Sears says it's turning business around — but its stores tell a different story

Sears says it's in the process of a transformation that will lead the company back to profitability after years of declining sales. 

But conditions inside some of Sears' stores tell a different story.

Several employees have told Business Insider that they are seeing signs of decay in their stores, which have included a rat problem, collapsing ceilings, empty shelves, and a lack of working toilets, as Business Insider reported last week

In response, Sears said many of the problems that the employees described have since been resolved.

We visited a Sears store in Glen Allen, Virginia and found some issues similar to what employees had described, including many empty shelves, broken merchandise displays, torn and stained carpet, evidence of water damage, active ceiling leaks, and curtains hanging from the ceiling that hid empty parts of the store. 

Here's what we saw: 

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'Depressing' photos reveal haunting truth for one retailer
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'Depressing' photos reveal haunting truth for one retailer

The window displays outside the store — which are meant to entice shoppers passing by — are mostly empty. 

This is what greets shoppers upon entering: an empty table and an empty box.

At another store entrance, we found an active ceiling leak with a bucket to catch dripping water. 

Overhead, there were a number of water-damaged ceiling tiles. We spotted more than a dozen water stains on the ceiling tiles throughout the store. 

The tools department appeared to be suffering from a severe inventory shortage. 

More than half the displays in this department appeared to be either completely empty or short on inventory.

Sears has admitted in recent months that some suppliers are trying to cut back on orders or cancel shipments to the retailer altogether. 

Throughout the store it appeared that employees had spread out merchandise, like these red buckets, to try and fill empty shelves and floor space.

The store was also using curtains to hide empty areas of the store. 

Behind one curtain, which was hung from the ceiling, we found dozens of empty display shelves.

In the clearance bedding section, we found missing wall tiles... 

as well as ripped carpet and empty shelves.

There was apparent water damage on the ceiling nearby, and the carpet underneath the tiles was stained.

The ladies' apparel department appeared dreary with little wall signage. 

We found an abandoned stepping stool... 

and a broken display shelf. 

The men's department also felt drab and empty. 

It looks like employees spread out the socks as much as possible to fill this wall, but it's still mostly bare. 

One display nearby was full of merchandise, but it was a mess. 

We found another broken display shelf in the appliances department. 

This section was better stocked than other departments, but also lacked wall signage. 

The walls in the bedding department were equally bare. 

There were droves of empty shelves in the shoe department. 

It seems like Sears has either cut back its shoe orders, or is having problems with shoe suppliers. 

A department devoted to curtains also appeared to be missing some inventory. 

And the store seemed to be short on bicycles. There was only one for sale — a pink girls' bike — in the entire store. 

The baby section appeared to be pretty well stocked, however. 

Most of the registers in the store were left unattended by employees. 

A corner of the store featuring travel items featured the same items hanging on multiple hooks in a likely attempt to fill space. 

That strategy was less effective in a section devoted to sports team apparel. 

Sears has been closing unprofitable stores and reducing square footage in many other stores to address the issue of excess space. 

Overall, the store appears to need some upgrades and it would probably look a lot better if it were about half the square footage it is now. 

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