Retail Apocalypse Spreads North: Sears Canada Files For Bankruptcy

Image courtesy of Jim and Tiffany Kelly

The same factors hurting department stores and Sears stores in particular are affecting retailers north of the Canadian border as well: Today Sears Canada announced that it’s applied for creditors protection, the equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and plans to reorganize and shed some of its current stores.

Unlike its American counterpart and other department store chains, things have been looking up at Sears Canada. Sort of. It improved its same-store sales over the last two quarters, but its overall sales, including online sales, are down.

The chain is in the middle of a campaign to modernize and renovate stores and remake its image, which includes a marketing campaign based around the phrase “What the Sears?”

Before the company’s official announcement this morning, there was speculation that the chain was planning to simply liquidate and close its 200 stores.

The question is whether a slight improvement in sales and a reorganization of its business will be enough. One former leader of the company doesn’t think so.

“Unless the company can find a new source of liquidity, sell off a substantial number of additional stores, come up somehow with a boatload of cash and find a way to improve their running performance, the company really does not have a future,” Mark Cohen, the former CEO of Sears Canada who is now a business professor at Columbia University, told Canadian business news channel BNN.

Sears Canada is officially a separate company from Sears Holdings, but the American Sears once owned 95% of its stock. Now Sears Holdings owns only around 12%, while ESL Investments, the hedge fund of Sears Holdings CEO Eddie Lampert, owns 45% of Sears Canada stock.

Like its American cousin and other department stores on both sides of the border, Sears Canada has been struggling as shoppers’ tastes shift away from department store offerings. The company is short more than $300 million CAD on its obligations to retirees.