Sears today announced that it had filed paperwork with the SEC to spin-off Lands’ End. This is very good news for the Lands’ End brand.
By 2000, Lands’ End was a thriving company. Customers loved the brand and the business did well; Lands’ End had a distinct voice in the crowded world of retail. It was a bit like L.L. Bean with less of the rugged Maine feel. Lands’ End was comfortably sporty and nautical with great quality and service. I was a loyal customer.
In 2002, however, Sears purchased Lands’ End for $1.8 billion. The concept was that Lands’ End would help revitalize Sears and make the brand more upscale. Sears quickly opened up Lands’ End departments in Sears stores.
The combination of Sears and Lands’ End was a disaster. When a small brand joins with a huge brand, the larger partner will carry more weight. So instead of pulling Sears up, the combination just pulled Lands’ End down.
I visited a few of the Lands’ End stores in Sears locations. It was a painful experience. First, I had to wander through Sears, which was difficult enough. Then I found that the Lands’ End department was in disarray with little service and selection. It was totally counter to my image of the Lands’ End brand.
So I, and many people, moved on to other brands.
Things may change once Lands’ End becomes independent. The new brand (hopefully) won’t have to sell at Sears locations. It can attract employees committed to building a special, unique brand. It can reward employees with stock options that actually might be worth something.
Short term, Lands’ End may do poorly on its own. Sales will fall as the brand retrenches, invests in service and branding, and cuts retail locations. Many customers will leave, especially those looking for low prices.
Long term, Lands’ End may emerge as a thriving merchant, a special brand in the crowded world of retail.
I’m looking forward to the transition and becoming a Lands’ End customer again.