Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shop or your neighbors will lose their jobs

You know some kids – whether in Horry County, South Carolina, or in a third-world village in Africa – had a lousy Christmas. Maybe they had no Christmas at all.

As Christmas Day gets closer each year, ministers and do-gooders remind us that Christmas isn’t about material things. They remind us to keep Christ in Christmas, tell us that it’s better to give than receive, and bemoan the intensity of our consumerism.

Yet two days after Christmas 2011, the news suggests we might not have spent enough on our friends, families, and selves.

Sears Holdings Corp. announced they are closing “between 100 and 120 Sears and Kmart stores.” For the eight weeks ending on Christmas Day, Sears and Kmart sales were down a combined 5.2 percent. We have seven Sears stores in the greater Grand Strand area, and three Kmarts, according to the companies' websites.

While Sears Holdings hasn’t said how many jobs will be affected, The Inquisitr notes that other Sears and Kmart stores probably can’t absorb all the employees of 100 to 120 locations.

So thanks a lot, acquisitive, consumerist Americans – you obviously didn’t spend enough on Christmas this year.

Were you giving to charities instead of retailers?

Did your family decide not to make this Christmas about shopping, spending and big gifts under the tree?

Oh, that’s so good of you. Now people are going to lose jobs in an already struggling economy.

Spending at retail stores is charitable giving. If you don’t shop, someone could lose a job.

Admittedly, that’s not the full picture.

You did shop, didn’t you? Shopping wasn’t quite the issue, was it?

For one thing, U.S. retailers, as a whole, saw a 4.5 percent increase in sales during the last week before Christmas, when compared to the same week last year.

So consumerist, acquisitive Americans did a little better this year – pat yourselves on the back. Most of you simply decided to steer clear of Kmart and Sears.

That’s probably because, at some locations, Sears and Kmart stores can make for uninspired shopping experiences.

Sears and Kmart stores don’t have that Target sparkle that appeals to every middle-class mom with a Suburban. Even Walmart can be, in many locations, a more enjoyable shopping experience than Sears.

But maybe the plight of those Kmart and Sears stores – and their workers – points out something about our economy: It depends way too much on people buying things they don’t absolutely need.

For better and worse, we can’t withhold our money from Retail Land -- no matter what we're buying -- without impacting our neighbors. And when our sales-associate neighbors lose their jobs, not all of them will have the computer-whiz abilities to slip into an information-technology career.

Maybe the real issue is the sustainability of our retail economy, at least in its current form.

On one hand, as reported by The Two-Way, 120 Sears and Kmart stores would amount to about 3 percent of the parent company’s 4,000 locations, even if the executives haven’t said how many people will lose jobs. Three percent doesn’t seem like much. Just a minor adjustment.

On the other hand, consider why these stores are closing. According to Sears Holdings, for the eight weeks ending on Christmas Day, Kmart sales were down 4.4 percent and Sears sales were down 6 percent.

I don’t have a Masters in Business Administration degree, and I realize budgets are tight. So I’ll just play the dummy: I don’t understand how anything can be sustainable with such a slim margin for error. Consumers are fickle and the economy is a roller coaster, even in better times.

Perhaps this is a chance for Sears to reinvent itself. Some commenters on an NPR blog have noted that Sears more or less moved from a full-time sales staff to a part-time sales staff, and that took the appeal from the department store.

Perhaps Sears and Kmart can find an appeal like Target’s.

Old names can reinvent themselves.

Consider the brand of world-famous rock band Van Halen. Brothers Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen brought back their original front man, David Lee Roth, one of three lead singers over the years. Then the brothers added Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang on bass guitar to replace original bassist Michael Anthony.

With something old and something new, they’re getting ready to tour in 2012, and I bet tickets will sell out.

-Colin Foote Burch
(This originally appeared on and was back-dated and re-posted here in July 2014.)

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