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Sears and Younkers

2018-06-09

Category: General

The Sears and Younkers stores at my local mall are closing. This represents a loss of jobs at those stores and threatens the jobs at everyone else working at the mall. Just as important, the closing of these stores illustrate a failure of management within the stores themselves.

Death of Younkers

Younkers used to be an upscale store. In our area, the low end was K-Mart. If you wanted better, you went to a place like Younkers. They had better brands and quality, even though it cost a bit more. They also has class. If you bought something at Younkers, you were buying something special.

There are two extremes to make a profit (legally). You can sell one big item for a thousand dollars profit, or you can sell a thousand little items for a dollar profit each. Both result in that grand of profit, but each is a different approach. The single item is assumed to be inherently better.

Younkers fell on that spectrum as the place selling fifty items at twenty dollars profit each. It was a good place to be. There was some competition, but not enough to matter too heavily, not in Eastern Iowa.

Then came the web and Walmart. Both sold everything cheap. The costs were down, so prices could drop while still turning a profit. As the model worked better, they increased the variety of products available. Suddenly, they could sell some of the same things one could get at Younkers, but at a much lower price.

At this point, Younkers had to make a choice. They could improve their quality and sell items with more class and distinction, or they could try to compete with Walmart. They chose to compete with Walmart. That was their downfall. That's not something most places can do. The Younkers store became a mockery of its former self, filled with items one could purchase nearly anywhere. They pass like some junkie in the alley, dead by their own bad decisions.

The Sears That Might Have Been

The Sears store is even more annoying. At this time, Sears isn't going completely out of business; they are just closing some stores. This is part of their struggle against online commerce. This is the disappointing part: Sears should be the king of online commerce.

Before the Internet, you ordered everything through the Sears and Roebuck Catalog. Really, everything. You used to be able to order cars and houses through that catalog. People waited anxiously for the catalog to arrive in the mail so they could oggle the new treasures within. Many kids grew up with the Wish Book full of toys around the Christmas holiday.

If Sears had caught on to the Internet early, they could have transitioned their catalog to an online experience. Quite honestly, if they had done that there would probably be no Amazon today. Sears could have been the de facto online shop. They could have pushed Internet-ready home computers, used their extensive warehouses. They could ship to homes or local stores. They could have ruled the retail world.

Instead, they chose not to. They did things like pay their floor salespeople on commission, making those people highly annoying. I would avoid going to Sears unless I really needed to, just because I didn't like interacting with them. The more that sales fell off, the more annoying they became.

The Common Theme

In both cases, the stores should have been able to not just survive, but to thrive. Instead, they chose to panic and to drag themselves down to the most mundane aspect of themselves. They chose to rot instead of grow. As a result, many people are losing their jobs and a bit of Americana dies.


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