With Sears just the latest victim of the disruption caused by the rise of Amazon (AMZN) , it's easy to forget that Sears was once the one doing the disrupting. Founded as the R.W. Sears Watch Co. in 1896, Sears came to be the saving grace of rural farmers, offering mail-order wholesale at a steep discount when compared to monopolistic general stores.
The company grew to be the dominant force in catalog shopping long before opening its first actual store in Chicago in 1925. Bricks-and-mortar locations subsequently spread throughout the United States and eventually internationally.
Beyond retail, Sears also once encompassed brands like Allstate (ALL) , Discover (DFS) and many more. it wasn't until the end of the millennium that things took a turn for the worse for Sears. It was forced to shut down its unprofitable catalog business in 1993, and was eventually bought by rival Kmart under current CEO Eddie Lampert in 2004.
Now, the retailer will have to struggle just to stay alive, as it rapidly closes stores and considers selling its remaining iconic retail brands amid what could be a futile attempt at refinancing. How long will it be until Sears is just another missed question on a history test?
(Editor's Pick. Published previously.)