Sears CEO blasts media for struggles, says it has enough customers

Sears Holdings Corp. Chairman Edward Lampert said Wednesday the media for years has "unfairly singled out" Sears' struggles in the retail industry and "we don't need more customers."

Lampert said during the annual shareholder meeting at the company's Hoffman Estates headquarters that shoppers should expect more smaller stores in the future as the company looks at ways to improve business.

But he used most of his time addressing the roughly 100 shareholders and employees to blast the media, pointing to negative headlines from years ago forecasting the end of the retail giant and mentioning how other retailers, like J.C. Penney, Target and Macy's, were struggling as well.

"I felt we were unfairly singled out," Lampert said. "There's been a lot of headlines, including those on social media. And people want their stories to stand out, I understand that. Everyone wants people to read what they write. ... These have been extreme headlines written about us for the past 10 years. But we're still here."

The parent of Sears and Kmart stores has had a bleeding bottom line for years. In March, Sears said in a federal filing that it had "substantial doubt" about its future. Yet it said it will remain steadfast and remain open.

Still, the company has continued to close or reduce stores and cut its workforce. The latest round was in February when 130 jobs were cut, mostly at the headquarters. Sears also closed 68 Kmart and 10 Sears stores and laid off hundreds more nationwide in 2016.

Sears Holdings has roughly 1,500 stores left and executives are looking at ways to change those platforms, such as smaller stores or partnering with other companies. Stores could be remodeled after one that was launched last year in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is about 10,000 square feet and focuses on the best-selling appliances.

Lampert said the problem with the negative press is the effect it has had on its workforce and executives as well as how vendors do business with the company.

"The biggest impact has been on our associates and how we recruit talent," Lampert said. "And vendors. They want our business, but they'll use those negative headlines to negotiate better terms for themselves."

Lampert also said some headlines focused on vendors claiming they won't want to do business with Sears anymore, when in fact, Lampert said, maybe Sears doesn't want to do business with them.

Earlier this year, Sears agreed to sell its Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker Inc. for about $900 million. Lampert, who also has invested millions into the company, spun off Craftsman, the Sears Hometown & Outlet business and Lands' End clothing line.

"We don't need more customers," Lampert said. "We have all the customers we want. We just need to do a better job to keep them."

He said the people who shop with Sears and Kmart are online and in the store frequently and spend more money each time. Those are the customers they want to focus on in the future.

"We have data on where it's working and where we need to improve," he said. "Some unfair descriptions of our company have caused a lot of damage."

There's a "pileup effect," he said. When negative press affects the people of the company and its long-standing vendors, it makes business more difficult, he said.

"This is reprehensible," he said, "and it's been going on for too damn long." removes certain products with Hindu deity image

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Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings Chairman Edward Lampert said Wednesday shoppers could expect smaller stores in the future and that the company is not having problems getting customers. Associated press, 2004
  Sears Holdings Chairman Edward Lampert said negative press has hurt the company's workforce and the ability to draw talent and good deals with vendors. Mark Welsh/
  Sears, which still operates stores including this one at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, said shoppers could expect smaller stores in the future. JOE LEWNARD/
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