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"The bloodiest battles took place in the marketing meetings"
July 12, 2013 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Plagued by the realities threatening many retail stores, Sears also faces a unique problem (alternate link): [CEO Eddie] Lampert. Lampert runs Sears like a hedge fund portfolio, with dozens of autonomous businesses competing for his attention and money. An outspoken advocate of free-market economics and fan of the novelist Ayn Rand, he created the model because he expected the invisible hand of the market to drive better results. If the company’s leaders were told to act selfishly, he argued, they would run their divisions in a rational manner, boosting overall performance.
posted by Horace Rumpole (119 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I know mentioning him is a bad idea, but when I read about this first - on the Consumerist - my first thought was:

"You know, that idea that Scott Adams had in Dilbert, back in 1995, for Battlin' Business Units inside a company was not supposed to be a guide..."

I can't tell if I should be surprised that they reversed it, that it was first as farce then as tragedy.
posted by mephron at 4:12 PM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I love how these guys always the that the "rational" always coincides exactly with their opinions
posted by thelonius at 4:16 PM on July 12, 2013 [30 favorites]


It's amazing how many problems can be traced back to the phrase "...fan of the novelist Ayn Rand."
posted by Kevin Street at 4:17 PM on July 12, 2013 [178 favorites]


What kills me about Sears is that, at the start of the dot-com boom, they had the potential to out-Amazon Amazon. They had the logistics infrastructure for catalog sales and shipping figured out, they just could tie it into online sales.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:17 PM on July 12, 2013 [49 favorites]


There's this almost universal phenomenon, often associated with age but perhaps only really down to success and duration, where after a certain point you become a closed system of believing your own shit. Maybe because it's always worked, maybe because nobody can tell you when it doesn't anymore, but after that point your output, artistic or commercial, suffers because it increasingly becomes all about the various exciting trips your ego wants to go on, rather than about feeding your need for success.

It's funny that these people often end up buying newspapers and retailers and such... When money is not an issue, a business doomed by change offers maybe the most unfettered scope for your internal amusement park.
posted by selfnoise at 4:18 PM on July 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


Battlin' Business Units was a business model long before it showed up in Dilbert.

I do approve of the way that Lampert is running Sears into the ground as it will produce several good books and perhaps at least a chapter in a few MBA textbooks about the limits of competition as a driving force for people who ought to be allies.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:19 PM on July 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


Going to the Sears in Victoria BC is like stepping back in time. It's ancient! I like shopping there because you can find some good deals on good products (typically shoes, but also white goods), but holy shit is the customer service ever terrible. Terrible!

My wife, who is in Japan, thinks that shopping in Canada (for example, at stores like sears and HBC) must be like what it was like to go shopping in an Eastern Bloc country before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Why is the shopping experience so shitty?

At HBC (similar now, sadly, to Sears, since both have been taken over by Americans) I was stopped at the exit because the security buzzer went off. The clerk had forgotten to remove the thingy from some linen I bought.

So they stopped me, took away my purchase, made me wait around while they checked it out, handed it back without an apology.

Personally, I would not give to shits if stores like Sears and HBC went tits up. Maybe it's a Canadian thing, but their entire approach to customer engagement is pathetic.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:21 PM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


What kills me about Sears is that, at the start of the dot-com boom, they had the potential to out-Amazon Amazon. They had the logistics infrastructure for catalog sales and shipping figured out, they just could tie it into online sales.

Actually they didn't. Two years before the dot-com boom arrived they shut down the catalog and tore down all the infrastructure as none of it was paying for itself any more. Everyone with expertise was either out of a job or moved to unrelated departments.

It is one of the worst cases of bad timing in the history of business.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:22 PM on July 12, 2013 [69 favorites]


Honestly, though, it would be a shame to see Sears collapse. Say what you will, in a huge number of communities, there isn't a better place to go for hard goods and tools. The rest of the store is pretty useless, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:22 PM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


"And then he hired the guy from Moneyball to Freakanomics it up."

Fun stuff.
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on July 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I get a 404 on that link.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:24 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then he hires the actual Freakanomics guy. Jesus fucking Christ.
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on July 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Link is working for me on desktop but not mobile? Could be linking to the print version that's doing it.
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on July 12, 2013


Actually they didn't. Two years before the dot-com boom arrived they shut down the catalog and tore down all the infrastructure as none of it was paying for itself any more. Everyone with expertise was either out of a job or moved to unrelated departments.

There's even an empty husk of architecture that pays tribute to this in Los Angeles.
posted by basicchannel at 4:28 PM on July 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Kenmore Shrugged
posted by lobstah at 4:29 PM on July 12, 2013 [34 favorites]


This would be great as a mock fanfic: Eddie Lampert and the Business Model of Rationality. Dude thinks he's Gryffindor, but is really Slytherin. Ayn Rand as Voldemort. This practically writes itself.
posted by adipocere at 4:30 PM on July 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


What kills me about Sears is that, at the start of the dot-com boom, they had the potential to out-Amazon Amazon. They had the logistics infrastructure for catalog sales and shipping figured out, they just could tie it into online sales.

A point made brilliantly by pastabagel* some years ago.

I have little feeling for Sears one way or the other. Although I did like that their recently shuttered Rideau Centre store in Ottawa had a faulty sign for a while there, confidently decreeing EARS in letters ten metres tall.

*What ever happened to that guy, anyway?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:32 PM on July 12, 2013 [9 favorites]




he hires the actual Freakanomics guy

I have a great idea. A franchise of Malcolm Gladwell impersonators, like the Krusty the Klowns in each territory.

Do you have any idea how much the man makes for a speech? Surely people would pay less, but still plenty, for a convincing simulacrum.
posted by thelonius at 4:34 PM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


There's even an empty husk of architecture that pays tribute to this in Los Angeles.

I've totally had a pillow fight in that parking lot with about 200 people on a Midnight Ridazz ride.
posted by mullingitover at 4:35 PM on July 12, 2013


Meh. Everyone knows it is easier to sabotage your competition than to improve your own performance. This is why you keep the metrics secret, fire the top 1% as well as the bottom 1%, and keep everyone guessing. This dude isn't much of a CEO.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:36 PM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you go back in time, Amazon was a book store and sold little else until CDs. Those were, somehow, acceptable items to buy online. Perhaps it is because the either worked or didn't and there was no fiddling with warranties.

Sears had the brand name, and if they would have accepted in-store returns for online purchases, that could have worked. However, if you think about being Sears, why would you bother? You had the stores, so just let people come and buy things locally. You had the catalogs, so let people phone in orders. Online? Pfffttt...

Now add in taxes. Amazon has always flaunted taxes. Sears, located in many towns in all states, couldn't avoid state or even local sales taxes. Consequently, online they were, and remain, at a pricing disadvantage.

