Sears ahead of its time before falling behind

The news of Sears (Sears Holding Company) filing for bankruptcy proceedings brought tears to my eyes, not because of what is happening now, but because of what happened about 30 years ago.

That’s when my Sears — Sears, Roebuck and Company — ceased to exist.

The recent demise is credited to online shopping and to merchandising giants such as Amazon. However, even giants fall when wrong decisions, or no decisions, are made.

During the midyears of my career of just over 30 years with Sears, Roebuck and Co, I was a regional manager in the Chicago Region of the Midwest Territory, with an office on the fifth floor of the original Sears Tower. My selling units were the Telephone Catalog Sales Offices in the major cities of the seven-state territory, staffed by 60-200 sales people with automatic call distributing telephone equipment offering 24/7 service. You might say we offered online shopping before there was online shopping.

We made shopping easy and on our customers’ schedules, and backed it with home delivery within two days for most items. Our carriers even picked up items to be returned. Not bad service, don’t you think?

So why did Sears fail? There’s another story, and of course those like myself on the fifth floor had the answers. We were on the west side of Arthington and upper management was on the east side. We called ourselves the working suits and jokingly said we made the money and they spent it. Maybe not as much a joke as we thought.

How about the monumental Sears Tower? Was it needed? It was never fully occupied. Maybe its only value was as collateral to obtain funds to ward off a hostile takeover. However, the loan was never repaid and the tower was history. Now, the Edison Tower???

Sears had 15 U.S. distribution centers with numerous support warehouses strategically located for larger items. Maybe only online shopping was needed.

Anyway, I liked “My Sears” and was proud to say I worked for Sears, Roebuck and Co. I was treated well and was lucky. For a farm boy from Blanchester to manage two Sears stores, be a district manager, area manger and regional manager, I was blessed.

After taking early retirement in 1983, Kay and I bought the local store and spent over 10 years serving the wonderful people of Wilmington and Clinton County before the end.

Miles L. Barrere