Finding Innovation in Unexpected Places…like Sears!

Have you ever lost your keys?  You turn your house upside down looking for them?  You exhaust all possibilities?  And then find them right under your nose? 

Corporate innovation can be similar to this scenario.  Often, companies spend a lot of time and resources searching for innovation possibilities.  They scour remote recesses of their organizations.  What they miss, however, is that an innovative option might be right in front of them. 

Sears was in this situation.  Their lost item was revenue.  For years they’ve struggled, bleeding money.  Once bustling stores now frequently stand full of merchandise but absent of customers.  They changed leadership, restructured, closed stores, experimented with sales and promotions.  But there was little improvement.  Customers continued to shop elsewhere.  

It took them a long time to see that while there were many things going wrong with the company, there were some things that were going well.  And a path to profitability could be built on this existing strength.  That strength was their delivery process.  Born from their sales of large appliances, Sears had developed an infrastructure for delivering large items, installing them, and removing the originals. 

So Sears decided to extract their delivery process as a standalone service and focused on ways to leverage that capability.  The result is Innovel Solutions.  Innovel Solutions is a logistics service set up to deliver large items from big box stores to consumers.

Rebranding their delivery process enabled Sears to approach other big box stores as potential customers.  For example, a primary customer of Innovel is Costco.  Costco is a competitor to Sears in terms of large appliance sales.  But today, if a customer buys a TV from Costco, it will likely be delivered and installed in their home by Innovel (unbeknownst to customers -- a Sears logistics company!). 

Innovation Insights From Sears / Innovel

We’re used to seeing innovation examples from Apple or Google.  But what innovation insights might Sears have to offer? 

  • Innovations don’t have to be new.  They can be something that’s existed for a while or that has slowly grown over time.  In some cases, the innovative element is the creative application of a process, technology, or product - how things are taken apart, put back together, or rearranged.  Sears has been delivering large items for decades.  The innovation is in how this service is now being applied to competitors’ product delivery.
  • Innovations don’t have to be big.  They can start small.  Sears started with finding a big partner who was willing to sign on to outsource their delivery – Costco.  With the success of this relationship, other big box retailers are following.  And the more customers Innovel acquires, the more it invests in its logistics technology, improving the service over time. 
  • Innovations don’t have to be novel.  UPS already does delivery.  As does FedEx.  So why would Costco go with Innovel?  They provide more than just delivery.  They’ve added installation and removal to the process.  Each of these processes exists today as a stand-alone.  It’s the combination that’s driving this innovation success. 

For companies that are seeking innovative ideas to grow revenue – keep searching.  Novel ideas, new concepts, and creative programs are within your grasp.  But while you’re brainstorming what could be – don’t forget about what already is.  That innovation you’re looking for to drive more revenue your way…it might already be right in front of you.   

--Written by Sara Whiffen, Founder & Managing Partner, Insights Ignited LLC