WHEN SEARS JOINS UP WITH SIMPSON'S
it will hit Canadian shopping and business habh a big and brasssy thump. Already sixteen Canadian cities are on the sales route of the world's largest retailer
Compliments of Xe>r Year's Day To onr neighbor cross the may, Whose reputation me all knom— The donghCy Robert Simpson Co. iSeiy, hoir ge lierons car yon get In the name of etirpnette X
LAST JAN. 1 the T. Eaton Company, Canada’s biggest department-store chain and mail-order house, bought newspaper space to send that rare sprightly greeting to its number one competitor. Exactly one year later Simpson’s will deliver its reply: On the first working day of 1953 Simpson's and Sears Roebuck will combine forty million dollars of new capital and billions of dollars of merchandising experience to form Simpsons-Sears Limited. The new company has an aim which is most unneighborlv to Eaton’s: namely, to sell Canadians more store goods than any retailer ever sold them before.
Sears Roebuck and Company, until now largely a name to Canadians— a name which is a fabulous if seldom seen mail-order catalogue plus seven hundred low-priced department stores spread throughout the United States receives for its twenty-million investment a a half share in Simpson's mail-order business and a projected chain of Sears-type retail stores, and b the right to applv in Canada the methods which have made Sears the world's largest retailer of things people wear and use.
Whatever comes of these enterprises one thing is certainSears is destined to become a bvword in Canada, as it is in many other parts of the world. People in the States who don't like Sears have burned the company's catalogues in public squares, but people who do like Sears often send in a jar of pickles or jelly with their orders and the admonition, addressed to Mr. Sears. "Don't forget to share it with Mr. Roebuck.”
Sears may also affect traditional Canadian wavs of doing business. Sears employees practically never get orders from their bosses, and work in a
sort of mercantile anarenv: yet so good is the company's profit-sharing scheme that when one clerk recently retired he got a cheque for one hundred and ten thousand dollars. Sears is never satisfied just to accept merchandise from its suppliers. Instead, the company usually moves in and ends up running the supplier's business for him. right down to such minute details as questioning the vice-president's expense account.
Eaton's has maintained a terse "no comment” attitude toward the threat of Simpsons-Sears. but is obviously keeping a sharp non-poet'C eye on its ambitious competitor. Not long after the plans to form the new company were announced last July, Simpson's gave a trial run to one of Sears' bestselling gimmicks a ten percent down payment on "big ticket” merchandise like refrigerators, stoves and washing machines.
Eaton’s reply was swift and to the point: No
down payment. Eaton's does not reveal its volume of business, being privately owned, but its sales are reputed to be approximately fifty percent above Simpson's volume of one hundred and seventy-five million dollars a year, of which mail order accounts for sixty millions. Eaton's is also big. lusty, resourceful and—if it will pardon the expression— tough. It-could well lie that the most interesting and profitable shopping news for Canadians in the months and years ahead will be what SimpsonsSears does altout Eaton’s, and vice versa.
The first of the new Simnsons-Sears retail stores is actually under construction at Burnaby, B.C., midway between New Westminster and Vancouver. It will be a typical "Class A” Sears store in design, a six-million-dollar. three-storv. streamlined, airconditioned budding on u sixteen-acre site which provides parking for a thousand cars. British Columbia is getting the first Simpsons-Sears store for the simple reason that Simpson’s was about to build there anyway. "The firm originally planned a different type of store and mail-order centre,” said C. W. Jaggs, manager of Simpson's west coast mail-order division, "but plans were changed following the formation of Simpsons-Sears.”
Fifteen more Simpsons-Sears stores will go up as fast as structural steel becomes available and a total of thirty to forty stores are planned for the foreseeable future. Cities in which the earliest stores are likely to be built are Hamilton, Windsor, Ottawa, Port Arthur-Fort William, Saint John, St. John's, Winnipeg. Quebec City. Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria, Saskatoon, and possibly Yellowknife. N.W.T.
