Add stores to the list of items Sears (SHLD) is selling online.
The struggling department store chain is selling 16 stores on the online auction site Real Insight Marketplace, which is working in partnership with commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield. The novel approach to selling stores is part of ongoing efforts by Sears Holdings, which also operates the Kmart chain, to extract money from its real estate to protect its financial liquidity amid chronic and deep sales declines. The stores being auctioned are for the most part connected to suburban malls and are located in Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news, the Sears stores are being marketed as sale and lease-back deals. While Sears has closed hundreds of stores in recent years, in many cases it has also simply sold a store and then leased it back to continue operating a store, or shrunk the space it occupies in a store and renting out the rest to a tenant, which have included retailers like Whole Foods Market in the past.
Quoting a Cushman & Wakefield executive, the Journal said some 200 groups have expressed interest, including developers, retailers and real-estate investment funds. Bidders have until May 1 to express interest. Many mall operators have been more than happy to take back Sears stores in the past and repurpose the space for more productive use: on Monday, the No. 1 U.S. mall developer Simon Property Group (SPG) announced plans to redevelop five former Sears stores.
Sears’ struggles have been such that it is on credit ratings agency Moody’s “watch list” of distressed retailers. Comparable sales during the holiday quarter fell 15%, their 25th quarter of declines in a row in a strong climate for retail sales. The chain is trying to win back customers with more emphasis on its Shop Your Way membership rewards program and efforts such as specific stores for appliances, along with partnerships with companies like Uber. But its cash situation remains challenged; after ratings agency downgrades on its debt earlier this year, Sears won an upgrade from S&P this week following a refinancing but the agency said the outlook remains negative.