Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Sears Sheared" Says Marketwatch

Sometimes it pays to have direct experience with the companies you are trading and investing in. It can bring a dose of reality to the fantasy land commentary that is often found on the web.

For years I bought appliances (10s of thousands of dollars worth) for my construction business from Sears. They had the best prices, stood behind the products and worked with you to deal with problems. Then everything changed. New CEO, new management, new philosophy. The prices were still the best so I continued to shop there, but the changes was obvious.

Well, 5 years ago when my wife wanted to upgrade our laundry room, meaning bigger and better, we decided to go with the latest and greatest front loading washing machine. The plan was to have two front loading washers and two front loading dryers double stacked side by side, so that we could get all of the laundry done for our large family quickly. I had to saw up the basement floor to put in the new plumbing for two washers, (I am also a licensed plumber.) and in the process we renovated the downstairs bathroom for our oldest two boys. It was a lot of work.

Finally, the day came when we were ready for our new washer. We decided to start with just one, in case we didn't like it, which turned out to be a brilliant idea because the purchase turned into a disaster. Within one month, the motor was gone. Sears replaced the washer with a new one. Then the electronic controls failed. They fixed that. Then the biggest problem of all occurred - mold. The inside of the unit was taken over by mold. Many of our clothes were ruined. Sears claimed that we were not maintaining the unit properly. They replaced a couple of parts, but otherwise were not helpful at all. I went online and found out that over 50% of owners of this product had the same problem, and also had received little help in fixing it. We continued to have other problems as well.

Basically, the washer could not handle the volume of laundry that we were doing. It is designed for light use. Definitely not as advertised by the salesman.

I called Sears management and they refused to help. They said their hands were tied because Corporate had instituted new rules on replacing defective products. We had to have 4 failures in a year to get a new one. We had missed the qualification by a week. I said to them, "Look, I have bought tens of thousands of dollars of appliances from you over the years, and if you don't make this right, I will never buy another one from you." They haven't made it right, and I haven't bought another one from them.

I am sure I am not alone in my experience with Sears. I realize they are just the middle man on many of these appliances, but they also have to stand behind what they sell, and they don't anymore. I expect that Sears will continue its decline until it goes the way of all retail businesses unless they seriously reconsider their policies.

This experience made it clear that Sears was no company to invest in, and the 86% decline in the stock price from it all time high merely reflects the reality of the company's real world performance.

1 comment:

dave said...

i remember some yrs ago there was a story about them selling some used DieHards as new. When one is willing to risk the hard-earned reputation of a "Brand" name like Die Hard one is going down the wrong road.

Never trash a "Brand" name because you risk mkt share & premium pricing for what ?