So, you can see where Sears was, and remained, Sears. That and their desire for store brands above all else. Amazon has relatively recently taken on store brands. Sears? It's all about store branding. If you protect your store brand, you limit the deals you can make and the inventory you carry.

So, no desire, taxes, limited stock...it killed the company that our great grandparents relied upon. It actually makes me kind of sad.

Oh, and a shout-out to Roebuck with this wiki entry: In 1895, Roebuck asked Sears to buy him out for about $20,000. Later when asked about his ex-partner's great wealth, and his own modest wealth he replied: "He's dead. Me, I never felt better."

Maybe a smaller, slimmer Sears Co will say the same thing someday about its old self.
posted by Muddler at 4:39 PM on July 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


Kevin Street: "It's amazing how many problems can be traced back to the phrase "...fan of the novelist Ayn Rand."

And how many lulz.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:41 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Where is the Sears board in all this? If it's widely agreed that Lampert is destroying the company, why hasn't he been sacked?
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:42 PM on July 12, 2013


Amazon has always flaunted taxes.

Yoohoo! Over here! I've got taxes!

posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:43 PM on July 12, 2013 [38 favorites]


You know, you could read my long, perhaps thoughtfulish, post, but really I just wanted to leave this here as really it says it all:

Prelude to the Magic Hour

posted by Muddler at 4:44 PM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sears had the brand name, and if they would have accepted in-store returns for online purchases, that could have worked. However, if you think about being Sears, why would you bother? You had the stores, so just let people come and buy things locally. You had the catalogs, so let people phone in orders. Online? Pfffttt...

More important I think was that they had watched their catalog orders shrink over a period of decades. The lesson they appeared to have taken from that was that people didn't want to order things and receive them weeks later -- they wanted a retail store close by where they could buy something and take it home immediately.

The lesson Amazon appeared to have taken from that was that people didn't want to order things and receive them weeks later -- but a day or two later would be just fine.

Looked at from that perspective it's not clear that Sears' infrastructure could have competed with Amazon anyway. Amazon came right out of the gate promising fast delivery of books and music -- lightweight items that were easy to ship -- and then built up their infrastructure to handle larger items. Sears would have had to reconsider its entire distribution chain to match those speeds.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:52 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sears was the store for the middle class, and those who aspired to it. Inevitably, the fortunes of the Sears and other stores like it will follow the fortunes of their customers. Their successes mirrored of the growth of the ordinary worker's purchasing power; now, they will reflect its fall.

We used to have jobs. We used to be Sears people. Now we are unemployed. Now we will be WalMart people.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 4:53 PM on July 12, 2013 [52 favorites]


"Where is the Sears board in all this? If it's widely agreed that Lampert is destroying the company, why hasn't he been sacked?"

Because he owns 55% of the stock.
posted by klangklangston at 4:53 PM on July 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Pffft... I could ramble about how while I worked at Sears for 5 years I always wanted corporate to hear or read some suggestions about how they could improve their strategy and... well... profit.

But I've since my time there developed a bit of an understanding that as we wind down (sub)urbanization, we wind down those supporting actors/actresses as well. This is one of those pieces, unfortunately. It's sad to watch.

It's also sad to see work that frankly was quite enjoyable and rewarding - talking with customers, letting them purchase stuff, speedily taking care of products misplaced here or there, etc. - get caught up in this.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:57 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the Randean free-market rationale is self-conscious bullshit (which would itself be rather Randean, of course).

What I think he's really doing is breaking Sears up into salable pieces or pieces that can become corporations in their own right with separate stock, and sweetening those pieces by transferring long term liabilities from them to the parts he knows won't sell or be able to stand on their own; then, when he's sold or hived off the artificially sweetened good pieces, collecting massive executive bonuses and options along the way, the moribund remainder, now crammed with liabilities which were formerly the responsibility of the entire entity, will declare bankruptcy and the liabilities will disappear.

What liabilities?

Pensions, medical benefits for retirees, disability payments-- stuff like that.
posted by jamjam at 5:03 PM on July 12, 2013 [59 favorites]


My folks still believe in Sears. It's like Mom has a static image of Sears and their service contracts from the 70's, when that was a pretty good deal. She needed a dishwasher, she headed right for Sears, even after it took them 3 tries to fix her fridge right when the ice maker went South. I tried to get her to at least check out the appliances at Lowes - nothing doing. I guess this is why advertising tries so desperately hard to capture the allegiance of young people; people really do stick with brands for life, even after it's no longer RATIONAL to do so.
posted by thelonius at 5:06 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It reminds me of the American health care system, with all those private insurance companies. Here the provinces manage most health care - and because they're so big, they can wring volume discounts from drug companies and take advantage of efficiencies from scale. In America each insurance company has its own executives and board members, duplicating administrative functions hundreds of times over, just like the separate units at Sears.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:10 PM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


The most cumbersome aspect of the new structure, former employees say, was Lampert’s edict that each unit create its own board of directors. Because there were so many departments, some presidents sat on as many as five or six boards, which met once a month. Top executives were constantly mired in meetings.
I'm sorry, this is cray-zee.
Eventually Lampert’s advisory committee instituted a bidding system, forcing the units to pay for space in the circular. This eliminated some of the infighting but created a new problem: The wealthier business units, such as appliances, could purchase more space. Two former business unit heads recall how, for the 2011 Mother’s Day circular, the sporting-goods unit purchased space on the cover for a product called a Doodle Bug minibike, popular with young boys.
And this is idiocy.

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by mosk at 5:12 PM on July 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


"Eventually Lampert’s advisory committee instituted a bidding system, forcing the units to pay for space in the circular. This eliminated some of the infighting but created a new problem: The wealthier business units, such as appliances, could purchase more space. Two former business unit heads recall how, for the 2011 Mother’s Day circular, the sporting-goods unit purchased space on the cover for a product called a Doodle Bug minibike, popular with young boys."

Ah, raw capitalism at its finest.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:13 PM on July 12, 2013


i didn't work for sears, but i worked for sears portrait studios (a separate, now defunct*, company) for over a decade, much of that time managing studios, so i worked closely with sears. i left in 2007 or so. i worked at a number of stores (20+) in a few different states. it seemed pretty obvious from the inside that both sears and the portrait studio (and optical and hearing aids and automotive) were going downhill. first it seemed like a time capsule, then a huge influx of money and some modernization, and then lots of bad decisions - and suddenly the quality of products, and staff, and marketing were all getting worse. i am not at all surprised to learn about his business philosophy.


