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The Achiever Newsletter

I Don't Think So!

By Harry K. Jones

Over the past year, I've actually been accused of being anti-Kmart. That fact was pointed out to me, in a light-hearted way, by a few friends, family members, associates, and even a couple of clients. This observation seems to have developed from various comments I've made about the troubled retailer during keynote presentations across the country or in articles I've written from time to time. Truth be known, the absolute opposite is true.

I've been a life-long fan of Kmart ... possibly one of their top ten fans of all time. I bought my first kite with my allowance money at Kmart when the stores were know as S.S. Kresge Stores and everyone called them Five and Dime Stores. Can you believe that?

My beloved grandfather took me to the Grand Opening of the world's first Kmart Store in Garden City, Michigan in 1962. I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked into the largest, brightest, most beautiful retail store I had ever seen. I couldn't believe how clean and neat everything looked ... almost antiseptic. The floors were spotless and merchandise was aligned perfectly on every shelf. Smiling cashiers adorned in bright red fashion smocks sported classic name tags that could be read easily at 10 paces. Store personnel appeared both knowledgeable and polite ... a rarity in today's marketplace. "Attention, Kmart Shoppers" preceded numerous alerts directing us to the most current "Blue Light Specials."  Enthusiastic cashiers sent us on our way with a cheerful TYFSAK ("Thank You For Shopping At Kmart.") I was quite certain than I had died and been instantly transported to Disney World! I can visualize that experience as though it were yesterday.

In addition to these vivid recollections, I've always taken pride in the fact that Kmart originated in my home state of Michigan and has always maintained its corporate headquarters in the metropolitan Detroit area. I share these fond memories to illustrate my devotion to this once powerful retail giant ... a far cry from being anti-Kmart.

What has recently been mistaken as anti-Kmart remarks on my part was actually nothing more than a simple reflection of the outrage I feel for a lackluster leadership team that has allowed one of the world's top retailers to be reduced to cheap fodder for editorial cartoonists and late-night talk show hosts. Bankruptcy, store closings, massive lay-offs, outrageously compensated leaders, filthy stores, horrendous customer service, and cancerous out-of-stock conditions ... these aren't individual opinions, they're actual conditions observed by authorities from Wall Street, government agencies, national media, and consumers world wide. To me, this is inexcusable and unforgivable. I'm somewhat certain that Sebastion Sperling Kresge is spinning in his grave!

To add insult to injury, those in command of this floundering icon, have apparently learned nothing from the demise and/or struggles of other retail giants like Montgomery Wards, Service Merchandise, and many other regional giants. They continue to mistake common sense and accepted practice for giant strides on their part. For instance, let me share two short paragraphs I read in a recent issue of USA Today. The main headline read: "Kmart predicts 03 rebound." The sub-title read: "Promotions pay off." These headlines were followed by rhetoric any sane Spin Doctor would avoid like the plague! I had to read it several times and still felt as though I should check the calendar to see if it was April 1st (April Fool's Day)! It read as follows:

Kmart predicts 03 rebound
Promotions pay off

Kmart Corp. on Monday said its same store sales improved because of aggressive new promotions. They include:

  • The "Have to Have It" promise in Detroit and Chicago gave customers in-stock and price guarantees on certain items in Kmart's circulars. Store traffic, particularly in Detroit, showed a significant improvement.
  • A pilot program in Chicago to keep the top 300 items in stock at all times. The sales trend improved so much the retailer plans to expand this program to other major markets.

Source: Kmart Corp.

Let's examine these remarkable statements created by the marketing brain trust in the land of the "blue-light special." Their "Have To Have It" promotion is astounding! First, they chose just two cities in the entire world in which to offer this promotion. Then they  promised their customers they would actually stock merchandise that they advertised in their circular. (DUH!) They went on to promise to sell this merchandise at the price at which they advertised it. (DUH!) Based on their own words, these promises pertained to only certain items in their circulars! Does that mean other items in the circular won't be available in the store and, if they are, will be marked at a price other than the price in the circular? If you're not laughing out loud at this point, you need to re-read this paragraph!

The second Chicago pilot program is more difficult to believe than the first one! Someone in the Motor City Ivory Towers of Kmart came up with a real innovative approach to retail selling. They put their heads together and decided to keep their top 300 items in stock at all times! (DUH!)  For some unbelievable reason, sales increased when they tried this "out-of-the-box" concept! As a result, they've decided to try the same thing in some of their other major markets! If things keep going so well, they may decide to keep more than their top 300 items in stock and they may even decide to go way out on a limb and expand this promotion to all of stores instead of just some of their major markets. What a concept!

Personally, I can't believe the captain of this sinking ship allowed that article to be released to the press. I'm not anti-Kmart. I'm anti-stupidity. I've lived my life knowing I would see that familiar giant red K in every city I traveled through. It has been a long-standing mainstay in our culture. I can say the same thing about my parents and my children. I'm truly saddened that I may not be able to say the same thing for my grandchildren. If the powers that be at Kmart don't wake up soon, Kmart will go the way of Montgomery Wards, Service Merchandise, and others who turned a deaf ear to the voice of the consumer. Kmart resurrects the blue light special and threatens to change their color scheme from red to green at a time when they should clean up their stores, stock their shelves, and teach their employees how to treat customers as though they want them to return. However, I fear that would be asking too much. My heart longs for the return of the Kmart of old that brought smiles to faces of loyal customers everywhere. My head says it will never happen. I hope I'm wrong.

Publication Date: Fall 2002

motivational speaker Harry K. JonesHarry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services.

Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management

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