For several weeks now Simpson's buyers and sales executives have been commuting to Sears headquarters in Chicago to take delivery of the ch;ef contribution Sears is making apart from that twenty m.lhons to the partnership: indoctrination in the Sears system of selecting, procuring, distributing and selling several thousand varieties of alluring
merchandise at prices low enough to win and hold one of the largest mass markets in the world.
What the average Canadian will want to know is how—and how much the Sears influence will affect his or her purse and purchasing habits. A Sears executive told me in Chicago: T hope Can-
adians don’t get hold of one of our catalogues and set their hearts on the prices in it. Many factors, like duty, freight and taxes, may affect Canadian prices. Even in our own retail stores prices are about six ]>ercent over the catalogue because of higher selling costs.”
The only official hint to Canadian shoppers on what to expect from Simpsons-Sears is contained in the first and only statement on the formation of the new company, issued jointly by C. L. Burton.
board chairman cf Simpson’s, and General Rol>ert E. Wood, board chairman of Sears Roebuck, which promised that Simpsons-Sears "will have a farreaching and beneficial effect on Canadian customers.”
The statement also indicated that not only mailorder shoppers and residents of cities where new Simpsons-Sears stores are opened will get the "Sears treatment,” but also shop¡ters in the cities where Simpson’s has department stores at present Toronto, Montreal. Regina, Halifax and London. Although these stores do not come under the Simpsons-Sears name they will share the same "important new merchandising advantages.”
Since few Canadian shoppers have had intimate dealings with Sears Roebuck, it might be well to give a brief rundown of the recent life and times of the phenomenon which is Sears. The present deal is, incidentally, not the first transaction between the two companies. In 1948 Simpson’s was on the acquiring end of a deal with Sears, when the Canadian company took over Sears’ last two mailorder offices in this country, at Vancouver and Victoria, after currency restrictions made crossborder selling all but impossible.
In its own bailiwick and in Latin America, however. Sears’ expansion has been spectacular since World War II. In 1945 Sears sold an even billion dollars. Six years later sales reached §2,700,000.000, or almost exactly twenty dollars for every man. woman and child in the United States. On the same basis Simpson’s gross of $175,000,000 works out at $12.50 per Canadian.
Most Canadians still think of Sears as a mailorder house and, true enough, mail order is at an all-time high, with eleven million customers and fifty million catalogues issued in seven editions a year. But mail order now accounts for thirty percent of Sears’ business, against seventy percent for Sears retail stores. Since the war Sears has pioneered in building stores on wasteland far from the centre of towns and cities, with an inflexible ratio of two square yards of parking space for every square yard of store area. .Almost instantly the Sears vicinity becomes a shopping centre as noncompetitive shops grab adjacent frontage to take advantage of Sears’ priceless gift—heavy traffic.
"Outside Houston, Texas,” a Sears official told me. "we killed dozens of snakes when we cleared land for our new store .. couple of years ago. We uprooted mesquite with bulldozers and evicted all manner of wildlife. Today money can’t buy a foot of frontage in the area.”
One result easy to predict concerning the coming of Sears to Canada is that there will be near-riots in every city on opening day of each new store. It still happens even in the United States where Sears is an old and familiar institution. A few weeks ago one hundred and forty thousand people tried to get into a Sears store in suburban Detroit when the
doors first opened without l>enetit of door prizes or opening day specials > and police reserves had lo lie rushed in. In Mexico City crowds blocked the streets within half a mile of a new Sears store hours before o]iening time and riots developed during the struggle to get inside. In Rio de Janeiro more than one hundred thousand people liesieged the new Sears store, stalled the escalators with sheer weight of numliers, cleared out one thousand refrigerators in the first hour and by closing time, left the store a virtually empty shell with six hundred thousand dollars in the cash registers.
The fact is that in pursuing its single-minded purpose of selling vast quantities of good-quality wares at low prices Sears has become, in addition to a retailer, a symbol or a state of mind. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once suggested, half seriously, that an excellent weapon for use against Soviet propaganda would be millions of Sears catalogues dropped by plane throughout Russia. The president's contention was that if Russians learned the truth about the American way of life, as depicted in the Sears catalogue, they would never again believe propaganda lies.
