Sunday, September 8, 2013

Oh, Kmart... some MTQ solutions for you.

If you're an old fart living in the great northeast and wish for some nostalgia, look no further than a trip to Kmart.  Before Target and Walmart arrived on the scene there was Kmart and other, now gone, discount stores such as Bradlees, Ames, Caldor, The Big N, and Montgomery Wards.  If I were to have bet on the survivors and casualties back 25 years ago, I don't know if I would have picked Kmart to be the living dinosaur among us.  To its credit, Kmart has never appeared on the MTQ Shit list, but that is because Kmart is not a regular MTQ destination and there are many other choices that make shopping at Kmart unnecessary.  So it was, that this MTQ author took a special journey to Kmart for this post.  Upon entering the parking lot of the Albany, NY Central Avenue Kmart, the first thing that strikes you is how vacant the parking lot is.  Unfortunately, this is normal and this parking lot is rather empty every day and I like many others often wonder, how does this store keep open?

Approaching the store you are at least greeted with a couple of memories of yesteryear - a coin operated kiddie ride AND, if you are looking for a pay phone, good news... Kmart has one!  I remember as farm kids many years ago, a good day was when you went into town shopping; an excellent day was when you could beg your parent into putting their money into one of these rides.

Before, you get too choked up with all warm fuzzies, nostalgia cuts both ways and looking up from the kiddie ride at the grossly peeling paint makes me think that their paint might be original equipment as well.  Entering the store and starting your walk through the store yields more bad nostalgia - while some of the product lines have changed a little, the box remains the same with rows of fluorescent lights (and of course, the shoplifting cut outs in the ceiling).

I made a circular tour of the store, looking for something compelling to buy.  Unfortunately, my tour reinforced my long standing experiences with Kmart.  At times, I found items on display that piqued interest as it looked like they might be on sale, but found no indication of price (example:  Charmin toilet paper which was bizarrely stacked by itself near the Garden Center.)  I also carefully observed the check out line as my Kmart check out line experiences would be my number one reason for not shopping at Kmart.  True to form, although there was only a light number of shoppers, the lines were stalled and slow moving.

Like many I was shocked when Kmart purchased Sears almost 10 years ago, but after getting over the initial jolt I was hopeful that maybe finally something would be done to bring both these dinosaurs into the modern age.  Unfortunately, that has clearly not happened so in the interest of being positive I am going to identify some MTQ solutions:

1.  Address the check out wait time!  Shoppers check in, but they can't check out... sort of like that roach hotel commercial from year's ago.  Kmart may call some old farts back to their store on the power of memories, but if there is one thing old farts can't stand, it's waiting in line... after all, we can only stand so long before we have to pee.

2.  Do the deed and merge!  You'll find some traditional Sears line merchandise in Kmart and vice versa... get it over with and become one, preferably taking the Sears name as I think there is just too much damage done with the Kmart image.  ("Rain Man" summed this up in two words, "Kmart sucks".)  This would save on your advertising and be much less confusing to consumers.  Included in this is closing stores where you have overlapping stores.  A prime illustration is Rotterdam Square Mall - why have a Kmart on one end and a Sears on the other end?

3.  Focus on what you do well and outsource what you don't do well:  There are some very valuable assets in your product mix such as Craftsman tools, Kenmore, and clothing lines including Lands End, Joe Boxer and Jaclyn Smith.  Accentuate these strong points.  Meanwhile, move to a different strategy for those areas where you are always behind.  In particular, your electronics department comes to mind.  Perhaps, you could partner with Dell, Samsung or Google to have a kiosk in your store?

4.  Establish Minimum Standards... and enforce them.  The Hilton hotel chain does this exceptionally well.  Whenever you stay at a Hilton branded hotel, you can count on the consistency of quality.  In contrast, as the Central Avenue Kmart illustrates some Kmarts appear extremely dated and no store should have significant peeling paint.  In line with my first point, minimum standards must be set and met for check out times.  If you can't maintain the store to standards, close it!  You are doing damage to your product line by allowing eye sore stores to continue and long term this will be your undoing.

Until these changes are met, Kmart will continue the same "no sale" result of my recent visit.

8/20/2014 Update - shortly after publishing this post, it was announced that this KMart was closing and it has now (mercifully) closed.