July 31, 2009

Case Study: Recent Kmart Headlines

Here are some of Kmart's most recent headlines, each with commentary by me.

Kmart helps unemployed Michigan residents

HOFFMAN ESTATES , Ill. (Jul. 20) Kmart has launched the Kmart Smart Assist Saving Card to help unemployed Michigan residents. Eligible customers can use the card to receive at least 20% off more than 1,200 regularly priced high-quality private label grocery and drug store staples for up to six months. Here are some of Kmart's most recent headlines, each with some commentary by me.

Verifiably unemployed Michigan residents who register at www.kmart.com will receive a nontransferable Kmart Smart Assist Savings Card valid for up to six months depending on the date of issue. Any Kmart customer who can present valid Michigan state-issued identification and a state-issued unemployment benefits enrollment confirmation is eligible to enroll in the Kmart Smart Assist Savings Card program.

"Unemployment is severely impacting our Michigan communities, so we knew we had to step up to the plate and do what we could to help Kmart customers continue to provide their families with the staples they need, even on a tight budget," explained Curt Avallone, VP, CMO food, consumables and Drug Store for Kmart. “In these challenging economic times, people are looking for the most value for their money, and we hope the Kmart Smart Assist Savings Card will enable cardholders to keep good quality food on the table and maintain clean, healthy homes while they get back on their feet.”


This is a great idea for Kmart to get positive publicity and help out the community. One good thing too is that Michigan is one of the few states that has several Kmart Super Centers. So that way the residents with these cards can get a better selection of food. I would like to see this program expanded to more states though.

Kmart opens first Sears-branded store-in-a-store

Birmingham , Ala. (Jul. 21) Sears Holdings has opened its first Sears-branded major appliance shop inside a Kmart store, according to This Week In Consumer Electronics.

The store-within-a-store opened earlier July at a Kmart in Birmingham, Ala.

The appliance store will carry Sears branding, including the chain's "Blue Appliance Crew" marketing collateral, and the main sign atop the Kmart will be amended to read “Kmart Sears Appliances.”

Sears is planning to roll out the store-in-a-store concept to additional Kmart locations in the near future, a spokesman for Sears Holdings said. The effort is seen as a way to boost major appliance sales and market share by leveraging Kmart's real estate. Unlike Sears stores, which are largely located in shopping malls, Kmart stores tend to be situated in strip malls, which many shoppers prefer for their easier access.


Even if it is a small one, this is another new test concept by Sears Holdings. Having a Sears appliance section isn't anything new, as they have been adding them to Kmarts for the past few years. What's different about this store is they are using more Sears branding to interest people. You could call it another step in 'de-kmarting' Kmart or 'Searsidizing' Kmart.

Kmart brings back Bluelight Specials just in time for school

HOFFMAN ESTATES , Ill. (Jul. 23) Kmart's "Mr. Bluelight," the company's renowned bargain hunter, is helping customers stay back-to-school-cool without breaking the bank, with the return of its exciting Bluelight Specials.

"We brought back Bluelight Specials last weekend and based on the overwhelming response and customer feedback, we're introducing even more, new specials this Sat., July 25," said Mark Snyder, chief marketing officer, Kmart. "It's a priority at Kmart to continue to give its customers the opportunity to take advantage of our combination of quality, price and value on the summer's hottest items and even plan for back-to-school."

Kmart's Bluelight Specials are taking over everything from patio furniture to schools supplies, with savings up to 75%.

For more information on the Bluelight special event, customers can follow Kmart on Twitter and Facebook.


The Bluelight is back....again? Just like back in 2001, Kmart is taking another stab at bringing back the Bluelight Special. Hopefully this time around they will put more effort into it. It can be a viable marketing tool for them, if the execution is right. We'll see what happens, but it's hard to have confidence in Sears Holdings Chairman Eddie Lampert.

All articles are courtesy of retailingtoday.com

July 24, 2009

Spotlight: Sears - Marietta, GA

As you could probably tell from the picture above, this isn't your average Sears store. But rather a Kmart turned Sears. I went to this former Big Kmart in January 2008 on my way to the Kmart Super Center I posted about recently. I read an article online a few days before my trip stating this store had just been converted. The article stated that this was another of Sears Holdings experiments. They liquidated and closed the Kmart and started work on transforming it into a (unique) Sears store. Here's the narrative of my visit-

Upon my arrival I could see that they didn't spend much money on changing the exterior of the store, just some paint and signage changes.

One addition to the exterior though, was a Pharmacy pick up window. The Pharmacy was one of the elements they kept from Kmart, more on that below.
They kept the Kmart Garden Center. On my trip there was nothing in it, most likely because it was the middle of winter when I visited.
Updated shopping center sign with the Sears name.
After surveying the exterior I entered the store for the interior evaluation. First off, I want to apologize for not having any pictures of the interior. The store was very open and filled with employees, so I didn't feel comfortable at the time to snap any pictures.

