Sears was 'toast' ever since its 2005 Kmart merger, says former Sears Canada CEO

Key Points
  • The notion of "some turnaround or some transformation" plan in place since then is "just plain bogus," contends former Sears Canada CEO Mark Cohen.
  • Former Toys R Us CEO Gerald Storch says Sears has lacked a "sustainable competitive advantage" for a "very, very long time."
  • Struggling shopping malls, losing one of their largest anchor tenants, could feel the impact of Sears' bankruptcy hardest.
Sears was toast a day after Kmart merger closed, says former Sears Canada CEO

Sears Holdings may have just filed for bankruptcy on Monday, but the company "was toast about a day after it closed" its merger with Kmart in 2005, according to former Sears Canada CEO Mark Cohen.

While the merger was supposed to give the two struggling retailers a boost by combining their strengths, "the notion that there's been some turnaround or some transformation in place is just plain bogus," Cohen told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Monday.

Former Toys R Us CEO Gerald Storch told CNBC that Sears has lacked a "sustainable competitive advantage" for a "very, very long time." While Walmart gives consumers the best value for their money and Best Buy is a household name for electronics, Sears did not have an area where it excelled "at something that really matters to the customer," Storch said.

Cohen believes that customers will continue to move to Home Depot, Lowe's and Best Buy for their appliance purchases, which has long been Sears' most successful line of business. These companies "are the big winners and have been for quite some time," he added.

Given Sears' waning influence in the retail space, however, the impact of its bankruptcy on the industry should not be overstated, according to Storch. Any potential gain for other retailers is "a drop in the bucket" compared to overall sales.

Dana Telsey, CEO of Telsey Advisory Group, echoed Cohen and Storch's view. "I think this has been a long time coming," she told CNBC. "Other retailers got better while time stood still for Sears."

As part of the bankruptcy, Sears will close 142 of its 700 remaining stores this year, many of which are located in shopping malls that are already struggling to adapt to changing consumer habits. "This is one more fatal move toward oblivion in these 'B-' and 'C-level' malls," Cohen said.

On the other hand, successful "class A" malls might relish the opportunity to replace Sears with something more attractive to shoppers. "It won't be too hard to come up with uses that are better than they had" with Sears, said Storch.