Of all the troubled CEOs in a troubled sector, Sears CEO Eddie Lampert may be the most troubled of all. And so in what seems to be part of a last-ditch effort to keep the jackals at bay while other retailers are being devoured around his iconic company, Lampert has embarked on an aggressive social-media strategy to castigate Sears’ enemies and explain his strategy.
Lampert’s approach is Trumpian, but he’s using posts on Sears’ corporate blog rather than tweets. On Tuesday, he took a stand against a China-based tool supplier that, Lampert wrote, “is trying to take unfair advantage of us.” The latest blast followed a post on Thursday in which Lampert defended his strategy for rehabilitating Sears and Kmart chains as speculation grows that his company will follow a spate of other retailers into bankruptcy. “We are fighting like hell!” to succeed, Lampert wrote in that post.
Sears, of course, has been on a mostly downward trajectory for decades. A generation ago, Sears Roebuck and then-independent Kmart were duking it out for the title of America’s largest retailer. But then Walmart came along and blitzed them both in different ways. Not even a combined Sears and Kmart have been able to hold up well against the new forces buffeting retailing over the last decade, including e-commerce.
But while Sears has been closing stores, selling off brands and otherwise paring itself for years, seeming to be on a continual death watch, Lampert used the occasion of the company’s annual meeting last week to launch a rhetorical counter-offensive. Then he wrote a blog post, which is not uncommon for him.
“WE ARE FIGHTING LIKE HELL TO SUCCEED!”
“While the retail environment is as difficult as it has ever been, it is important to remember that Sears and Kmart have been evolving to meet the needs of shoppers for over a century,” Lampert wrote. And now, “We are making transformational changes to our business to remain competitive over the long-term,” including developing the Shop Your Way membership platform, cutting costs by hundreds of millions of dollars, and Lampert’s continuing investment of his own financial resources in the company.
Recently, Lampert pivoted to criticizing a vendor: One World, which is owned by China-based Techtronic Industries and makes power tools for Sears’ Craftsman brand. Lampert said One World told Sears it plans “to take the very aggressive step of filing a lawsuit against us,” citing the company’s plans as an example of a business “trying to take advantage of negative rumors about Sears to make themselves a better deal.”
It remains to be seen whether Lampert’s direct and aggressive attempts to influence Sears’ future via his blog will work. But it’s a tool available in CEOs’ toolboxes, and as more examples come to the surface, we might see other CEOs using the strategy going forward.