Let me just say I've never seen a Kmart or Sears store with so many shopping carts. They had rows and rows of carts inside and outside the store. They were all new Sears branded black carts.

Walking in the store first thing I notice is the Kmart-style low ceilings and rows of fluorescent lights. But that's where any interior resemblance to Kmart ends. The store looked as it had been gutted to the bare walls and remade. Everything was new- fixtures, registers, floor, etc. The store had Internet kiosks all over for looking up and ordering Sears products. The checkouts were centralized at the front of the store. As stated above the store was very open and airy feeling even with the low ceilings. It was mostly because the aisles were low and the store had a large, open 'race track' around it.

This store was more of a concept Sears, than a traditional mall Sears store. It had several holdover departments from Kmart blended with traditional Sears departments. Here's what they had- Greeting cards, small foods section (mostly gourmet foods), large health and beauty department, full service Pharmacy, large indoor garden center, sporting goods & exercise equipment, small toys department, baby department (complete with baby food, diapers, wipes, etc), section of large appliances, domestics/home goods, electronics they had DVD's, but no CD's), large hardware section, small jewelry department, shoes, and of course clothes. One feature of this store is a large Lands End clothing section, which is the largest in any Sears store.

The sad thing was that the store was extremely dead, the associates outnumbered the customers 3 to 1. Overall I liked the look and concept of the store. It just seemed a bit too small to have a full selection of Sears, yet didn't have enough right items to make it Kmart.

As always post your comments on what you think.

July 16, 2009

Special Report: Christmas in July? At Kmart & Sears it is...

By now you may have heard that Kmart & Sears is celebrating Christmas in July online and in select Sears stores.

Upon hearing this, I decided to check out Kmart & Sears Christmas websites. The result was ..well.. disappointment. It seems as if they just threw up a few Christmas items and made a fancy Flash page to advertise it. Tom Barlow of BloggingStocks summed it up well, "The campaign shows little thought or investment beyond a landing page and a few links to existing catalog items. Dare I suggest that this is typical Kmart, unimaginative and short-sighted? I haven't even bought my Halloween costume and Thanksgiving turkey yet. Are they giving up on those holidays?" and goes on to say "Will Kmart even be around in January to accept returns? With promotions like this, I have to wonder." The last comment was a bit harsh, but I have to agree with the rest.

There really wasn't much excitement in what they put up on the sites and the prices weren't very special either. Although as of this writing they did start a buy more, save more special. The whole thing just seems to be a little too gimmicky for me.

One has to wonder if this is a desperate attempt by Sears Holdings Chairman Eddie Lampert to stir up interest in Kmart & Sears. Although I believe it has created a bit of publicity for them, most of it hasn't been very good. Time just posted an article online titled "Kmart's Christmas in July: Inspiration or Desperation?" MSN ran two article about their Christmas promotion in the past week. Neither had much positive to say though. You can read the articles here and here.

You be the judge, check out Kmart and Sears Christmas sites (which are essentially the same) and comment on what you think. Also, if anyone has been to one of the select Sears stores that have a Christmas shop, please post on your experience.

July 9, 2009

Spotlight: Super Kmart Center - Rome, GA

In January of 2008 I visited the last remaining Kmart Super Center in Georgia.

Here's the narrative of my visit-
Upon arriving I was impressed with the very well kept up exterior of the store. At the end of the parking lot was a Kmart Express gas station, complete with a small convenience store. I found it funny, there was a small shopping center building in the parking lot with a still open Little Caesar's Pizza.

After entering the store (through the food side entrance), I observed it was fairly busy, quite a bit more so than a typical Big Kmart store. Though it was still a fraction of the business a Walmart Super Center would have. The store inside was very well kept up and fairly well stocked for a Kmart. The signage in the store looked fairly nice too.

Across from the checkouts at the front of the store was customer service, next to customer service there was a ICEE/Soda fountain bar, (with cups purchasable at the register), a Olan Mills portrait studio, a impressively large Floral department, and a large game room (complete with ancient games.) The store had 16 registers, but oddly they were dismantling the first 4 registers, I guess they were getting rid of them.

I walked through the regular part of the store first. They had a large section of Craftsman tools in the hardware department. Electronics was on the far right side of the store and probably the most disappointing department, it didn't have a very decent selection and was the most dated looking department in the store. Surprisingly this store didn't have any of their DVD's locked up, as most Kmart's now do. There was a typical Layaway department in the back of the store. Also along the back wall was the large Appliances department.

