As a Baby Boomer, I grew up in a generation where the Sears brand name stood for quality, integrity, reliability, and superior customer service. Among the many products Sears sold, its Kenmore appliances have long enjoyed a solid reputation. I remember how happy my Mom was the day my Dad bought her her first Kenmore washer and dryer. That washer lasted more than 25 years. And the Kenmore they replaced it with outlived Mom.
Not only did Sears sell one of the most reliable appliance brands, they were backed by Sears’ customer service organization. It too had an unblemished reputation for fast, friendly response and quality work. Dad used to say, “I wish Sears could work on my arthritis.”
If you called Sears in the morning, a serviceman usually showed up the same day. And if a part was needed, the serviceman almost always had it on his truck – so he could fix it right then and there.
A few months ago, my daughter Jenni was bought a Kenmore washer-dryer set. At only six weeks old, the washer quit. Jenni called Sears customer service department. The heavily-accented service person who answered her call tersely told her it would be eight days before a “technician” would be able to show up. And when he did, he would likely bring a replacement washer. At one time, a replacement might have been seen as a windfall. Not now. Sears doesn’t sell quality anymore. Sears sells disposable appliances.
Over time Sears lost its focus on quality. Instead, its marketing message is primarily focused on low prices and wide selection.
It’s obvious that Sears’ senior leadership is ignorant about the value of a market position based on recognized manufacturing quality and exceptional customer service. Instead, Sears wants to compete in the crowded and unending war of low price and cost-cutting, where long-term domination is next to impossible. Other than Wal-Mart, how many profitable companies can you think of that dominate their market by always selling at the lowest price?
The only hope for Sears is to go back to fighting in the quality and service arena – where few opponents appear to be. But I doubt Sears will. And I don’t know why so few companies dare to try.
All I know is that there appear to be far more many companies that die over low price and cost-cutting than do on the quality and service battlefield. It’s too bad one of the USA’s most iconic and historic brands is likely to fall victim as well.
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