Lampert Should Redlight Sears and Back the Blue Light Instead

Kmart Can Become a Serious Competitor to Wal-Mart, Target

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My daughter Heather's solution to the Sears meltdown: Be more like sibling Kmart.

Heather was thrilled when she went to Kmart to buy sheets and discovered the store's Martha Stewart Everyday line had linens with thread counts of 600. When she's in a hurry, Heather likes the convenience of easier parking (Kmarts are free-standing and not located in malls like department stores) and the fact that Kmart provides shopping carts to haul away all that bedding.

Sears, on the other hand, is a mess. The merchandise is piled together without rhyme or reason. At the Sears store in Hyannis on Cape Cod, which is across the road from a Kmart, the Craftsman tools are right next to the patio furniture, next to windows, bedding -- a big mishmash of stuff all jumbled together. Children's wear is with appliances and electronics. The best thing Sears has going for it -- the upscale Lands' End line of men's and women's clothing -- is jammed into a corner and displayed in the same careless way. What's more, the Lands' End men's stuff is duplicated by racks and racks of pants and shirts, with 30%- to 50%-off stickers, when you enter. Not a very good first impression.

After Sears, I went to Kmart. It's less jumbled and more open but a little on the faded side. The electronics department had plenty of widescreen TVs, though no jumbo sets like Sears had. The Craftsman section was, in some ways, more attractive and appealing, even though there wasn't as wide a selection. On the other hand, Kmart doesn't seem to make a very big deal of its Martha Stewart line. There were no huge signs heralding the line or a special Martha Stewart section. That's definitely underplaying the partnership.

Heather said that she was surprised to find out that Martha Stewart's prices at Kmart were no cheaper than the prices at Macy's, where Stewart has a similar line of bedding. (Macy's bedding was all on sale, and Heather was quoting the sales price.) She says she filled a couple of carts because she had a lot of pillows. The manager told her to pull her car up and he would load the merchandise into it. "For the sheer hassle factor, it was easier than going to a department store. I also picked up candy and Diet Coke. You can't do that at the mall! Another important note: I shopped at Kmart at 8 p.m. and left at 9 p.m. The department stores were closed by then, and that was my only time to shop."

All of the above means that Sears Holdings' Eddie Lampert is just about out of bullets, as our paper Crain's Chicago Business put it. He's milked Sears dry, and about the only thing left to do to raise money is to sell off Lands' End, Kenmore and Craftsman.

That's a shame, because they could all find a happy home at Kmart. Sears might be a dead duck, but Kmart could end up a formidable competitor to Wal-Mart and Target.

With Martha Stewart, Lands' End, Kenmore appliances and Craftsman under one roof, consumers like Heather would have even more reason to shop Kmart.

My advice: close Sears, sell the real estate and plow the money into building the Kmart brand.


Getting information from Apple is like trying to pry gold from Fort Knox. All I wanted was some info on the singer who does the catchy ditty for the new MacBook Air commercials, but a spokesperson said Apple didn't have anyone who could speak about such ultra-sensitive stuff.

Yet the identity of the songstress isn't unknown to readers of our Songs for Soap blog on The song, "New Soul," comes from a worldly 29- year-old artist named Yael Naim. She was born in Paris but moved to Tel Aviv at age four. She was "discovered" when she returned to Paris for a charity concert in 2000. Her first album was a huge failure, but she regrouped with a new team of musicians and tried again. This time she succeeded.
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