Sears hopes DieHard can power its business

Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune
Peter Boutros, Sears’ chief brand officer, said the DieHard name could go on products ranging from riding lawn mowers to off-road bikes.

Sears has boasted its DieHard batteries can start a car after being baked in an oven, frozen in ice, shot with a rifle or stranded for months on a frozen lake.

The latest test: whether DieHard can also power Sears’ business by putting the brand on everything from lawn and garden products to camping gear.

The retailer, trying to progress after exiting bankruptcy in February, recently unveiled a new branding and marketing campaign for the Sears and Kmart chains. Now, it’s DieHard’s turn.

The challenge? Sears’ slide from the nation’s biggest retailer to a company battling for survival took a toll on DieHard, too, said Buddy Lo, senior technology and consumer electronics analyst at market research agency Mintel.

“When I hear DieHard, I think of Bruce Willis before I think of car batteries,” Lo said, referring to the action movies.

Sears launched DieHard in 1967, after putting nine years of research and over $1 million into a new auto battery designed to have extra starting power.

Since then, Sears has sold DieHard-brand battery chargers, jump starters, flashlights and alkaline batteries. It has added products outside the battery category, like work boots and other auto products, starting with tires in 2016.

The success of those items isn’t lost on Peter Boutros, chief brand officer of Sears and Kmart and president of the Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands. DieHard can stretch even further, to products as wide-ranging as riding lawn mowers and off-road bikes, he said.

To do that, they’ll need partner companies to make those items. A few dozen potential licensees gathered at an event at the company’s headquarters earlier this month, where Boutros outlined the company’s vision for the brand from a conference room stage with a new DieHard logo — a black “D” speared by a blue shard. The brand also has a new tagline, trading “Life demands DieHard” for “Power ahead.”

The plan: leverage DieHard’s reputation for performance, durability, ruggedness and innovation and target consumers who Boutros said have the DieHard “mindset.”

The company is working on deals with auto battery and footwear makers, but had no new products to unveil at the licensee event. Instead, Boutros showed images of concepts they’re considering, like auto and garage tools, lawn and garden products and adventure gear, like off-road bikes.

Other images showed sample store displays. One was stocked with DieHard work wear, another with hiking boots, flannel shirts and caps.

Last year, Sears sought trademarks on a full slate of power and hand tools, including lawn and garden equipment and tool boxes, along with apparel, backpacks, coolers, remote control vehicles and energy drinks.

Sears already created one brand with a strong reputation for tools and lawn and garden products: Craftsman. But it sold Craftsman to Stanley Black & Decker in 2017, in a deal valued at $900 million.