Showdown near at incredible shrinking Sears

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The Independent Online
As an example of the incredible shrinking company, Sears is hard to beat. In the last 12 months the troubled retailer has either flogged off or given away Olympus Sports, Millets, Freeman Hardy Willis, Saxone (twice), Manfield, Trueform, Curtess and now Hush Puppy. Oh, and a couple of businesses in Europe as well. Sears chops and changes its brands so often it is becoming increasingly difficult to remember which ones it still owns. Does it still have Wallis and Warehouse? Er, not sure.

Beleaguered chief executive Liam Strong must be hoping that the frantic, if belated, hacking off of limbs will save Sears' raddled torso and, in turn, his own job. He will not have to wait too long to find out.

The jury has been out on his survival for several months and the recent corporate downsizing changes nothing yet. Frustrated institutions are looking for tangible evidence of an improvement in Sears' trading and are giving Mr Strong the benefit of the doubt until then.

The first signs will come with the interim results in the autumn, but the real crunch is Christmas. If Sears appears to be struggling then, Mr Strong could be on his way.

His continuing problem is that Sears is still a rag-bag of businesses - a mixture of some tired old names like Richard's and new-fangled concepts such as Shoe Express and The Outfit.

Mr Strong gives the impression of a man in charge of a terminally breached dam. No sooner does he stick in finger in one gaping hole than another part springs a leak. The latest problem looks as though it could be Dolcis, with rumours of falling sales and fresh management being brought in from America. Sears chairman Sir Bob Reid has stuck loyally behind his chief executive but time is running out. If Mr Strong is obliged to fall on his sword to satisfy the institutions then Sir Bob, who has made such a public display of support, will have little option but to follow his chief executive's example.

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