Sears CEO Eddie Lampert said Tuesday that the struggling retailer is “fighting like hell” to stay afloat, but unfair media coverage is making it difficult for the company to turn business around.
In a rare interview, Lampert told the Chicago Tribune that Sears “clearly” has its challenges, but in many ways, it’s ahead of the rest of the industry.
“I feel like we’re ahead of JCPenney, we’re ahead of Macy’s, we’re ahead of Target, in some aspects of where the world is going,” he told the Chicago Tribune in a rare interview.
But articles speculating on a Sears’ bankruptcy are holding the company back, he said.
“Every time people use the word bankruptcy, somebody who reads that doesn’t get past that word. It makes it very unfair for us, and it’s a very uneven playing field for us,” he said.
Lampert says the media is only focused on Sears’ challenges, and gives preferential treatment to other retailers.
“Costco came out last year with a new card and everyone was talking about it and writing about it,” he said. “When we come out with our card, people only talk about closing stores. It is true that on the left, we’re closing stores. We’re not making money. On the right is where we’re going.”
Lampert also said vendors have been treating Sears’ like a “pariah” and questioning it ability to pay for orders “because there are a lot of articles that are speculating, and there are elements of truth, but they’re certainly designed to scare people,” he said.
“If you’re a vendor, and want to do business with us, then you have to treat us like a customer, you don’t treat us like a pariah,” he said.
Sears’ sales have been cut in half since 2007, and the company has been closing hundreds of stores and selling off assets including real estate and brands like Craftsman to raise money. The company has also been borrowing money from Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments, to keep funding operations.
There has been widespread speculation on Wall Street that the company is nearing bankruptcy, especially after Sears in March revealed “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business.
Last month, S&P Global Market Intelligence identified Sears as the most vulnerable public retail company in the US, saying it has a 24% chance of default within a year.
Sears is now facing a looming payment in July from the maturation of a $US500 million loan facility. The company said it is in talks to evaluate refinancing options for the loan, and will provide an update on the status of those efforts by the end of this month.
Sears shares have fallen 23% in the past year.
Addressing bankruptcy concerns, Lampert told the Tribune that “the reality is better than the perception.”
“We have as much time as our vendors and our lenders and our shareholders are willing to give us,” he said. “We’re trying to be proactive with our vendors, we’re trying to be proactive with our members, with our employees, associates, etc., to explain that the reality is a lot better than the perception. The reality needs to be better than it is for us to really demonstrate to people that the transition is starting to take hold.”
Read the full interview at the Chicago Tribune.
If you work at Sears or Kmart and have a story to tell, contact this reporter at [email protected]
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