*i knew lots of people who worked for CPI (the portrait studio company) when they shut down - they waited until the stores closed on the pacific coast before the executives sent a letter to the district managers informing them that no studios would be opening the next day. they had to call their managers and the managers had to call the barely above minimum wage workers. some of them didn't get the message and showed up for work the next day, logged in, and got a text box telling them to go home. they weren't allowed to deliver the easter packages to customers (some up to $500 - most with an average of $120). since the workers had spent about a year being threatened with their jobs, they were all encouraged to really mine personal relationships to get new customers - so the people who lost their photos (and received no refunds) were their neighbors and friends and such. shitty all around.
posted by nadawi at 5:13 PM on July 12, 2013 [24 favorites]


Damnit, mosk. :-)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:13 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


They're also considering some...unusual...ideas for the piles of real estate they own. Once it was the local department store, now it's the local datacenter.
posted by bitmage at 5:14 PM on July 12, 2013


Damnit, mosk. :-)

See, competition is healthy and leads to better...eh, just call it a jinx; you owe me a Coke. ;-)
posted by mosk at 5:16 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would probably not seek out an article like this, and I'm so, so glad I read it. This is fascinating. (I love Metafilter, seriously, I'm not just kissing up. I do.)
posted by MoxieProxy at 5:21 PM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I always feel a warm glow when the invisible hand gives the finger to a wealthy person with insane views on business management .
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:32 PM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


The invisible hand: enough middle fingers for everybody.
posted by forgetful snow at 5:37 PM on July 12, 2013 [41 favorites]


I always feel a warm glow when the invisible hand gives the finger to a wealthy person with insane views on business management .

Unfortunately, invisible hands flip invisible birdies, which means the targets of their mockery often draw the wrong lessons.

Take this guy: as jamjam said, he's probably going to partition the company such that he can cash out at the end of the day for a bajillion and leave the company's employees, past and present, holding the bag while he gets to enjoy the high life in his South Florida mansion.
posted by Noms_Tiem at 5:39 PM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I want to know what this sentence has to do with running an actual business:


Clashes for resources are a product of competition and advocacy, things that were sorely lacking before and are lacking in socialist economies


Someone really drank the koolaid.
posted by hwestiii at 5:41 PM on July 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


ideas for the piles of real estate

They'd make great clubs! You could have different levels, take the escalator to the chill-out floor! You could have a damn roller skating level.
posted by thelonius at 5:42 PM on July 12, 2013


He defends his decision not to invest in the stores by arguing that Sears’s money is best spent elsewhere—such as the online business unit, which he’s showered with resources.

By this, I assume they mean sears.com, which always tries to sell me a bunch of crap not actually available at a Sears store.

The Sears by me seems to have decided that focusing on the latino market is the way to go. Lots of bilingual signs, Quinceañera dresses, etc.

Personally, I'd rather they start stocking Land's End, (since they own them and all). Our store is located in the same mall as Kohls, which from all appearances does killer business selling clothes while the Sears clothing sections resemble the land that time forgot...
posted by madajb at 5:45 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh, so dividing your business into sections and urging them to fight in thunderdome for your amusement turns out to be a sub-optimal strategy. Well done.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:50 PM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Every year the presidents of Sears Holdings’ (SHLD) many business units trudge across the company’s sprawling headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Ill., to a conference room in Building B, where they ask Eddie Lampert for money. The leaders have made these solitary treks since 2008, when Lampert, a reclusive hedge fund billionaire, splintered the company into more than 30 units. Each meeting starts quietly: When the executive arrives, Lampert’s top consiglieri are there, waiting around a U-shaped table, according to interviews with a half-dozen former employees who attended these sessions. An assistant walks in, turns on a screen on the opposite wall, and an image of Lampert flickers to life.

The Sears chairman, who lives in a $38 million mansion in South Florida and visits the campus no more than twice a year (he hates flying), is usually staring at his computer when the camera goes live, according to attendees.


It's never gonna happen, but who knows it might, but I'd love to be one of these executives for like six weeks. With the salaries these folks most likely rake in, that would fix my financial woes for at least the next few years. I'd envision my time in the sun with Lampert going something like this.

Lampert: Tell me what you've got.

Me: Well, as CEO or whatever the hell my title is of Sears Toys division, I'm sure I can do the opposite of grow revenues by at least 10 and maybe even 20 percent this year.

Lampert: The hell???...

Me: I forget where I saw it on the internet -- that's the thing that DARPA developed decades ago so we could have this intimate soiree -- but someone recently dug up a pit filled with Atari 2600 cartridges of that crappy E.T. game. I figure we could slap a Tele-Games badge on those bad boys like we did back in the day and sell 'em to hipsters -- I think they're still calling 'em that -- for $19.99 a pop on E-Bay. As for the rest of our inventory, we're gonna dig a brand new pit and bury it for 30 years. Rinse and repeat. See, I'm messing with you. Consult Urban Dictionary dot com if you're unfamiliar with the lingo. Take a short term loss now to invest in our retro-squared future. See, Sears will never die as long as we're still putting out a print version of the Wish Book. You do still have someone putting out a print version of the Wish Book, don't you?

(Lampert breaks down in tears and divulges that his nephew Simon, who was executive editor of the Wish Book during the 70s and part of the 80s, recently passed away from complications due to inhalation of non-soy-based ink fumes violently emitted from the Wish Book, and had he lived Sears' inviolable and absolute domination of all sectors of all markets would have prevailed, and damn me for reminding him of this unforeseen snafu in the Sears Grand Design, and effective right then, there and immediately I am fired, but the mere presence of the name "Sears" in my curriculum vitae will henceforth engender wonder and nostalgia for Wish Books in all future potential employers, and I am never found for lack of interviews with the possibility of leading toward employment; however, my cross to bear shall be interviewers who do not fail to ask me where I might find a ROM or online browser-based version of that infernal, accursed and horrible Atari 2600 E.T. game.)
posted by vverse23 at 6:00 PM on July 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


madajb, the Sears near me (urban area) used to sell Lands End stuff, but they eventually took it out. The sales clerk told me that the Sears in the suburb still did. I am very very happy that they still take the Lands End returns there. Otherwise, I would never enter Sears.
posted by vespabelle at 6:08 PM on July 12, 2013


In Lampert's defense it isn't like Sears' traditional competitors have been doing better. Big retailers like Borders, Montgomery Wards and Circuit City did worse. JC Penny's is on the verge of going out of business as is Barnes and Nobles. Sure profits are scarce and revenues have fallen, but they are still alive.

It isn't like product managers at Google, Apple or Amazon arnt also cutthroat shits who would will have no problem fucking over another division if means they make their numbers. Microsoft seems to be the only company where the larger company is foremost, though many of their senior execs also seems pretty cold blooded. It hasn't helped the Office Division at Microsoft to be required to stick with Windows while IOS, Andriod and Chrome rise in marketshare.

Finally Lampert has been in charge at Sears holdings for a long time. Like every CEO he makes mistakes. There are many ex-executives out there who hate him. One could have easily written the same article about Steve Jobs before iPod came along.
posted by humanfont at 6:33 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought Microsoft had a culture of promoting aggressive competition between product teams, too.
posted by thelonius at 6:38 PM on July 12, 2013


Microsoft seems to be the only company where the larger company is foremost

Many insiders would argue quite the opposite.
posted by Artw at 6:39 PM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


It isn't like product managers at Google, Apple or Amazon arnt also cutthroat shits who would will have no problem fucking over another division if means they make their numbers.

