近几个月西尔斯控股公司（Sears Holding Corporation）扩大了允许竞争对手销售其最传奇品牌的合作计划，似乎是承认了在西尔斯购物的吸引力还是和根管治疗差不多。Craftsman工具和DieHard电池的销售已不再局限于这家巨无霸零售商的门店，Kenmore家电出现在其他零售商的门店中可能也只是个时间问题。
“它会有短线刺激，但长远来看将是一场灾难，”美国零售咨询和投资银行公司Davidowitz & Associates, Inc.的董事长霍华德•大卫德维茨预测，“西尔斯正在土崩瓦解——净利润，销售额，一切都在下滑——因此他们针对自有品牌启动了这项战略，但这项战略与当前美国所有零售商的着力点、努力方向背道而驰，那就是实现与竞争对手的差异化经营。”
目前，梅西百货（Macy's）正在继续扩大与汤米•希尔费格等品牌的独家销售协议；另一零售巨头彭尼（J.C. Penney）近日则从Liz Claiborne的独家销售商更进一步，直接出手收购了Liz Claiborne的品牌。大卫德维茨表示，这样的交易使零售商能在消费需求不旺、破产案例增加以及零售业过剩的市场中生存下去；目前全美人均零售面积仍高达43.6平方英尺。
然而，上个月，西尔斯和会员制批发零售商好市多（Costco）也签署了Craftsman品牌产品销售协议，并许可总部位于密西根的零售商Meijer Inc.销售其知名的DieHard汽车电池。6月份，西尔斯还和采购商Dorcy International达成了DieHard碱性电池和充电电池的销售许可协议。
目前尚不清楚西尔斯的品牌许可战略将如何与KCD战略达成契合，后者近来动作频频。甚至连西北大学（Northwestern University）凯洛格管理学院（Kellogg School of Management）的金融工程专家、戴维•斯托维尔教授也承认，总的来说，他“不确定终局如何”。
In what seems an admission that the Sears shopping experience continues to have about as much appeal as getting a root canal, Sears Holding Corporation has moved to expand partnerships over the last few months that allow competitors to sell its most storied brands. Craftsman tools and DieHard batteries have already escaped the big-box retail behemoth, and it's probably only a matter of time before Kenmore makes a break for freedom as well.
The move is an ingenious elixir for near-term earnings, providing incremental cash flow to the struggling corporate mash-up that Eddie Lampert built, and is a delightful added discomfort to Sears' high-interest-paying shorts, who have watched the company's float vanish thanks to Lampert's aggressive stock buybacks. But critics worry that it could, in the end, just be digging the once omnipresent retailer a deeper grave.
"It will have a short-term benefit, but long-term it will be a disaster," predicts Howard Davidowitz, Chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, Inc., a national retail consulting and investment banking firm. "Sears is in total collapse -- earnings, sales, everything is tanking -- so they embark on this strategy with their brands that fundamentally goes against what every retailer in the United States is doing, what every retailer is trying to accomplish, which is to differentiate themselves from their competitors."
Macy's (M) keeps expanding exclusive sales arrangements with brands like Tommy Hilfiger, and J.C. Penney (JCP) recently went from an exclusive license of Liz Claiborne to an outright purchase of Liz Claiborne brands. Davidowitz says these are the types of deals that allow retailers to survive in a time with moribund consumers, rising bankruptcies and over-capacity in the retail industry, which still provides a whopping 43.6 square feet of retail selling space per capita in the country.
Sears obviously sees the move differently, talking up the ability to extend brand reach by moving its products outside of Sears' stores. Some shoppers have been able to buy Craftsman tools at Ace Hardware since last year, a deal that has now expanded from about ten hardware stores to almost 1,000.
But over the last month, Sears has also inked deals with Costco (COST) to sell the Craftsman brand and is allowing Meijer Inc., a Michigan-based retailer, to offer its well-known DieHard car batteries. In June, Sears reached an agreement with Dorcy International to sell DieHard-branded alkaline and rechargeable batteries.
Last week, new reports suggested that Sears is planning to hire an agent who can license Craftsman, DieHard, and the Kenmore appliance brands to a host of other retailers. According to Bloomberg, any agreement would differ from some previous deals by being a pure licensing play; in some incarnations, Sears (SHLD) has sold its own products within competitors' stores, collecting a percentage of the profit from sales.
"To grow the value of our proprietary brands, we evaluate all avenues including extending the brands into new markets and categories," says Larry Costello, a Sears Holdings spokesman, in a prepared statement. "As part of that evaluation, we consider a variety of partnership structures and consider both agency based and direct licensing relationships. The DieHard announcements with Dorcy and Meijer are both examples of direct licensing relationships."
Sears proper already has a curious relationship with its most profitable brands. In 2006, Sears Holdings securitized Kenmore, Crasftsman and DieHard, putting them into a separate special-purpose entity called KCD IP, which acts as a bankruptcy remote subsidiary. Sears pays a royalty fee to KCD, which uses the money to pay the interest on about $1 billion in bonds stuffed into a Sears insurance subsidiary. Theoretically, the move could protect these profitable brands from certain Sears' bondholders. It also helps KCD gain better ratings and cheaper financing.
It's unclear how the move to license the brands outside Sears fits within the strategy for KCD, which has been a busy trademarker of late. Even Professor David Stowell, an expert in financial engineering at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, admits that, more generally, he's "not sure what the endgame is."