Eddie Lampert, the former CEO of Sears who succeeded in buying the bankrupted retailer, says that the new company will continue to shrink in both the number of stores it operates, and the size of those locations.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Lampert said that while the new business will start out with 223 Sears and 202 Kmart locations, “it would be very difficult to keep all 425 stores open.’’
Some have not made money, and some locations may be sold, he said, though the retailer might then lease some of the space back. “We would like to maintain a presence in at least the stores that we’re in,'' he said. " That may be in a different location in the mall, if we were to sell the store, or sell and lease back part of the store.”
With Sears teetering on the brink of liquidation, Lampert’s hedge fund ESL Investments made a $5.2 billion offer for the company that was approved last week by a federal bankruptcy judge.
The one time retail giant had already become a vastly smaller company in recent years, closing more than 3,500 stores, and cutting about 250,000 jobs as it struggled to compete against Amazon, Walmart and more specialized retailers like Best Buy.
Now, in addition to operating an even smaller number of stores, Lampert says he’s interested in some locations adopting a smaller format.
“Our goal is to continue to shrink the size of our stores,” Lampert said, adding that he also wants to focus more on the tools and appliances that became a signature of Sears through its popular Diehard and Craftsman brands.
Lampert’s leadership of Sears had been controversial, with critics saying that the complicated financial transactions he executed to keep the company afloat enriched him at the chain’s expense.
But Lampert offered a vision for the retailer's future success that included suppliers being placated by the elimination of billions of dollars in debt, and shoppers taking advantage of its Shop Your Way loyalty program.
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For now, the newly private company will not have to deal with the scrutiny of shareholders. But while “being private has certain advantages of being able to do things that public investors wouldn’t endorse,” Lampert said, “if I am a betting person, which I am, I would say at some point we would be public again.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sears survived, but remaining stores may be smaller and fewer, new owner says in interview