game-changing partnerships.”
The call followed the company’s posting of first-quarter results in which Sears Holdings said it lost $424 million, or $3.93 a diluted share, against a profit of $245 million, or $2.29, a year ago. The year-ago results were boosted by a gain of $492 million from the sale of its Craftsman brand for $900 million.
For Sears, it has been a long road back toward profitability, one that some critics believe it might not ever reach again. The company has been touting the Sears loyalty program “Shop Your Way” as focusing on its “Best Members, Best Categories and Best Stores.” And while there have been new program enhancements that give members reward points on eligible purchases, these services are essentially soft features that don’t address either Sears’ merchandising or the shopping experience at the store level.
Sears faces multiple challenges as it tries to operate against a backdrop that has seen multiple changes on the retail landscape connected with consumers’ changing shopping habits. The road to transformation began in November 2011 when then ceo Lou D’Ambrosio sent a memo to employees noting that Sears was using “disruptive technologies such as digital, social media and mobile to reinvent itself” and how the company’s challenges were dwarfed by its assets that include dedicated staff and loyal customers.
But over the years those assets have been dwindling, as the focus shifted to fixing the balance sheet. The financial maneuvers engineered in the last few years via the help of Edward S. Lampert — chairman and chief executive officer of both Sears Holdings and his own hedge fund ESL Investments — have helped Sears live to fight another day, but how much longer is increasingly uncertain.
Lampert’s ESL has expressed interest in acquiring certain Sears assets, a move that would give Sears at least $1.7 billion, or $500 million for the home improvement and PartsDirect businesses of its Sears Home Services and $1.2 billion for certain real estate assets. And Lampert, in asking a Special Committee reviewing the ESL offer for permission to speak with certain third parties, raised the question of how speed was becoming critical due to the company’s liquidity needs.
Analyst Christina Boni at credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service said Thursday, “Sears continues to struggle to bring its business to profitability.…Its continued efforts to enhance liquidity will be necessary to fund its ongoing operating losses.”
Sears’ cfo Reicker said Thursday that to drive profitability, the company will be closing additional nonprofitable Sears and Kmart stores. The company has identified 100 locations, and will begin store-closing sales in 72 sites shortly with the plan of having them shuttered by the end of the third quarter. Neither Reicker nor the company indicated when the balance of the stores — 28 — would be closed. The cfo noted that the company would continue to “evaluate our store network and other initiatives [so it] will allow us to optimize our cost structure and enhance our liquidity.”
Shares of Sears on Thursday closed down 12.5 percent to $2.81 in Nasdaq GS trading.