At least at Google and Apple substantial bonuses (like 10% of your base salary) are tied to the overall performance of the company.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:49 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's assholes like Lampert that make me wish we could bring back the duel.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:57 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sears may go to shit, but Lampert will always come out smelling like a rose money.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:21 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


vespabelle -
The nearest one to me is that sells it is about 80 miles away.
Which, to me, suggests there might be a hole in the market that needs filling but, you know, I'm not a mad genius billionaire, so what do I know?
posted by madajb at 7:29 PM on July 12, 2013



What I think he's really doing is breaking Sears up into salable pieces or pieces that can become corporations in their own right with separate stock, and sweetening those pieces by transferring long term liabilities from them to the parts he knows won't sell or be able to stand on their own; then, when he's sold or hived off the artificially sweetened good pieces, collecting massive executive bonuses and options along the way, the moribund remainder, now crammed with liabilities which were formerly the responsibility of the entire entity, will declare bankruptcy and the liabilities will disappear.


This. When the article talks about how Lampert's model is bad because it requires hiring lots of upper management for each segment of Sears and then lowering everyone else's wages to pay for them, what I see is not some kind of kee-razy business mistake - I see the intentional use of the business as basically a money pump or a jobs farm for the 1%. The goal isn't to run a profitable business that will be around for a long time; the goal is to provide some high-flying, well-paid jobs with no heavy lifting to the various cronies within the oligarchy. When there's no "frontier" to exploit - no more new mines, no more land to seize - internal "frontiers" get created - places where a new resource can be extracted and used to enrich the elite. What we're seeing right now is many, many institutions - including universities as they grow more upper-management-heavy - are turning to the actual wages of middle managers and workers as a kind of new frontier. It's not just that workers must be paid badly in order to dish out profits to shareholders or enrich the business owner; it's that new jobs for the elite are being hacked out of the jobs of regular people.
posted by Frowner at 7:35 PM on July 12, 2013 [69 favorites]


I sat here for five solid minutes trying to articulate my disbelief at the stupidity on display. Even now I am still dumbfounded. Why even have a company if you're going to run it this way?

Why?
posted by Monochrome at 7:35 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


So basically, the product of the business is no longer widgets or even dividends - it's fancy jobs for the already-rich. When you stop seeing businesses as about providing a product, a service or even an ego boost and start seeing them as all about being a jobs farm and a money distribution system for the elite, a lot of confusing business decisions suddenly start to make sense.
posted by Frowner at 7:37 PM on July 12, 2013 [32 favorites]


I have to say, I agree totally with him on this:
Lampert loathes focus groups, and certain jargon, like “vendor,” drives him nuts. In an instance that’s become famous at Sears, former brands chief Guenther Trieb once used the word “consumer” while giving a presentation. Lampert interrupted Trieb and delivered a lengthy lecture on why he should use the word “customer” instead.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:43 PM on July 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


[Added the non-print version of the link - hopefully that will do it. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 7:57 PM on July 12, 2013


Randian true-believers are the kind of people who would analyze the workings of an engine, realize that in essence it works by means of carefully regulated and precisely timed explosions, and on the basis of that observation, run around randomly blowing up as many things as they can, hoping to transform the entire universe into an enormous, perfectly efficient machine (and to become one with Jesus, or Allah, or attain nibbana in some regional variations on the theme).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:08 PM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Libertarian (n): someone who, through rigorous logic and reasoning, has determined that the way in which they live is the way everyone should live; and could, if only they were smart enough.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:11 PM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's not just that workers must be paid badly in order to dish out profits to shareholders or enrich the business owner; it's that new jobs for the elite are being hacked out of the jobs of regular people.

You know, there's a reason powdered wigs went out of fashion, and it wasn't because they got a little hot during the summer.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:15 PM on July 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think the Sears or Kmart retail stores can be saved as a business. They are too far behind the competition and the amount of money required to catch up is too much to put at risk. The best Lampert can do is to keep the retail stores close to break even while selling off the more valuable parts of the business and the real estate. If he tries to hold the whole thing together it will end in a fire sale at bankruptcy.
posted by humanfont at 8:16 PM on July 12, 2013


As usual, the Rand/libertarian stuff is total MetaFilter bait, and also a total red herring. The issue seems to be Lampert simply doesn't know retail, and set up the organization to compete with itself, when it faced an uphill battle with Walmart/Target eating the brick and mortar market and Amazon/internet taking the rest. He seems to have brought on experienced people, only to dump them. Looks like the Sears empire is more a vanity project than a serious attempt at a viable business.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:32 PM on July 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think Freakonomics people are the business equivalent of Ted McGinley (actor whose presence is equal to the decline and death of a TV series). Stephen Dubner showed up as guest editor for The Best American Crime Reporting series in 2010 and killed off my favorite yearly anthology.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:38 PM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


As usual, the Rand/libertarian stuff is total MetaFilter bait

Agreed.

and also a total red herring.

Not so much agreed. The belief that everyone working for their own selfish gain will yield an efficient and prosperous system is a very Randian thing and it appears to have been the driver for this reorganization.

There's a lot of other stuff going on as well, but for this particular misstep I think the Rand/libertarian stuff is very relevant.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:47 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's a part that got me:

An outspoken advocate of free-market economics and fan of the novelist Ayn Rand, [Lampert] created the model because he expected the invisible hand of the market to drive better results. If the company’s leaders were told to act selfishly, he argued, they would run their divisions in a rational manner, boosting overall performance.
[...]
Interviews with more than 40 former executives, many of whom sat at the highest levels of the company, paint a picture of a business that’s ravaged by infighting as its divisions battle over fewer resources. (Many declined to go on the record for a variety of reasons, including fear of angering Lampert.)

For fear of angering Lampert? But I thought Rand aficionados were supposed to behave rationally?
posted by JHarris at 10:01 PM on July 12, 2013


Holy crap, does this mean Sears is still in business?!?
posted by nowhere man at 10:14 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Craftsman is still a great brand in its own right, even though most other things suffered. If they had any sense (which it sounds like they don't) they would figure out how to leverage at least that brand. Create a line of tool/hardware superstores. Possibly with the old-school Sears branding. For that matter, the old-school Craftsman branding. Regardless, it's one brand they have that they can still charge a premium for.
posted by robla at 10:17 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


For fear of angering Lampert? But I thought Rand aficionados were supposed to behave rationally?