Strangely enough this semihumorous plan actually had a Communist tryout not long afterward. Asa gesture toward his new Western friends Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia announced that citizens could buy up to six dollars' worth of goods from abroad. Word got around Belgrade that the United States Embassy had u lone copy of the current Sears catalogue, and soon the crush in the streets outside reached riot proportions. Police and firemen had to disperse the crowd.
To what extent Simpsons-Sears will duplicate Sears in selection of stock, prices and that almost indefinable attraction to buyers, probably not even Sears or Simpson’s knows at the moment. "The only thing about Sears everybody seems to know around here,” a Simpson’s official told me, "is that rank-and-file salaries average sixty dollars a week. Every day dozens of employees ask me: Ts Simpsons-Sears going to have Sears salaries, or Simpson’s?’ ” Simpson’s salaries for corresponding |iersonnel are considerably lower.
Reason for the uncertainty is that the first official announcement of the deal was made prematurely, six months in advance, to offset rumors in Toronto business circles which declared, emphatically if not with authority, that Simpson’s intended to sell out its entire business to Sears. Since then Simpson’s has added nothing to the first brief statement. Edgar Burton, president of the new company and son of C. L. Burton, the man who made Simpson’s big, has not been available for interviews. One Simpson’s executive explained: "It's a case of
'does Macy’s tell Gimbels?’ Well. Simpson’s isn’t telling Eaton's its plans.”
Sears is reticent about its new Canadian operation— to a point. Continued on pape 78
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 17
“After all " a Sears executive told me in Chicago, “it is essentially a Canadian operation and we've agreed to let the Canadians do the talking.” Then he added with a smile. “But I never saw Sears invest in any operation that didn't do things the Sears way.”
This confirms the assumption that the answer to the question of many Canadian shoppers. "What will be new about Simpsons-Sears?” lies largely in the answer to another question. “What is the Sears system and how does it work?" And. since Simpsons-Sears states that eighty-five percent of its purchases will be from Canadian sources, those who hope to do business with the new company will also be interested in the Sears system.
Sears favors the "known cost” approach, also called the "all cards on the table" system. "That means." a Sears executive told me. "that the manufacturer tells us the exact cost of every inch of material that goes into the product, his precise labor cost, and his overhead itemized in detail. We scrutinize these figures carefully, quite frankly with an eye to keeping costs low. Low costs mean low selling prices and high volume of sales—and without those there wouldn't be any Sears. It's easy for our experts to decide on the fairness of labor and material costs, but overhead is something else again. That big car the boss drives to work—and takes his family to the summer cottage week ends — is that charged against the company’s overhead?
“ ‘Sure,’ is the answer, ‘the incometax people accept it.’ Sears' attitude is that that is a matter between the taxation officials and the plant owner, but we don't want our customers to pay his inflated carfare, no matter what he puts over on the government. Out comes the car from the overhead figure.
“Then there might be old L’ncle Jack. He never amounted to much, never did much work, because the family's business was always good for a handout. Somebody has to take care of L'ncle Jack, so why not put him on the plant payroll at fifty dollars a week, with an imaginary title, and charge it up to income tax? NowSears certainly has no objection to industrial sociology—heaven knows, we liave about the biggest array of employee benefits of any company in the world—but L'ncle Jack doesn’t, never has and never will contribute a lick t-* the product we're buying. And a couple of cents added to the unit cost in the manufacturing stage may add up to a dime on our store counter — maybe the difference between a good hu>' and a mediocre buy. So out comes L ncle Jack from the overhead.
