A Sears is shown in Ottawa on Thursday, June 22, 2017. Sears Canada Inc. said it plans to close 59 locations and cut approximately 2,900 jobs under a court-supervised restructuring after it was granted protection from creditors Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Sears Canada to close 59 stores, cut 2,900 jobs

TORONTO — Sears Canada will close 59 stores and cut approximately 2,900 jobs under a court-supervised restructuring, the beleaguered retailer said Thursday following years of dwindling sales and a revolving door of top executives.

The announcement came after the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted the department store chain temporary protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

The company plans to continue operating throughout the restructuring and said it intends to emerge as a leaner, more focused operation better able to compete in the hyper-competitive retail industry.

“However, to achieve that goal and to right-size its business, the Sears Canada Group anticipates that a number of stores will have to be closed, operating costs reduced, business lines exited, and head count reductions implemented,” Sears Canada said in documents filed with the court.

The 30-day court protection from creditors will give it some “breathing space” as it tries to revamp its business, the retailer said. The court also authorized Sears Canada to obtain up to $450 million in financing to maintain operations.

Under the court-supervised plan, Sears Canada will close 20 full-line department stores, 15 Sears Home stores, 14 Sears Hometown locations and all 10 of its Sears Outlet stores. Its department stores range from 30,000 to 300,000 square feet, with many serving as shopping hubs in small towns throughout the country.

About 500 office positions will be eliminated immediately, with the rest of the job losses coming as the stores begin to close. As of May 30, Sears Canada employed approximately 17,000 people, with 10,500 in part-time positions and the rest working full-time.

The move, which retail experts had been anticipating for some time, marks a culmination of struggles for a company with roots in Canada that stretch back generations.

Sears Canada has piled up losses and seen its stock nosedive, losing more than 80 per cent of its value in the last year, despite efforts to refashion itself at a time when more Canadians are shirking bricks-and-mortar in favour of online shopping. It has also gone through several leadership changes in recent years.

Mark Cohen, who was the company’s CEO and chairman before he was ousted in 2004, said its problems have been self-inflicted and he believes it has no vision for the future.

“This notion that they’ll come out a stronger, better company is a fantasy because they don’t have a stronger, better strategy,” said Cohen, who is currently the director of retail studies at Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York.

“You clean up your balance sheet, but then what?”

Branding and marketing strategist Tony Chapman said one of the biggest issues Sears Canada has was that it had difficulty adapting to changing consumer tastes while competitors such as Walmart, Costco and Amazon marched onto their terrain.

“They lost touch,” Chapman said.

“It was inevitable that a low-cost producer like an Amazon or Walmart is going to eat your lunch and that’s what happened. It always surprises me that companies that feel that they’re at the top of their game never see when that foundation of business is being taken out by the competitors until it’s too late.”

Headquartered in Toronto, Sears Canada operates 225 stores in all, including 95 department stores, 65 Sears Hometown stores, 23 Sears Home Stores and 32 Corbeil stores, a specialty major appliances chain. It said it hopes to exit court protection as soon as possible this year.

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