To be fair they are never claimed to be Rand aficionados. They just work for one.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:20 PM on July 12, 2013


Sears tried the hardware store idea with Orchard Supply Company. They were successful enough that a major expansion was started with the help of a private equity firm. The spun out company made it to an IPO and the went bankrupt a few weeks ago. It is now owned by Lowes.
posted by humanfont at 10:41 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sears today is like Montgomery Wards in the 1990s; I received a gift card from Wards when I opened up a charge account -- the gift care was maybe $20 off a fifty dollar purchase, I'm not sure exactly -- I went into their store twice, looking for anything I'd want to buy. Nothing. A bunch of garbage. The smell of retail death, the same smell which Sears is giving off now, that same smell, that same feel.

And yes, as people above have noted, you can bet that Sears is going to hose their long-term employees, beat them out of their pensions, beat them out of any insurance policies they were promised, and worked for for long years.

Craftsman tools are surely not the best**, but it's hard hard hard to beat the idea of buying one ratchet your whole life, returning it when it wears out, as it will. Tin snips the same, lots of their tools the same -- screwdrivers, hammers, etc. Their power tools were always totally clunky, big garbagy monsters that were a total pain to work with, but not so bad anymore -- I now have a Craftsman compound miter saw and it's as good as most other consumer brand saws, it's not a Makita but it's not bad at all, I suspect they've farmed it out, someone else built it and slap Craftsman tag on it.
**Sears used to sell another line -- Companion -- which were built rock solid as Craftsman was in those long-ago years but did not have the lifetime guarantee; I've got a Companion 1/2" drive socket set that will long outlast my lifetime, and yours, too.

But those tools are the only reason I have gone into a Sears in the past decade. Um, nope -- a DieHard battery, for my last pickup truck. But I'm pretty sure that's it. The last time I was in a Sears -- to return tools for replacements, natch -- I looked around the store some, and it was dead. Absolutely nothing caught my eye. I was pretty surprised, and a little saddened -- they really were where it was at for so long, for appliances, tools, clothing (not for me though I did and do like Lands End), shoes and boots, on and on. Pretty much everything. And they did it so well.

You did know that Sears sold kit homes, right? Order it out of their catalog, they'd deliver it to your lot, precut lumber, boxes of nails, blah blah blah. I'm not sure if they had all the plumbing heating electrical supplies but I'd guess that they did. They came with step by step instructions -- "Okay, now bang in this nail. Next, bang in that nail."

Guns. Wanna buy a gun? Look in Sears catalog, 1966. Though all the big retailers sold them then, and I think through the 1970s, though after Kennedy got pasted you maybe had to go to the store to pick them up.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:04 PM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


total MetaFilter bait

This is a thing?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:06 PM on July 12, 2013


Tell Me No Lies: "Not so much agreed. The belief that everyone working for their own selfish gain will yield an efficient and prosperous system is a very Randian thing and it appears to have been the driver for this reorganization."

Indeed. When Ayn Rand gets more credence than Coase, a shitshow ensues.

I mean, not that Amazon isn't equally market solutionist or doesn't feature cost accounting; I figure EC2's ala carte model was requested from upon high. And certainly their affiliate program outsources a good deal of what would fall under the auspice of an advertising / marketing department. But to my knowledge, when they moved a development team to South Africa to develop EC2, they didn't hire a shadow set of directors and a new CFO in preparation for spinning the enterprise out if it actually worked.
posted by pwnguin at 11:14 PM on July 12, 2013


I've looked at appliances at Sears.com many times. Their site is actually pretty sweet. You can filter your search to show you a list of pretty much EXACTLY what you are looking for. However, I don't own any of these products because the store didn't offer delivery. How in the fuck am I going to get a stove to my house myself? And I'm sure as shit not going to order it online and have it shipped via Fedex. Can you imagine the cost of that? How are you going to make money by having a kickass website that shows you very big and heavy things that the stores won't deliver?
posted by Foam Pants at 11:40 PM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I enjoyed reading that for the same reason I enjoyed watching the Airbender movie, the Twilight movies, and occasionally listening to a facepalmingly-bad CD.
It reminds me, viscerally, that no matter how smart a rich person might be, or think they are, they're still just as likely as anyone else to be a goddamned fool
posted by GoingToShopping at 12:25 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be fair they are never claimed to be Rand aficionados. They just work for one.

That's my point. If Lampert is really a rational actor, he should be above getting angry due to the statements of his employees.

As for anti-Randian articles being MeFi bait:
A strong argument could be made that the ideas of Rand, and her adherents, are one of the biggest forces for harm in the world. I certainly believe it is so, and so long as I do, I won't be shy about pointing it out, here or elsewhere, if a reasonable opportunity presents itself.

Can't we just get beyond Thunderdome?
posted by JHarris at 12:51 AM on July 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


"As usual, the Rand/libertarian stuff is total MetaFilter bait, and also a total red herring."

As others have said, this isn't true. It's entirely relevant. Some internal competition is a good thing, especially in large, moribund corporations. But this article reveals, over and over again, that ideology has trumped common sense.

But Frowner's analysis must be considered. I'm skeptical that this is as considered and self-aware a self-serving strategy as Frowner describes; but I fully believe that Lampert doesn't distinguish between what's good for him and the executive class from what's good for Sears. Rand is really an elaborate excuse for doing this, but that doesn't mean that people don't believe in this shit. It's like prosperity theology.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:22 AM on July 13, 2013


However, I don't own any of these products because the store didn't offer delivery. How in the fuck am I going to get a stove to my house myself?

That's really odd. I have a house full of Sears-bought appliances, and have always had them delivered, most recently a new refrigerator.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:03 AM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can filter your search to show you a list of pretty much EXACTLY what you are looking for. However, I don't own any of these products because the store didn't offer delivery. How in the fuck am I going to get a stove to my house myself?

That seems... super weird. I've bought four major appliances from Sears over the course of my life, in three different cities, some of them quite small, and there's always been a delivery service. Not a free delivery service, mind, but if you get a good floor staffer you can often get them to waive the fee.
posted by Shepherd at 4:33 AM on July 13, 2013


jamjam has nailed it: "...then, when he's sold or hived off the artificially sweetened good pieces, collecting massive executive bonuses and options along the way, the moribund remainder, now crammed with liabilities which were formerly the responsibility of the entire entity, will declare bankruptcy and the liabilities will disappear."

Yes, all this talk about competing business units is just a smokescreen. It's a ruse. Also, there seems to be a lot of criticism (here and in the article) of how he's about to run the company into the ground. But even if that's the case, it looks like he will still be laughing all the way to the bank, meaning that he's accomplished exactly what he's set out to do (maximizing his own profits). Just looking at the info given in the article, it looks like he might be a psychopath...
posted by sour cream at 4:36 AM on July 13, 2013


From what I've read his hedge find has increasingly become dependent on Sears Holdings. He owns 55% of the company. If Sears collapses he's going to lose a lot of money.
posted by humanfont at 6:44 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Frowner wrote: I see the intentional use of the business as basically a money pump or a jobs farm for the 1%. The goal isn't to run a profitable business that will be around for a long time; the goal is to provide some high-flying, well-paid jobs with no heavy lifting to the various cronies within the oligarchy.

