What About Lands’ End
By now no doubt you’ve heard Kmart is acquiring the venerable catalog merchant Sears, Roebuck and Co. My first thoughts were of our friends at Lands’ End, which is owned by Sears. How will this affect them? I mean, they’re being bought by Kmart, a company that — OK, let’s face it — doesn’t have a particularly strong brand image.
With all due respect to Edward Lampert, Kmart’s chairman and soon to be chairman of Sears Holdings, the last time I ducked into a Kmart store for some bath soap and laundry detergent, I swore I’d never set foot in another one. The personnel were surly, incompetent and overtly uninterested in customer service. Plus, the merchandise was no different from that sold elsewhere — an even worse sin in today’s retail world.
As Don Libey, managing director at Libey-Concordia, an investment firm for the catalog industry, noted, it would be wholly unwise for Kmart to touch Lands’ End. “[Y]ou add to the mix an even lower-end customer with the Kmart brand, and what does that do to the Lands’ End franchise?” he asked. “I hope [Kmart] has the common sense to leave Lands’ End alone. Don’t cheapen the brand.”
I couldn’t agree more. While it makes sense for Kmart/Sears to offer a range of products and price points, I worry that Lands’ End now will be the retail equivalent of the nicest, most expensive house in a lower-end neighborhood. Who is going to buy that house, and will the sellers get the full price warranted for it? That is, will Kmart be able to attract enough customers willing to pay $35 for a well-crafted, high-quality Lands’ End shirt? Lampert would be smart to pony up the cash to keep separate the Lands’ End catalog and Web site.