Jeff Stollenwerck, president of Sears Holdings' real estate unit since 2012, is preparing to step down, a company spokesperson told CNBC. A Sears spokesperson did not immediately return Retail Dive’s request for comment.
"I've enjoyed my time with [Sears] and working closely with Eddie and the other leaders. ... I'm ready for a new challenge and I wish all of Sears Holdings the very best in the future," Stollenwerck said in a statement emailed to CNBC.
Stollenwerck has been employed at Sears for 15 years, and will leave at a time when the retail giant is grappling with plummeting sales throughout its shrinking brick-and-mortar footprint. He came to Sears via its 2004 merger with Kmart and also worked with Sears CEO Eddie Lampert at ESL Investments.
Stollenwerck's job of late has entailed the dismantling of Sears' vast real estate holdings — store properties acquired decades ago, when it was fashionable for retailers to own their own real estate — at a time when the struggling retail company needs cash more than property.
Most recently, the last Sears store closed in its hometown of Chicago earlier this month. Seritage Growth Properties, the real estate investment trust chaired and partly owned by Lampert, is "recapturing the Sears store and Sears Auto Center at Six Corners in northwest Chicago as part of an agreement reached in 2015 between Seritage and Sears Holdings," a company spokesperson told Retail Dive in an email earlier this month.
Although that marks the end of an era — the first-ever Sears store opened in Chicago in 1925 — it's only the latest location to fall out of the company's portfolio. Sears Holdings has sold 265 Sears and Kmart store locations to Seritage as part of an agreement in which Sears Holdings leases the stores back from the REIT.
The retailer continues to close stores, lay off employees and shed assets in hopes of garnering yet more cash as it struggles to survive. Sears did post a rare profit for the fourth quarter 2017, but that was accompanied by a terrible retail performance, marked by a same-store sales drop of more than 15%.
Things remain dire for a retail company that was once a fixture on the American landscape. As Fitch analysts pointed out last month, Sears' top-line sales fell by a quarter in 2017 as the company liquidated a huge chunk of its store base, and the retailer is poised for another 10% drop in same-store sales this year, following an estimated negative drop in the mid-teens last year, according to Fitch.
But Sears does still own property that it could sell to free up liquidity, according to that note. And that's exactly what the company continues to do. Sears shocked the retail world last year with the sale of the popular Craftsman brand, and the retailer also has other business assets to sell, including its Kenmore and DieHard brands, Sears Home Services and Sears Auto Centers. Lampert's hedge fund is now eyeing Kenmore and the home services business for its own portfolio.