I really don't think these guys have class loyalty. At the moment Lampert has 55% of a shrinking business that in the long term will be valueless. What he's doing is creating a network of competing businesses, some of which will be actually profitable. So what he's going to end up with will be 55% of some profitable businesses, as well as 55% of unprofitable businesses he doesn't care about. It's a net benefit to him.

That's good enough (for him) but there's an even better trick he can do: before he hives off the profitable businesses he can arrange things so that his long-term liabilities (e.g., accumulated pensions) remain with the core business. So the hived-off businesses are not only profitable, they're debt-free and super profitable! It sucks to be one of the employees of the core business, which will end up bankrupt, but then it sucks for lots of people in our new model economy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:45 AM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Microsoft seems to be the only company where the larger company is foremost, though many of their senior execs also seems pretty cold blooded.

They had one autumn of rare company wide unity, in that they released new versions of every product they have, except CRM. But otherwise, yes, the cut throat mafia-grouping-like politics is all there.

It hasn't helped the Office Division at Microsoft to be required to stick with Windows while IOS, Andriod and Chrome rise in marketshare.

Office has jettisoned Windows now. You can get an official iOS (and Android I think) version(s) with Office 365. Always important to remember that Microsoft was traditionally the largest player among Mac applications as well, mostly driven by the large install base for Office for Mac.
posted by the cydonian at 7:00 AM on July 13, 2013


As we've seen with Milton Friedman and his acolytes, Lampert will simply believe that the system wasn't implemented enough and that's why it failed. Not that it's junk to begin with.

Also, to the person up there who talked about his/her mom being insanely devoted to Sears: My dad went to his grave viewing Radio Shack as the premiere place for technology.
posted by Legomancer at 7:06 AM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's good enough (for him) but there's an even better trick he can do: before he hives off the profitable businesses he can arrange things so that his long-term liabilities (e.g., accumulated pensions) remain with the core business. So the hived-off businesses are not only profitable, they're debt-free and super profitable! It sucks to be one of the employees of the core business, which will end up bankrupt, but then it sucks for lots of people in our new model economy.

Presumably the step after that would be running for president as someone with a proven mind for business - after all look at all the money.
posted by Artw at 7:10 AM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the real plan is to run Sears into the ground, give himself a big bonus, get a handout from the government because "Sears is too big to fail, etc", and be hailed as a genius by Renoroc.
posted by Renoroc at 7:23 AM on July 13, 2013


you can bet that Sears is going to hose their long-term employees, beat them out of their pensions, beat them out of any insurance policies they were promised, and worked for for long years.

Yup. My uncle's a repairman for Sears (Not the one who tried to fix thelonius' mom's fridge! I swear!) and basically he's just trying to get out with his pension and benefits before the whole thing goes under.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:42 AM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Craftsman is still a great brand in its own right, even though most other things suffered. If they had any sense (which it sounds like they don't) they would figure out how to leverage at least that brand

They spun Craftsman off, and now you can buy Craftsman tools at Ace.
posted by drezdn at 7:50 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how many problems can be traced back to the phrase "...fan of the novelist Ayn Rand."

But it's also amazing how that's become a dog whistle in articles to amuse people on the left side of the aisle.
posted by yerfatma at 8:35 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be a dog whistle it would have to have some kind of hidden meaning other than "this person has affinity for the terrible ideas of Ayn Rand", surely?
posted by Artw at 8:41 AM on July 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I actually had very good luck shopping at Sears for an emergency funeral dress with my sister back in April. I wasn't expecting to have success there since the Sears where I live is all Kardashianed out, but we found some solid wardrobe basics and hit a very good sale. It was a very positive experience. That store had a good sized Land's End section as well.)

I have to wonder how successful that particular location is compared to others. It's not in a large market. It's an anchor for its mall but not at either end (it's awkwardly in the middle of the mall. If you aren't headed there on purpose it would be easy to forget). Land's End is quite popular in the area. But you know what I have to imagine is one of the best things it has going for it?

The store is in Burlington, VT. Target does not have a single location in the state.
posted by maryr at 8:52 AM on July 13, 2013


The piece was full of great anecdotes, but it doesn't at all get to the heart of of the matter, which is that that hedge funds and private equity funds have are prone to two very serious vices when they get to running companies: impatience and elitism ... those who succumb to those vices do poorly, those who transcend them, don't.

Impatience stems from their mandate to generate big gains in a small amount of time; either because they want to do so, or because they have to do so to repay debt they took on when they acquired the business. Elitism stems from being smart and (typically) educated and trained in the only the most exclusive precincts.

Impatience kills because it is very hard and very slow to turn around complex companies that have been around a long time. Exceptionally hard when it comes to companies which are also anchored in extraordinarily deep and specific branding as were Sears and K-Mart.

Elitism kills because, quite frankly, Harvard, Yale and Stanford, and Goldman and McKinsey don't have much to teach you about how much businesses run, and they don't especially prepare a 40 year old portfolio manager to interact productively with a 55-year old who went to Iowa State and came up through the John Deere or Kroger management program before they became a divisional VP.

By the way, Lampert and Sears are hardly the best illustration of this. For better or worse he's been in this trade for ten years and has been playing out a pretty difficult hand of cards all throughout that time. I don't know that the best merchant in the world could have done a lot better than him.
posted by MattD at 9:48 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


His thrid flaw seems to faddism and putting faith in wahtever new fashionable thing is around - I wouldn't be suprised to see him basing business decisions on The Secret next.
posted by Artw at 9:51 AM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]



I've looked at appliances at Sears.com many times. Their site is actually pretty sweet. You can filter your search to show you a list of pretty much EXACTLY what you are looking for. However, I don't own any of these products because the store didn't offer delivery. How in the fuck am I going to get a stove to my house myself? And I'm sure as shit not going to order it online and have it shipped via Fedex. Can you imagine the cost of that? How are you going to make money by having a kickass website that shows you very big and heavy things that the stores won't deliver?


Despite the general decline of Sears, I feel compelled to say that I bought a good washer and dryer from them very recently and both were delivered. That was a pretty standard thing, and I'm surprised that any store doesn't.

I really don't think these guys have class loyalty. At the moment Lampert has 55% of a shrinking business that in the long term will be valueless. What he's doing is creating a network of competing businesses, some of which will be actually profitable. So what he's going to end up with will be 55% of some profitable businesses, as well as 55% of unprofitable businesses he doesn't care about. It's a net benefit to him.

