Heavy Metal's heart is heavy. The demise of retailer Sears is a crushing thing to see.
This store — where you can get a lawn mower, tools, kick-butt boots and coats — once played a pretty big role in the growth of the rotational molding sector.
It was a Sears guy, a buyer, Carroll Sands, who suggested that Little Tikes make a covered sandbox. That product became the Turtle Sandbox.
That sandbox helped jump-start a wave of new outdoor products, around 20-25 for Little Tikes over the next two or three years. But just as important, those climbers and yard toys — for kids and for adults in the gardening items — helped the rotomolding sector expand beyond a seasonal niche, so its companies could keep their manufacturing plants open year-round employment and sales.
Thomas Murdough, who now runs Simplay3, recalls that, in the earlier days, rotomolded toys was a highly seasonable business. Christmas. That was it. The bank was asking about it. Then when year-round sales kicked in, Little Tikes didn't need the bank, he said.
"I knew we had to come up with a contra-seasonal cash flow," he said. "The result of that was, I had all sorts of ideas of what we could make for the pre-spring and summer."
Tikes aggressively pounced on the market. "All of a sudden we had 100 percent year-round employment for our people, we had 100 percent year-round exposure to the buyers and the consumers. Tikes became the established leader.
You can leaf through digital copies of years worth of Sears Wishbook catalogs at wishbookweb.com if you want a reminder of how many Little Tikes items the retailer carried.
Murdough sold Tikes to Rubbermaid Inc. in 1984, and left after five years. Later he started Step2. These two companies have brought hundreds of jobs to northeast Ohio.
So what does Murdough think about Sears? The once-proud retailer that employed Sands, the buyer gave him the suggestion for a covered sandbox?
That was way back in 1979 — the year that Heavy Metal graduated from Kirtland High School.
Murdough sums it up: "In a nutshell, I would say that Sears has been on the downside." But it used to be big. "Sears and JC Penney's, and the catalog houses (like Best Products) were very good customers for us. They were two of our best customers, Sears and JC Penney's, back in the 70s and 80s. And then when they got into the 90s, things started to change."
Wal-Mart, and now Amazon, changed the world, and the other ones "just got closed out," Murdough said. Murdough does not do business with Wal-Mart, and only will use Amazon Marketplace, where the company can set the price and ships direct to consumers.
When I was younger, I went with my dad to the Great Lakes Mall. His name was also also Bill, but we have different middle names. We would go on the same route — Orange Julius, the Pepperidge Farms store where we ate all the free samples (and later said how this made those mall stores go out of business). And on to Waldenbooks — an oblong store in the mall, with magazines and promotional books set in the front.
Books at the bookstore were arranged alphabetically. My father would be way in the back of the store. In the "A" section. And I was looking around at the magazines and that stuff. I knew where to find him. Then later as I got older I saw it was the "Anonymous" section. Wow it was great!
We would go to Sears. Lawn mowers. Kenmore appliances. Craftsman tools. I took my son Sam there once and we played pingpong. And now my hometown Sears is closing in the Great Lakes Mall in Mentor, Ohio.
It sucks and it really is a heavy blow to the area. Good luck to the great employees.
It's hard to believe how something so fundamental can change and dredge up strong emotions. It's too bad Sears could not survive because it's an important store, and it still should have a place in the mall.