KMart, Sears, or Chapter 11?
Does anyone think KMart + Sears = a better company? It doesn't look that way. Most experts say the company is worth nothing more than it's inventory value plus the real estate. Too bad, for both companies started as tremendous innovators in American retailing.
Kmart pioneered the discount store concept. And Sears pioneered the retail catalog, store credit, private label tools and appliances, and lifetime warranties. Both companies saw tremendous growth during their cycles of innovation.
Was it inevitable that they would both be relegated to below average returns? Absolutely not. Both simply stopped innovating. They turned to defending and extending what they already knew, while other competitors attacked them with new innovations.
But why not change the game now? The bankruptcy of KMart opened the door to new options - including the acquisition of Sears. If the two chains view this latest action as a chance to simply defend and extend their outmoded businesses, they will both simply die off. But if they view this as a major disruption to their business, and realize success will not come from chasing the two entrenched leaders (Wal*Mart and Target), they have the chance to create substantial value for their investors, employees and customers.
The new company needs to open its organization to innovation. The new CEO, coming from restaurants, should eschew the conventional merchandisers and strike out for something new. With the stock worth no more than the real estate, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
We haven't yet heard the new CEO make any claims about the future. If he heads down the road of putting Craftsman in KMart and Martha Stewart in Sears - with great goals of a turn-around - run for the hills! Investors should sell the stock and employees find new jobs. But if he creates a new company that innovates away from the old business and toward something brand new he has a chance of creating a new company that could produce great returns.
The fate of KMart and Sears is not cast in concrete. But the leadership must act quickly while the cement is still wet! They must use this disruption to create something new -- not defend and extend "the best parts" of what's already not working.