After touring the GM side, I grabbed a shopping cart (some carts were blue and some were grey) and headed to the Grocery side. I started at the back of the store where they had the Produce department, Dairy/Frozen Foods and the Meat/Seafood departments. I could tell they used to have a fresh seafood section but they took the sign down and was now using the area for more packaged meats. They still had frozen seafood though. The Produce department was nice, neat, and well kept.

The side wall had the Deli/Bakery and in the front corner the Deli Cafe restaurant. The bakery was excellent and had tons of goodies. They also had a Krispy Kreme case with individual donuts for 50 cents and a Vortman cookie case where you could pick 10 cookies for $1.00. The bakery was definitely better than Walmarts. Next was the deli which was attached to the Deli Cafe. The deli was large with meat, cheeses, specialty dishes, a hot bar with fried chicken, and lots of hot side dishes. You could get the hot food from the deli, or get a deli sub made, buy it in the deli, and eat it at the Cafe. The Cafe had its own large menu with snacks like popcorn and nachos, menu items like chicken sandwiches, a good sized breakfast menu, and a drink bar with sodas and coffee. It had a huge seating area. After I picked out my groceries, I got some food at the Cafe and sat down there to eat.

After finishing at the Cafe, I headed to the checkouts. Unfortunately it was like most Kmart's and had only two registers open with long lines. The store had no self-checkouts, which I don't think any Kmart's have. I headed out to my car and got gas at the Kmart Express gas station. Upon leaving I noticed on the side of the store the empty auto center with 5 or 6 garage bays.

I took as many pics as I could of the store. Outside shots were hard because of the sunshine blocking my shots.

It was my first visit to a Kmart Super Center and I was pleased with the selection and look of the store.
Overall I was impressed with this Kmart.

Fast forward to July 2009 and this Kmart Super Center has been.. well de-Super Centered. It no longer has a grocery section and is not open 24 hours anymore.

According to the Rome Newswire in an article dated April 8, 2009-

'The Rome Super Kmart Store will be laying off 80 employees and closing the grocery section within 60 days, but the store manager says the business will remain open.
“No, the store is not planning to close,” said Mike Barger, Rome’s store manager. He deferred other questions to the company’s public relations department.
Kim Freely, a public relations official, confirmed the layout Wednesday afternoon, saying “we are eliminating the grocery side of the store.”
The move will change the local Kmart from a Super Kmart to a Big K. Freely said the business currently employees about 180 people, meaning about 100 will remain following the planned change.'
In this follow up article dated June 1, 2009, the new signs go up-

'The old signs are coming down and new ones going up at the Super Kmart on Hicks Drive that will soon be fully transitioned to a Big K.
As first reported by RomeNewswire in early April, the store is closing it’s grocery side and becoming a Big K. Kim Freely, a public relations officials with the chain, said the move will results in about 80 people losing their jobs. The stored employed about 180 before the change began.
Workers from Coosa Valley Signs and Rayburn Electric were working in the heat Monday morning to pull down and swap out the signs in the Kmart parking lot.'
So there you go folks, the last Kmart Super Center in Georgia is now gone, at least as a Super Center. This isn't the first Kmart Super Center in the past year to stay open but get rid of the grocery section. There have been several around the US that have quietly phased out the grocery section and become Big Kmarts. According to the Kmart Super Center website, there are only 38 Kmart Super Centers left in 13 states, with over half of them in only 3 states.
I have not been to the Rome, GA store yet to check out the change but if I do, pictures will be posted here.

So what do you think, are the remaining Kmart Super Centers days numbered? Or are they just trimming the "fat" to focus on a few profitable ones?

July 4, 2009

Special Report: Kmart Smart Rewards Program

K'Ching, Kmart Smart Rewards Program is live and now available at select Kmart Stores. Upon finding out about this new program, I went to my local Kmart (which is one of the select stores) to check it out. My local Kmart had a table set up at the front of the store with applications and cards, they had signage above the registers and at the front of the store touting the benefits of being a member.

According to the Kmart Smart Rewards (KSR) site these are the perks of being a member-
What intrigued me the most was the "Kmart K'Ching Surprises", which are prizes you can get when you checkout with your KSR card. According to the web page, they could be as small as a pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to as big as a $7000 Kenmore Appliance package.

I have to say this program is a good start for Kmart as it can help build loyalty and return trips. Like I said at the beginning of the post, right now its only available in select stores. From the list they have, it looks as if they are just testing it in a few different states around the US to gauge interest.

I signed up online to get my KSR card, and received it within a couple weeks. I got one key tag card and one wallet card. After signing up for it I've gotten several emails from the KSR program. They have all offered free items or discounts with using my KSR card.

So, we'll see how this program works out and if it lasts to get rolled out to all Kmart stores. If the program is available for one of your local Kmart's I encourage you to sign up for it, as it seems to be worthwhile to join.