But class loyalty doesn't operate like that - unless there is specific organizing around class, like union-building or certain smaller foundation/think-tank operations. In that sense, class-loyalty is a misleading term, because it suggests that people consciously act in the interest of fellow members of their class because they are fellow members of their class. When really, it's at a semi-conscious level - the jobs aren't for "fellow members of the haute bourgeoisie", they're for Princeton graduates from your year, or for "people like you". It's not "let's create upper management positions because we can pump money from poor people and give it to rich people"; it's "people who have expensive degrees and the right connections are always in every situation more valuable as employees and should be enticed/rewarded at the expense of others" - which is just a form of saying "people like me are always more valuable than people not like me, and should be paid accordingly". We've all experienced jobs where upper management thinks that anyone without some kind of Ivy League MBA is just a trained monkey and could be replaced in minutes, right? That's not just a misunderstanding; it's an emotional/ideological position that is strong and largely unconscious. "Class loyalty" is the product of socialization. It leads to conscious and ruthless decisions, but it is not itself a conscious decision.
posted by Frowner at 10:11 AM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


While my comments about Sears and HBC above still stand, one of the most erotic experiences I have had recently was when a sales clerk, late 50's, very well dressed, so very sexy, very self-assured, helped me pick out duvet covers. She was in complete contrast to the younger clerks (still older than me) who sat around the cash register gossiping.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:16 AM on July 13, 2013


The system is extremely centralized, through the CEO. He's simply misapplied capitalism to mean that the antagonistic parts are greater than the cooperative whole in the same company, which is like having siblings compete for their food and love from mom and dad, if mom is even still alive. The strange part for me is that none of those departments are in sales competition with each other, only in funding competition. So if a department has killer sales, does it grow bigger and produce even less profit? Is he going to kill off the under-performers that make up the long tail that attracts customers? This looks like supply-side libertarianism, aka feudalism or private government, where attempts at cooperation are outlawed in direct contradiction to choice, and marginal freedom is granted on an individual basis, never collectively guaranteed. The guy just wants to be king and think it modern.
posted by Brian B. at 10:22 AM on July 13, 2013


and be hailed as a genius by Renoroc.

There's nothing genius about making the most obvious self-interested choice available. It's not stupidity that keeps most people from behaving like these guys do--it's basic decency. Guys like this succeed because of emotional skills they don't have that more fully actualized and better socialized people do.

Actual geniuses seem to care a bit more about how their actions effect other people. Viewing other people's future financial security strictly as a bookkeeping liability to move off the books, whether standard business practice or not, reflects a narrow, socially irresponsible and unenlightened view of self-interest. A real genius (if such a rhetorical species actualy existed) would figure out a way to save the enterprise despite the structural challenges, and failing that, would work tirelessly to minimize the harm to the people whose willingness to work and sacrifice/forestall their own economic opportunities make doing business at all possible. This guy might be clever but he's no genius. He seems more like a run of the mill, opportunistic muddler. And probably, he's just in over his head.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:24 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


when i was at sears portrait, the people in the appliance section were rockstars. they got a good hourly wage + commissions and made a pretty good percentage of total sales for the year. they're given a lot of leeway to make the sale happen. they'd spend days really working a potential customer. delivery was part of what they were able to offer for free.

it almost makes sense they don't off that on the website - they really want you to come in so they can upsell you. i know that customers would bring in print outs from the internet and the salesperson would order it and get it delivered to them (collecting the commission) and hopefully convincing the customer to add another appliance or three to their order.
posted by nadawi at 11:13 AM on July 13, 2013


Good timing. My local Sears shut down this week. While I was a little sad when I heard it, I can take a 20-year-old ratchet and a new one (both Crafstman), use them interchangeably on the cars, and within a year the new one will be in need of replacement. So I stopped buying their tools about eight years ago. Now, to exchange one and maybe pick up a tool I'm needing, I'll have to drive well over an hour to the nearest Sears? Yeah, I'll stick with SK, etc.
posted by introp at 12:31 PM on July 13, 2013


meaning other than "this person has affinity for the terrible ideas of Ayn Rand", surely?

You've put it in yourself. It's an easy, offhand way to say, "Of course nothing this person has to say can possibly be correct because they're infected and thus a shallow thinker." It's rarely said how influenced they are or how this influence manifests itself, it's just used as an insult. To be clear, I have 0 affinity for her ideas myself, but I do have an affinity for fair discussions of ideas rather than someone coming to the plate already down two strikes in the count.
posted by yerfatma at 12:42 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Right, but that's not a dog whistle, it's just a general agreement that Ayn Rand is horrible.
posted by Artw at 12:46 PM on July 13, 2013


If it will help end this dog whistle derail:

A "dog whistle," in politics, is a statement that means one thing to a bunch of people, and something completely different to another set, cunningly chosen (usually by strategists) so a candidate can have his cake and eat it too: he can say something seemingly harmless or even laudatory to most people, but to his base, they feel the real meaning of the statement at a deep level.

Candidates try to seem as inoffensive to as many people as possible and not say definite things that will cause slivers of the voting public to take offense and decide against them; if too many of those slivers break off, the candidate will lose. And there are many of those things, so the candidate must usually restrict his statements to a bland and unappealing mush of generic platitudes, which is good for preserving support but terrible for generating new support, it doesn't get people excited. Dog whistles are one way to generate that excitement.

Because dog whistles hide the real meaning of a statement, they are also a tool to utilize some ideas that are popular with a small portion of people but odious to most, because the press can't just take a recording of the statement in a sound bite and play it to show what he really thinks, that detail won't come out without context.

An example:
When a politician talks about the sanctity of life, ordinary people will think "oh, he likes living things, how nice." But really he's talking about unborn living things, because that's where the debate is centered, it's a big anti-abortion dog whistle. He could care less about, say, abolishing the death penalty, or restrictions on hunting, or reforming agribusiness, even though those things are also against the literal meaning of his statement.

A second example:
Politicians who talk about "states rights" pretty much always really care about some conflict currently going between the federal government and the states, like over gun restrictions, abortion laws, or something they think Obama has done.

Ayn Rand examined as a liberal dog whistle:
1. The statement isn't being used by a politician. There's nothing to hide and no reason to hide it. It's being used factually in the article. It is not a dog whistle.
2. One might interpret "Ayn Rand follower" as "rapacious capitalist executive who liberals hate." Except in many cases these two categories are identical. Thus a follower of Ayn Rand could be considered a shorthand for that kind of person. But it's still not a dog whistle.
posted by JHarris at 1:18 PM on July 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


And, on the topic of the thread, to address the people saying Sears is doomed, but at least Lambert is saving some portion of his business:

One thing that is often forgotten about markets is that they're good at producing efficiency in individual units, but, like evolution, it is tremendously inefficient overall. All those companies/species who are out-competed, they discharge their resources and employees/go extinct. That's a great waste of energy and material.

On the national economic landscape, the employees (ideally) find new jobs, but that's wasted effort too. All their experience is scooped up by other people, and all the social worth and trust they built up with their co-workers is lost. The capital may gets bought by someone else, but it's second-hand and less valuable, and it might not even find a use and thus will just rot, its value sacrificed to the great god Entropy. But other systems absorb these inefficiencies; the winning companies don't have to care about them.