"But that's only the beginning. Our buyers—we have two hundred and seventy buying supervisors and buyers who are really procurement and merchandising experts—find other 'normal' costs which can be lopped off. Advertising. for example, because Sears sells under its own trade names and does its own advertising, and we are among the top users of advertising space in the country: selling costs, because
Sears goes out after the goods it needs instead of waiting for salesmen to call. Those two items alone may account for fifteen to twenty-five percent of a manufacturer's price. Then there's warehousing costs and reserves tor credit losses. We take immediate delivery and pay cash, so these two I
items also can come off the cost of the goods we buy and off the cost of the goods we sell, too."
It seemed to me that inanv a Canadian manufacturer, suddenly confronted with a proposition like that, might draw himself up to his full height and show the Sears man the door. And 1 pointed that out.
“You mean the man who says. 'You go to the devil we'll run our business in our own way.’ Yes. we've encountered them. Some of them we still can't do business with, but a lot of them are among our best and happiest suppliers today. Our system really works and we can prove it in figures: We have approximately twenty thousand suppliers in all parts of the country, and even some in Canada. Cream separators are one item that comes to mind. All our cream separators are made in Canada. Well, among our suppliers the great majority have l>een with us more than five years: half of them for ten years or more, five thousand of them for twenty-five years, and nearly a thousand for thirty-five years or more.
“There's more to the Sears buying system than poking our nose into other people’s affairs. Our need for planning stocks far in advance for mail order and for regional warehouses means we can often place big orders which a manufacturer can run off in otherwise slack seasons, leveling off his overhead and keeping his working force on the payroll. One of the big hazards of seasonal manufacture is having to lay off skilled workers who may have to go elsewhere for employment -and perhaps stay away. -Sears usually has one hundred and fifty thousand lawn mowers manufactured by Jan. 1: three hundred and fifty thousand storm windows assembled by the beginning of June; two million blankets ready bv May 1. and two hundred thousand toy trains ready to roll by the end of April. These delivery dates are so far ahead of the usual seasonal requirements of most of a manufacturer’s customers that he can produce for other buyers in addition to turning out big orders for us.
“We can often show a manufacturer how to rearrange bis production machinery for greater efficiency and lower costs; bow be can modernize procedures; how a slight change in design of a product will speed up production and cut costs. That’s part of the function of our merchandise development department. It costs Sears more than a million dollars a year, but its services are free to our suppliers. We sometimes give our suppliers even more basic advice, like where to locate a plant to take advantage of lower costs and closer raw material supplies. And we back up that advice with financial support. We advanced one manufacturer seven hundred thousand dollars to build a stove factory in Tennessee, and loaned another six hundred thousand to erect .. tire plant in Mississippi.”
If the supplier needs money for materials or machinery Sears often reaches for its chequebook. At present Sears has twenty million dollars out on loan for such purposes. In many instances Sears installs its own tools, dies and machinery in a supplier's factory, at a cost of three million to four million dollars a year.
Its elaborate buying system is not limed at shaving the profits of suppliers, Sears insists. "We are." said Theodore V. Houser, vice-chairman of the board, "more interested in what a manufacturer does with his profits than in how much those profits are. We would rather see i manufacturer make ten. twelve or fifteen percent net and reinvest part of it in improved
facilities, than for him to make half that profit and make no reinvestment in his business. That's only good sense from our viewpoint, too. The first man becomes a constantly improving, more efficient source of supply for us; the second man has higher and higher costs as obsolescence gradually takes over, until he can no longer afford to sell in our price range.”
I wanted to talk to a typical Sears supplier and chose a name at random from the Chicago roster.
Sam Plotnick, still in his twenties, is co-director of the family luggage business. I found Sam in the Palmer House Hotel, where the National Luggage and Leather Goods Show was in progress. The Plotnicks’ Oshkosh Luggage Company occupied several connected sample rooms piled high with colorful, streamlined, pleasantsmelling luggage, and filled with a milling mob of department-store buyers from New York. Chicago, Boston and as far west as Los Angeles.
Sam mopped his brow. “Right now,” he said, "Sears are my favorite customers. We don’t have to go through this to sell them suitcases. This show is costing us plenty, but none of it gets charged to the Sears line, of course. Rut we have to get in on the show to sell to the other department stores and right there you’ve got one reason why Sears can sell the same luggage cheaper.
