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World Association of International Studies

PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post More Sears Nostalgia
Created by John Eipper on 06/23/14 10:27 AM

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More Sears Nostalgia (Randy Black, USA, 06/23/14 10:27 am)

I have enjoyed in a sad, wistful way, John Eipper's and Ric Mauricio's laments regarding Sears Roebuck's ongoing slow demise (see their posts from 22 and 23 June).

If it were not for Sears, and a few other part-time college jobs, I would not have been able to afford my final two years of J-school at Texas Tech.

Sears gave me the opportunity to sell cameras, fishing and golf equipment to the goat ropers who came into the store in Lubbock between 1967 and 1969 when I graduated. I recall that I earned the federal minimum wage in 1968, $1.60 an hour, for about 18-20 hours per week that I worked when I was not in classes or on the golf course.

To give you an idea of my expenses, my food budget during my senior year at Texas Tech was $25 per month and the rent on my little off-campus 2-room apartment was $30 per month, bills paid. I even sold my blood about once a month for $10 per visit to the local blood bank. Coupled with what I could win fleecing the hackers at the local public golf course and money from my photography job shooting frat parties on weekends, I made do by staying busy. I rented out my car to other students on the terms that they left the tank full. Gas was in the 34 cents per gallon range, and it held ten gallons.

Interesting historical note: Apparently, it cost Sears more than it was worth to print checks for the tiny amounts that I took home after taxes. Thus, all part-time Sears workers were paid in cash in a little brown envelope. My supervisor told me that their feedback demonstrated that such cash payments were done not only to save printing a paper check but to encourage the part-timers to spend their cash before they even got out of the store.

Over the past 50+ years, I've owned a garage-full of Craftsman tools, a half dozen Kenmore clothes washers and dryers, at least three Kenmore refrigerators, a couple of food freezers, an air compressor, a table saw, a router, you name it: I've bought it at Sears.

When I purchased my first new car, a 1965 Mustang, it came with no air conditioner. For $2359, the only option included in the price was an AM radio. It was the small 6-cylinder, three on the floor model. Red interior, white body, no air conditioner.

Sears to the rescue. Two years later in Lubbock, as a college student and Sears employee, they extended me the necessary credit to get that little car an add-on AC unit that was a Godsend in summertime in Lubbock and later in Palm Desert, California where I moved after graduation. When that little sports car finally gave up the ghost about six years later, that AC unit was still working, even if the car was not. Diehard batteries, oil changes, tires, fan belts, hoses, spark plugs, it all was Sears. That Mustang had more than 130,000 miles on it when the engine finally cried "Uncle." The day the engine cratered, the AC was still cranking out cold air on yet another trip between Indio and Dallas.

Sears may eventually go the way of their mail order catalogue, but I still use my very first set of Craftsman socket wrenches that my grandfather gave me for my 15th birthday, and a whole bunch of other "guy" stuff.

JE comments: I hope our non-US colleagues will forgive this bit of nostalgia, but Sears used to be an American icon--up there with baseball, hot dogs, and that car company whose name I don't remember.

Craftsman tools were/are too good: they never break, and when they do, they are replaced for free. This builds great brand equity, but it's a terrible business model.  (My Craftsman socket wrench set is probably twenty years old, and still looks good as new.)



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  • Sears Nostalgia in Brazil (Joe Listo, Brazil 06/24/14 4:09 AM)
    No need to apologize to non-US WAISers in the case of Sears (see JE's remarks of 23 June). The company was a huge icon in Brazil during the 1960s. Friends my age still fondly remember and miss this great organization.

    Sadly, the company closed doors in 1983. Buying at Sears was quite an experience, almost an adventure back then. Sears was years ahead of the competition. People were in awe when it displayed a power boat on its showroom (first company to display such a huge item), right next to a long line of US-made bicycles that were the dream of every teenager. Their Kenmore line of products was impressive. My mother bought a Kenmore washer that worked like a dream and lasted more than thirty years.


    And there were also snacks, amongst which a delightful salty peanut they sold in small paper bags that one would eat like there was no tomorrow. But Sears´s cherry on the cake was the Blue Room, a well decorated ballroom they rented for birthday parties and other gatherings. Having your birthday party at the Sears Blue Room would set you apart from the crowd, as it was quite fancy at the time, not to mention expensive.


