My grandmother and I recently discussed the future of Sears Canada. Outside of heavy news coverage of the Sears Holdings (SHLD-Q) hardships sourth of the border, she identified something that dropped from all our radars: the absence of a Spring/Summer 2017 catalogue.
Amid no apparent fanfare, Sears Canada (SCC-T) appears to have quietly shut down its catalogue service.
So what’s going on?
Department store giants’ growing number of extinctions put them on what I’ll refer to as the retail endangered list. Eaton’s, Zellers, Woolworth and Simpsons are but faint memories. And no one can forget the more recent epic rise and fall of Target’s (TGT-N) foray into the Canadian retail landscape.
An aspect Eaton’s and Sears shared was their strength in catalogue sales. In the world before e-commerce, catalogues were an incredibly viable sales medium for the spread-out population of Canada.
I would argue a majority of the Sears catalogue faithful moved to e-commerce, making the hard copy an unnecessary expense. I think that’s a simple answer for its demise. It quit producing catalogues in the U.S. in 1993. That means the Canadian counterpart outlived them by 23 years.
Personally, I didn’t notice there was no longer a Sears catalogue, which is likely an indication I’m not spending enough time with grandmother, as she always has one nearby.
I will miss the Sears Wishbook most. I have fond memories of dog earring and identifying all my Christmas wants for my parents each year.
Quick history lesson
Canada’s first introduction to the Sears brand came from a partnership with an already established homegrown brand.
In 1858, Robert Simpson founded his self-named department store in Newmarket, Ont.
As some people will recall, there was a time when Sears Canada was referred to as Simpsons-Sears. Simpsons was approached by the American retailer Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 1952 to create a stronger Canadian brand. New stores under the partnership were known as Simpsons-Sears, with some Simpsons’-only stores remaining on their own.
Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC-T) acquired the rights to the Simpsons’ only stores in 1978 and under federal competition laws the Simpsons stores and Simpsons-Sears could no longer share facilities. Though the name Simpsons-Sears carried on into the ’80s, the partnership stores were officially renamed Sears Canada in 1984.
Fast-forward to the structure of today’s corporation.
Sears Canada is now a publicly traded company of which the U.S. parent owns approximately 12 per cent in shares. It owned up to 92 per cent at one point.
This is a good news for Sears Canada because despite news Sears Holdings is past the tipping point of recovery, Sears Canada has a fighting chance to save itself.
It has an uphill battle as it continues to post losses amid sliding sales each quarter. Sears is doing everything it can to bring shoppers back including a new logo unveiled in fall 2016 and updated store formats.
And it has a much shorter range to climb compared to the billions Sears Holdings is losing each year. Sears Canada is posting much smaller, though persistent, losses.
Saskatoon has been touched by the company’s struggles with the Sears Home Store on Circle Drive closing its doors in April 2016. However, the Midtown Plaza is still home to a Sears anchor tenancy downtown.
Online order pick-up locations continue to exist in Saskatoon as well as in every small, rural community with an available storeroom. It’s not unheard of for these pickups to be located in flower shops, pharmacies and private clothiers.
Sears Canada is even creating jobs in some markets. It was announced in January Edmunston, N.B., would see the creation of 180 jobs for a Sears business centre; and Saint John’s, N.B., would receive an even larger Sears business centre with 350 new jobs.
I will personally keep nostalgically hoping the Sears department store hangs on to see another retail rejuvenation. Its nearly 160-year history says it could.