“Just now we’re making i line of luggage for Sears that we’re mighty proud of. Sears came to us and said, ’Make us a suitcase, the best that can be made, regardless of price.’ So we made up some samples using the highest quality materials throughout. Sears took them and gave some to people in the company who travel a lot. The rest they sent to their research department—the torture chamber, w'e call it. A couple of weeks later they came back to us. ‘Look,’ they said, ‘your suitcases are all right except for one thing. When we fill them with heavy stuff and drop them from a height a few hundred times the castors —those metal knobs under each corner that the suitcase stands on—get pushed up into the frame.’
“So we put metal reinforcing plates under the knobs and sent back a new batch of samples. Those passed all the torture tests. Then Sears asked about the cost. I told them. They said, ‘That’s out of our price class. Let's go down the line and see what we can do.’
“So their luggage experts and ours studied every single step, every procedure. that went into making that suitcase. We figure we know quite a lot about making suitcases, but the Sears people know' a lot. too. They showed us that a hot-press proyess we used in fitting the lining wasn't necessary, how some frills in the fittings could be cut without affecting serviceability, how a less elaborate lock would
do the same job and last as long as a more expensive one.
"Well, we finally got the price down into the Sears range—without having to shave our profit margin. But what ¡ pleased us most was that all the testing that bag had undergone made it what Sears labels a Four Star Feature, which means it stands up in quality to any top-grade item of the same kind. What’s specially good about that from the supplier's viewpoint is that only Four Star products are compulsory for Sears store managers to stock."
That seemed an extraordinary statement. Surely a merchant who bought half a billion items a year, and whose very existence depended on selling those items, would insist that the stock on hand be offered for sale in every retail outlet he owned. Surely no individual store manager could say to a top-level buying supervisor: "You may have bought that line of shoes, or glassware, or children's dresses, but I don't want them in my store." But that turned out to be the way things
"I'm afraid,” commented vice-chairman Theodore Houser, "that we are the despair of scientific-management j students and thesis writers who are constantly coming to look us over and ferret out our 'master plan.' to resolve the Sears system into graphs and charts and directives.” There is very little order-giving in Sears, from the board chairman down to the fledgling manager of the least of Sears' retail stores.
Xobody tells a Sears store manager what goods he will stock. He is his own boss and his own "buyer." In the same way. Sears' merchandise development department, a high-level bureau whose function is to evolve constantly better and more attractive merchandise. cannot force a stock procurer to adopt its ideas. When the Sears display department develops a better display table or a superior stock fixture it has no power to set them up in the stores until the zone vice-president, the district supervisor and the store managers agree that the tables and fixtures are an improvement. As one executive put it. “Sears sells to nearly everybody, and nearly everybody in Sears has to sell to everybody else in Sears." Here, indeed, are the ingredients of
"A lot of people.’ Houser admits, "just can't operate in the Sears atmosphere. They feel frustrated at the very idea of trying to get results—in fact, at being responsible for results— when they have no power to back their decisions with orders. Responsibility and authority are supposed to go hand in hand: that's an old business maxim. But we violate it. A buying supervisor. for example, is responsible for buying even up to one hundred million dollars’ worth of goods in his particular line each year. But his responsibility does not end there: he is also responsible for the saleability, for the actual sales, and for the profits on his line. Yet he cannot order any store manager to carry any particular item in this line "
How Sears manages to create a tremendously efficient organization out of all this potential frustration is explained by Houser: "We bring in
carefully selected young men. they grow up in this atmosphere, and it becomes natural to them to operate in this fashion. The idea has to be lived with to be fully understood—the idea of a flexible and democratic way of doing things so that conceptions and many decisions flow upward from the bottom or middle, instead of from the top down. We have developed an atmosphere of confidence, trust and respect between individuals.”
