Sears files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Throughout Sears' long struggle some vendors learned early to reduce their exposure

Sears, once the largest retailer in the world, is closing hundreds of stores and reportedly planning to file for bankruptcy. Here's how it got there.

Sears Holdings Corp CEO Eddie Lampert has stepped in to contribute towards a financing package of between US$500 million and US$600 million that the USA department store operator was close to securing on Sunday (Oct 14) to fund operations during bankruptcy proceedings, people familiar with the matter said.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection postpones a USA company's obligations to its creditors, giving it time to reorganise its debts or sell parts of the business.

The exact number of Sears stores that would remain open hasn't been finalized, but the intention is to maintain the 125-year-old chain as a going concern, the person said.

Store shelves have been left bare as many vendors have demanded more stringent payment terms, says Mark Cohen, a professor of retailing at Columbia University and a former Sears executive.

Sears was once the largest retailer in the nation.

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Sears Holdings, the parent company of Sears and Kmart, faces an October 15 deadline to pay $134 million on its debt.

"This is a company that in the 1950s stood like a colossus over the American retail landscape", said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. Edward S. Lampert has stepped down as CEO but will remain chairman of the board.

For now, Sears will be run by an Office of the CEO, and independent directors will oversee the restructuring. That's in contrast with chains like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Macy's, which have been enjoying stronger sales as they benefit from a robust economy and efforts to make the shopping experience more inviting by investing heavily in remodeling and de-cluttering their stores.

Such financial woes contrast with the promise that Mr Lampert made when he combined Sears and Kmart in 2005, two years after he helped bring Kmart out of bankruptcy.

Shareholders generally lose their investment when a company files for bankruptcy, and the fate of Sears itself will depend on the willingness of creditors and suppliers to keep the company afloat. Walmart supplanted Sears as the biggest retailer in the early 1990s. Such a plan could potentially keep a slimmer Sears alive as a going concern, the sources said.

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As part of the transition, Sears will also undergo a series of leadership and board changes.

The Sears catalog eventually sold products ranging from hardware and automobiles to kits for building an entire house. Lampert bought Sears in 2004 and merged it with Kmart, in which he had a controlling stake, the next year.

At various times, Sears brands have included Allstate Insurance, Coldwell Banker real estate and Discover Card.

Lampert is now Sears' largest shareholder, with about half the company's shares. The company has said it's the nation's largest provider of home services, with more than 11 million service calls a year.

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