    Sears was based in Rio de Janeiro, where it owned a large building which today houses the Botafogo Praia Mall. Its São Paulo store was bought by real estate investors, who erected yet another mall named Shopping Paulista. Although hundreds of world-class names are represented in today´s Brazil, nothing can compare with the experience of buying at Sears. I really wish the company could make a turn-around.


    JE comments: Great to hear from you, Joe, and thank you for the memory. While it's gone in Brazil, Sears still thrives in Mexico, where it is owned by Grupo Carso, part of the empire of the world's second richest man, Carlos Slim Helú.  Sears enjoys a prestige in Mexico that it lost long ago in the US, so like Woolworth's in Mexico, I suspect it will survive the likely demise of the parent company.


    Now that I have your ear, Joe, I hope you'll send a report on World Cup fever.  And congratulations on Brazil's victory yesterday over Cameroon.


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  • Sears and Mustang Memories; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 06/24/14 4:51 AM)
    JE: Sears veteran Ric Mauricio sends this comment:

    I enjoyed Randy Black's as well as John Eipper's walk down Memory Lane (23 June), especially when Randy started quoting those prices. Randy earned the $1.60 minimum wage in 1968. My minimum wage at Sears in 1980 was $3.00. That is a 5.4% inflation rate during those 12 years. However, since we are now at $7.50 minimum wage (around that; it differs with each state), that is only a 2.7% inflation rate for the minimum wage from 1980 to today. So, either wage inflation has slowed down for minimum-wage workers, or they are getting royally screwed.


    Fortunately, I was able to work myself into a commission position at Sears. Besides the 2% commission on anything I sold, they gave us a quota which we had to meet. I asked HR what would happen if I met my quota. They told me I would get a 25 cent raise. Hmm, the wheels started turning, what if I doubled my quota? Then you would get a 50 cent raise. Tripled, 75 cent raise. OK, so now in addition to my basic salary of $3/hour, I would get 2% of my sales (so $100 of sales per hour would equate to $2 extra per hour), and every six months I would get a review of my quota and a raise. So for the next two years, every six months, I tripled my quota, and ended up making close to $12 per hour, four times the minimum wage. Then all the commission salespeople got called to HR for a meeting on quotas. Sears revised the rules. They froze our wages right where they were at. Adiós, amigos. You took away my incentive. So now I was ready to become a stockbroker.


    I too had a Mustang, and one of my biggest regrets in life was selling it. It was a 1968 California Special with a 289 V8. Groan! I've also amassed a array of Craftsman tools throughout the years; my mechanic uncle had a gas station and gave me his Craftsman tools after he retired, 50 years ago. No Snap-On or MAC Tools then. So, John, are you saying that building such durable products is a bad business model? I believe Dodge had the same dilemma; their cars were built too well. But don't Toyota and Mercedes boast the same reputation?


    Yes, Craftsman tools rarely broke. Reminds me of the time when a customer brought in a broken screwdriver and the salesperson started arguing with him that since he utilized it in a way that it wasn't designed to be used, he could not get a new screwdriver. I finally couldn't stand it, stepped into the discussion, looked at the sku on the screwdriver, told the salesperson to get another one, and exchanged the new screwdriver for the broken one. Happy customer. I explained afterwards to the salesperson that the screwdriver cost us 50 cents and that by honoring the guarantee, that customer will probably buy $100 more worth of Craftsman tools. And he will tell his son, who will tell his grandson.


    Now there's an idea; selling Sears products through Amazon or better yet, through Alibaba. The Chinese have our Hummer; they love our Buicks, they buy our Apple phones and iPads, they eat our KFC, pizzas (as in Pizza Hut), and hamburgers (McDonalds and Burger King).  Why not Craftsman tools?


    JE comments:  Isn't it the other way around--we buy China's Apple phones?


    Toyota and M-B have built their reputations on quality, but there's one key difference:  unlike with Craftsman tools, you don't get a free Toyota when your old one breaks.


    I hope WAISers have enjoyed our trip down Sears & Roebuck Memory Lane.  This all began with John Heelan's reference to the Sears Tower, and my cheeky response about the name change.  Will WAISers of the future be sharing their Willis nostalgia?  What you talkin' about...?

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