So well does Sears’ “every man his
own boss" system work that to cite a really bad breakdown of buying and selling co-operation the company has to reach away back to the time when an overenthusiastic buyer laid in a stock of « million copies of the novel Ben Hur. and a year later was left with seven hundred thousand. They finally had to be given away as premiums and Sears executives decided that public taste in books was too unpredictable to be entrusted to the judgment of any one person. As a result Sears founded the People’s Book Club, which relies for its choice of books on a jury of five hundred of the club’s quarter million members. The jury members, chiefly women living in small towns, are sent each month’s candidate volumes in advance, read them and fill out questionnaires. The book which scores highest becomes next month’s selection. “Our books,” a Sears executive said, “are invariably clean and heart-warming —and very popular with our book club members.” Sears laughs at the theory that Canadian retail prices are often higher than American retail prices because Canadian factories operate on a smaller scale. One Sears executive told me: “Some goods, of course, must be produced in quantity to achieve economy, but in many operations a small factory can operate more efficiently than a larger one and provide a better unit
With Junior at the crawling stage
There still remained a gleam of hope That, given time, he'd reach an age Requiring less soap.
But since he learned to walk, we’ve found,
He now explores with greater vim.
He covers lots and lots more ground,
And more ground covers him.
P J. BLACKWELL
cost. A medium-sized factory with a top-heavy executive structure, for example, can easily saddle one dollar's worth of labor with two and a half dollars in overhead. Sears’ setup proves that small factories belong in the mass-distribution picture.”
Sears maintains that its own function
distributing manufactured products -can make a bigger contribution to today’s North American way of life than the manufacturing process itself, and is more in need of improvement Houser points out: "A man’s shoe can be manufactured in one and i half man-hours, hut under the old system of distribution it takes the equivalent of six and a half man-hours to get that shoe out of the factory and onto a customer’s foot. A bicycle made in five and a half hours takes three to ten times that long to put in the user s hands: a gallon of paint which takes twenty-four minutes to make takes two and a half hours to get sold to the customer. And no value is added to any of these products by the distributing time."
Sears concentrates on cutting the distributing time. The process can be seen in action in any Sears retail store. I walked with Ruell Caldwell, operating superintendent of a suburban Chicago Sears store, through the wide aisles designed to move a maximum volume of human traffic. Probably the most striking feature of a Sears store is the color. Sears buyers are
extremely color-conscious, and so, | apparently, are the customers. Even such traditionally white or plated articles as refrigerators or toasters are colored. Rugs, drapes, dresses seem to have a sharper tone than elsewhere.
“There was i time,” Caldwell admitted, “when we had some violent color clashes. We cured that by instituting a color-control system clear through the Sears organization. Now, ! any Sears color, whether in a carpet J made in the south or in a fabric made in New England, matches, blends or | contrasts harmoniously. It has cerj tainly made a Sears floor easier to live with.”
Typically Sears is the plan of making ! women’s wear into impulse-buying items, putting dresses and millinery at the entrances. “It was a tradition ¡ as old as retailing, I suppose, that dresses were second-floor goods.” Caldwell explained. “That was because they were expensive, and bought after | deliberation So there was no reason j why they should not be put out of the I way on the second floor. But with our prices we feel that women can take a look, come in, and buy a dress just as they would a piece of costume jewelry that happened to catch their eye.” Sears’ low price range has tended to make the typical Sears customer a person in the lower or middle-income bracket. Sears is trying to change that. “Upper-bracket people seem to think that price is the inevitable index of quality,” Caldwell says, "but our new stores in suburban locations are helping to overcome that idea. Out here there are a lot of twenty-five thousand and thirty-thousand-dollar houses. I notice the women from those houses come in to make little purchases, but they always walk by the dresses without looking—'too cheap.’ Some day one of them will pick up a kid’s plavsuit or a housedress and find the quality is as good as the big stores downtown, and the price a lot less ¡ Then we’ll have a whole new class of customer.”