Because Lampert's owns all the competing Sears divisions, he absorbs a lot of those inefficiencies into Sears itself, and creates new ones too, by destroying opportunities for synergy between his competing divisions. He is letting ideology steer him away from reason by doing this.
posted by JHarris at 1:32 PM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


We need to make "fan of Freakanomics" a dogwhistle.
posted by Artw at 2:39 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


... I can take a 20-year-old ratchet and a new one (both Crafstman), use them interchangeably on the cars, and within a year the new one will be in need of replacement. So I stopped buying their tools about eight years ago. ...
posted by introp at 2:31 PM on July 13
If you ask the guy in the tool dept to get you an older ratchet for your replacement, he might do it, esp if the one you are turning in is an older one -- they still sometimes have the older ones that've been turned in and then repaired.

The older ratchets are right at 16,847.381 times better than the new ones, which will absolutely strip out pretty easily, under heavy usage and/or under repeated usage; I always use the 1/2 drive ratchet when I can, using a reducer to go down to 3/8" extension or socket, and use the 3/8" ratchet when I can, using reducer to get it down to 1/4" extension or socket.

Also, I've generally got two or three 3/8" drive and 1/4" drive ratchets in my tool boxes, and when one goes south I'll just grab the next one. The 3/8" and 1/4" ratchets are the worst offenders by far; the 1/2" drive ratchets not that bad. No pro would ever do this, he'd maybe use Craftsman wrenches and sockets but he'd throw rocks at you if you handed him one of those ratchets...
posted by dancestoblue at 3:51 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Of course nothing this person has to say can possibly be correct because they're infected and thus a shallow thinker." It's rarely said how influenced they are or how this influence manifests itself, it's just used as an insult. To be clear, I have 0 affinity for her ideas myself, but I do have an affinity for fair discussions of ideas rather than someone coming to the plate already down two strikes in the count.

Real question: Would you extend the same benefit of the doubt if a person said they believed in Pyramid Power?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:27 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Specifically, someone who reorganized their company based on its principles)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:38 PM on July 13, 2013


Because dog whistles hide the real meaning of a statement

Yeah, sometimes I suspect people think that "dog whistle" is actually a synonym for "bait". (Sorry, yerfatma, but it sounds like that is how you used it.) Then I wonder if people still know what a physical dog whistle is anymore, since nobody lets their dogs run free around town (it's a metal whistle, for the record, that makes a sound above the normal human hearing register -- that your dog will hear). So as a political metaphor it's a way of communicating where a selected portion of your audience will miss the real meaning.

I feel compelled to say that I bought a good washer and dryer from them very recently

Yup, more's the pity if they go under and take the Kenmore brand with them. Consumer Reports continues to give them good marks and frequently a "best buy" (low price for the quality) checkmark as well. I was also mostly satisfied with the Craftsman yard machine I've bought recently. Honda scores better, but also costs more.

They spun Craftsman off, and now you can buy Craftsman tools at Ace.

Second part true, but the company structure hasn't changed much -- it's still a subsidiary brand of Sears Holdings. The branching out is just another aspect of the Lampert strategy, I imagine.

I still can't believe they dismantled the catalog operation. (I have two professional connections here -- I once worked for a consultancy that worked with R.R. Donnelly, and actually worked at the famed printing plant in Chicago, post-catalog era (they still had the phone book business, of course); and I also worked for Dean Witter Discover in their suburban headquarters.) I may be one of the few people here who once in a while ordered stuff via Prodigy and had it delivered to the Sears store six blocks from my house. That was pretty cool for the time (ca. 1990), and as convenient as it got until Amazon branched out from books. It's one of those things where you boggle that a company had a clear strategic and logistical advantage and squandered it. Yes, they were having trouble getting people onto Prodigy in large numbers, but the local-store pick-up thing was there for mail and phone orders, too, and it didn't cost as much as home delivery. But the point here was that nobody else had that. Penneys and Wards had paper catalogs but not the online option or the local pick-up option (at least not as conveniently). And here we are years later and we find that Wal-Mart and Amazon both are looking at ways to recreate that with delivery boxes and last-mile delivery innovations.

*shakes head*
posted by dhartung at 6:12 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


A little off-topic (or at least only tangentially related), but I have to admit, I completely misread where online retail markets were going for a while there. I thought Amazon and others would begin setting up large networks of on-demand fulfillment centers that could complete most media sales really quickly (with potentially same-day delivery services from local/regional on-demand production facilities for most books, video games and music purchases). I thought the transition from physical media would happen more gradually than it did because it really didn't seem to me consumers wanted or were technically savvy enough for purely digital media. I was wrong. But I wish I hadn't been, because I think my model would have created more jobs to go around than where we ended up.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:03 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to admit, I completely misread where online retail markets were going for a while there. I thought Amazon and others would begin setting up large networks of on-demand fulfillment centers

Last year Walmart hopped in with their "shop online and pay with cash" model, which is essentially what you're talking about. You can buy anything you want from the Walmart online store (which has a considerably larger selection than the brick and mortar stores) and go down to the local Walmart to pick it up. Alternatively you can just go to the Walmart and pay and they'll still ship it to your house.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:21 PM on July 13, 2013


Then I wonder if people still know what a physical dog whistle yt is anymore, since nobody lets their dogs run free around town.

To my knowledge, at this time "dog whistle" as an object is very commonly known, while as political jargon is still very much known only to junkies and watchers. It is in no danger of losing its original meaning.
posted by JHarris at 7:31 PM on July 13, 2013


Ha, Sears. I once went into their store about a year ago to buy a product advertised on their site and "at the store" according to their website. I was told it wasn't on the floor and wasn't even there. I walked right out without even arguing.

Bought my few thousand dollar product elsewhere.

What a dinosaur.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:16 PM on July 13, 2013


What kills me about Sears is that, at the start of the dot-com boom, they had the potential to out-Amazon Amazon. They had the logistics infrastructure for catalog sales and shipping figured out, they just could tie it into online sales.

Ironically, Sears was an early mover in the online shopping space. Their online service, Prodigy, had a shopping component.
posted by evil otto at 7:47 AM on July 14, 2013


Competition is always the answer. It's what separates us from the animals.

Oh, wait...
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:45 PM on July 14, 2013


I often think that those who worship natural selection are not aware of the cull rate and the sheer number of generations it takes for species to evolve and dominate.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:21 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh. My. God.

The reminder of Prodigy just led me to Google my old Prodigy login number, out of curiousity. This both confirmed that I remembered it correctly (it brought up a couple old Mefi threads and an old community fanfic thing) AND that my ancient, ancient, long forgotted Tripid site still exists. Holy fuck.
posted by maryr at 11:13 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


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