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What Smaller Retailers Can Learn From Sears' Mistakes [A Q&A with Manta]

Posted on 5.01.2017

Sears owes $4.2 billion, and the debt could be its downfall with The Motley Fool reporting Sears is one of many companies that, "probably won't survive till 2019."

Whether it's online shoppers taking their business elsewhere, the demand for lower prices or any number of trends impacting retail over the years, there are some takeaways businesses of all sizes can learn from. Website Magazine caught up with Manta CEO John Swanciger to get insights into a number of steps small businesses in particular can take to avoid some of Sears' costly mistakes. 

Website Magazine (WM): Small businesses may not see the similarities between their companies and an iconic one like it a productive practice to look to larger brands when strategizing their growth (why/why not)?

John Swanciger (JS), Manta: While small companies can’t match the scale of national corporations, there are plenty of lessons small businesses can learn. For instance, small business owners can adopt operational practices from larger organizations such as creating a business identity, embracing a vision for growth, and implementing a process for building a strong team.

Large companies like Google, Walmart, Amazon and even Sears achieved their status because of how they positioned themselves in the market. Small businesses can learn a lot from how these organizations serve their clients, leverage marketing tactics, and retain top talent to build their reputation and grow.

WM: If you had to name Sears’ biggest business blunders, what would they be? 

JS: The greatest mistake Sears made is a major takeaway for small business owners: Never stop evolving. In the digital age, lack of innovation can hinder even the largest corporation’s growth. So as your customers’ needs and preferences evolve, so must your delivery of goods and services.

WM: What are 1-2 takeaways that small businesses can take from Sears’ situation?

JS: Small businesses should recognize the importance of innovation, something Sears didn’t do at the end. Sears had the potential to remain America’s largest retailer if it took cues from its main competitors — Amazon and Walmart — and looked for ways to stay relevant to its customers.

Another takeaway for small business owners is to understand the benefits of taking risks. The longevity of a company depends not only on stability, but on trying out new strategies to increase the lifespan of the business. For example, Sears closed brick-and-mortar stores instead of transitioning those stores into product warehouses. This would not have been the most traditional of business moves, but it may have saved Sears’ business in the end.

WM: How can small businesses continue to assess their respective markets so they remain competitive?

JS: Small business owners should stay on top of industry trends to better understand the competitive landscape and prepare their business for change. Knowing what direction others in your industry are headed provides concrete examples of what to do and what not to do. This is also a great way to better understand customer expectations. For example, Sears’ competitor, Amazon, offers convenient and fast shipping on nearly everything, which meets consumers’ shifting expectations. This is one example of an opportunity Sears could’ve capitalized on if it had been more attentive to competitors and customer expectations. 

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