Sears does not believe the widely held idea that women spend from seventy-five to ninety percent of a family’s income, and the company has always catered strongly to the male shopper. The typical Sears basement is a paradise for the handyman and hobbyist Service garages where anything from a cotter pin to a new engim can be installed while you wait an attached to all Seal's stores.
Among Sears’ proudest possessions is the lowest employee turnover of any organization of comparable size in the U. S. Not long ago Sears hired an independent research organization to survey the company’s staff on the sub[ ject of job satisfaction. The result: ninety-five percent of all ranks deI dared Sears “the best place to work | that we know of.”
At Simpson’s there appears to be i difference of opinion in high places as | to the happiness of the Simpson’s , worker. Board chairman C. L. Burton once described his staff as "a continuing personnel of increasing enI - thusiasm." and added that "the people 1 in the store like their work as much as I do . . . they love it." But, shortly before he became president of Simpson’s Edgar Burton noted with regret that “nearly fifty percent of our staff are what I would call 'floaters. It has been most difficult to train these people to do a proper job."
Both Sears and Simpson's provide a comprehensive array of employee benefits i the Simpson's program will apply to Simpsons-Sears employees > including i profit-sharing fund, pension plan, sick pay. contributory group life insurance and Blue Cross hospitalization.
Actually, the Simpson’s list of benefits is longer than the Sears, with such features as a girls' residence on Sherboume Street, Toronto, and the unique Glenerin Hall on the banks of the Credit River, eighteen miles west of Toronto, a country home where Simpson's employees recuperate from illness, all expenses paid including transportation from any part of Canada, on full
But all benevolences of both companies are insignificant compared with Sears' eye-popping profit-sharing and retirement program. Recently an immigrant who joined the company as a mail-order stock picker thirty-five years ago retired. He never climbed much higher than the simple job of fetching items to make up orders, but on his last day of work his pay envelope contained two cheques, one for his week’s pay—the other for one hundred and ten thousand dollars. That was the sum he was entitled to under the Sears saving plan. A woman clerk with a little more than thirty years’ service received ninety thousand dollars. Today one hundred and nine thousand Sears employees are members of the fund which assures them of being rich men and women one day.
Sears workers put five percent of their earnings into the fund, up to a maximum of two hundred and fifty dollars a year. The company in turn contributes a percentage of profits on a sliding scale—nine percent when the profits are more than one hundred millions a year, as they have been for some time and appear likely to remain. Last year’s company contribution was twenty-seven millions, bringing the fund's total to more than four hundred millions. Most of the money is invested in Sears stock, so that Sears employees own by far the largest block of stock — twenty-four percent. The next largest single holding is two percent owned by the estate of Julius Rosenwald, a former Sears president.
Sears’ interest in public opinion is intense, and is a byproduct of its very bigness, which has long made the firm subject to attack. In the past small-town and rural merchants who resented the attraction Sears wares held for local residents have taken some strange countermeasures. In one town an anti-Sears jeweler launched a joke which soon swept the nation — without doing Sears any apparent harm. "Sears watches are a real bargain." goes the joke, "they cost only half as much as other watches—but they run twice as fast." In some towns prizes were offered to children who gathered the largest number of Sears catalogues, which were then burned in the civic square: elsewhere merchants paid a flat rate of a dime per catalogue brought in for destruction: theatres held "Sears catalogue nights.” admitting anyone free who handed in a catalogue. A candidate for mayor in an Idaho town offered this campaign platform: “Any town employee found buying from Sears will be fired."
It is highly unlikely Sears will meet with such a reception in Canada, since in a very real sense Sears is merely coming back home after an absence of sixty-one years, just too late to celebrate its Canadian diamond jubilee.
Because the partnership of Sears and Roebuck started nowhere else than in Toronto. In fact, it started in a narrow little store, with a stock of watches and trinkets wonh exactly 82,950, a few steps away from a big beautiful new store to which every morning a tall handsome gentleman in top hat and frock coat drove his carriage and pair—a gentleman named Robert Simpson. That is another story, to be told in the next issue of I this magazine. ★