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  • Writer's pictureAcumen Learning

Big Picture: Sears

After Training Resources

CONSIDER THIS...​ Before there was an Amazon, there was the paperback version – the Sears catalog. Started in 1893, Sears was America's top retailer for nearly 8 decades. At one time, 3 out 4 Americans would shop at a Sears in the course of a year and Sears' gross sales would account for 1% of the United State's gross national product. Sears was big business and now they're barely limping along. What happened? This statement from a 1978 top secret Sears executive report might give us some clues: "We are not a fashion store. We are not a store for the whimsical, nor the affluent. We are not a discounter… We are not a store that anticipates… And we must all look on what we are, and pronounce it good! And seek to extend it. And not to be swayed from it by the attraction of other markets, no matter how enticing they might be." Well, they weren't kidding when they said they're not a store that anticipates. In 1962, Sam Walton opened the first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas. By 1967, Walmart had expanded to 24 stores with $12.7 million in sales. Walmart’s IPO came in 1970, with the opening of a home office in Bentonville, Arkansas. During the 1980’s, assuming that retail growth was limited, Sears began to diversify with the acquisition of Coldwell Banker, Dean Witter, Allstate and Discover. At the same time, Walmart opened its first Supercenter, combining groceries and general merchandise. By 1983, Walmart replaced cash registers with computerized, point-of-sale systems. By the 1990s Sears simplified its structure and eliminated the famous Sears catalog, and Walmart overtook Sears as the nation’s number one retailer. In 1994, Amazon began as an online bookstore, with an IPO in 1997. By 1998, Amazon began expanding its services beyond books and started offering Free Super Savers shipping. By the time Kmart purchased Sears in 2004, Walmart had already grown bigger than The Home Depot, Kroger, Target, Sears, Costco and Kmart combined, proving Sears wrong in their assumption that retail growth was limited. In the same year, Amazon expanded to China.

Acumen in Action™ Share the online slideshow in your next meeting and discuss the following with your team:

  1. What did Sears not see?

  2. What innovations helped Wal-Mart win?

  3. If you were Sears' CEO back in 1978, what would your strategy have been?

  4. If you were Sears' CEO today, what would your strategy be?

  5. What do you think, does our company watch for milestones or enact them? How about our team?

  6. What can we do better to anticipate the future?

​​ Seeing the Big Picture Give each team member an index card and on one side have them write down a future that they would like to see unfold. For example, a team member might identify a future where they complete a project successfully or they might see a future where they make it to President's Club. On the back of the card have them write down the steps, or milestones, that will enable that future to occur. Finally, challenge them to use their business acumen to think of ways that they can deliberately enact the steps that they've identified (not just watch them pass by). You may want to review these cards periodically in future meetings. If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture (Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 88 and read the section: Anticipation and Innovation


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