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 move forward 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 country’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 starring Willis.
Sears launched DieHard in 1967, after putting nine years of research and more than $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 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.
Under that agreement, Sears can still make and sell Craftsman products, and Boutros said the company isn’t trying to replace Craftsman with DieHard.
But Sears and Stanley have butted heads over the brand since the sale. Stanley, which sells its Craftsman products at retailers like Lowe’s, filed a lawsuit last month asking the courts to make Sears stop promoting itself as “the real home of the broadest assortment of Craftsman.” At the licensee event, Boutros defended Sears’ links to the brand “regardless of what the other retailers are screaming about.”
While Sears could end up selling competing Craftsman and DieHard versions of the same products, the brands would have a different look and feel and target different customers, Boutros said. He likened it to the way soda drinkers tend to identify with either Coke or Pepsi.
“The Craftsman customer is a craftsman, and the DieHard customer is a die-hard,” he said.
Mintel’s Lo said he thinks there is an opportunity to bring DieHard’s battery expertise to outdoor gear. You can’t post summit selfies if your camera battery runs out of juice, and people increasingly want to use technology to stay connected even in off-the-grid places, he said.
“Energy demand on the go has never been higher,” Lo said.
But the outdoor-gear market is competitive and DieHard’s brand has declined along with Sears, he said.
A lower-profile brand does have one upside, according to Kevin McTigue, associate professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management: It probably doesn’t have much baggage.
The expansion into new categories “could be done well and thoughtfully if they make good products, get further away in a methodical way and keep those great attributes,” he said.
Still, the more a brand strays from its core product, the more consumers can struggle to link the brand’s reputation to new goods, he said.
“It’s a little harder to pull that off and have consumers come with you,” he said.