Retail Businesses

13 Surprising Facts About Sears, Which Just Declared Bankruptcy

The troubled retailer first got its start in 1886.
13 Surprising Facts About Sears, Which Just Declared Bankruptcy
Image credit: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | Corbis | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
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3 min read

Sears Holdings on Monday filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Eddie Lampert, CEO of the 125-year-old company, will step away from the role  but stay on as chairman. Sears was supposed to pay off $134 million in debt, but didn’t have enough to cover it, leading to the bankruptcy filing. In a statement, the company said that the stores that are profitable will stay open, and the Sears and Kmart websites will remain live.

As of the filing, 700 stores were open. Sears had a staff of 68,000 employees, but that has gone down over the course of 2018 when the company had 1,000 store locations with 89,000 workers in February. By the end of the year, 142 stores will be closed in addition to 46 closings that are supposed to take place next month.

Whether the bankruptcy filing helps get the struggling business back on track remains to be seen, but there's no question that Sears made a serious impact on the American retail landscape.

Related: What Sears Taught Amazon About Business

Here are 13 facts you might not know about Sears.

1. While it was technically incorporated as Sears, Roebuck and Company in 1893 in Chicago, Ill., Sears got its start in 1886 as R.W. Sears Watch Company, with founder Richard W. Sears, a former railroad station agent selling watches via mail order in Minneapolis with watchmaker Alvah Roebuck.

2. Sears catalogs were able to have such prodigious reach thanks in part to a U.S. government program called Rural Free Delivery, which brought mail routes into rural parts of the country.

3. Sears went public in 1906, selling shares at $97.50. By today's market, that opening share price would be more than $2,500.

4. The first brick-and-mortar Sears store opened in Chicago in 1925 to capitalize on the boom of car usage, which allowed many customers in rural and suburban areas to shop in metropolitan centers.

5. In the beginning, the brick-and-mortar expansion was run by Robert E. Wood, who had served as a general during World War I.

6. From 1920 to 1943, Sears owned Encyclopaedia Britannica and sold the reference books in the catalogs.

7. The Sears catalog went by a number of names, first being called “the Book of Bargains,” then the “The Great Price Maker” and eventually the “Wishbook.” At times the catalogs could be up to 500 pages long.

8. During the Great Depression, an emphasis on carrying practical and inexpensive everyday items such as towels and socks kept the retailer afloat during that period, and by the end of the Depression, Sears stores had doubled in number.

9. By the '50s, Sears stores surpassed the 700 mark and the company went international, opening up a location in Mexico in 1947 and Canada in 1952.

10. Sears may not have sold everything in the catalogs, but there were many products you wouldn’t think would fit in the book -- such as actual prefabricated homes.

11. Sears Tower, opened in 1973 and renamed the Willis Tower in 2009, was the world’s tallest building until 1998.

12. In the '80s, in partnership with IBM, Sears created Prodigy, one of the first home internet platforms.

13. There are a number of brands that got their start as offshoots of Sears, including AllState Insurance, Kenmore, Craftsman, Discover Card -- after the company purchased Coldwell Banker -- and Dean Witter.

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