Some of you know that I’ve been a big Kmart fan ever since I was a child. It brings back a lot of good memories of shopping with mom and childhood in general. Mom passed away in 2007, but every time I go into a Kmart all those memories come flooding back. It’s a great store that still has a lot “personality” to it.
Kmart, unfortunately, has been through some very rough times. At one time they were the largest retailer in America, far surpassing Wal-Mart, and boasted over 2,300 stores. Today, that number has fallen to 1,300 stores and as many folks know the company itself went bankrupt in 2002 and was eventually merged together with Sears, another iconic retailer that has fallen on hard times.
Yet, Kmart has continued to survive to despite it all. In fact, they have not only survived – but they have also started to turn things around. Same store sales have increased and their famous layaway program has proven to be a big hit during these troubled economic times. Just when it looked like Kmart was done for, they managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and regain some of their lost ground.
But, despite all this, they face a problem that only has one solution. You see, most Kmart stores haven’t been remodeled in almost 20 years. Common complaints from people who shop there, or visit a Kmart for the first time, is the same thing: dirty stores, dilapidated buildings, old shopping carts, confusing store layouts, etc. Kmart has some of the oldest locations of any other retailer, and due to the 2002 bankruptcy and merger with Sears many of the stores haven’t seen much needed maintenance and remodels.
Don’t get me wrong – some Kmart locations manage to get by with what they have. Plus, to be fair, a few locations have been remodeled. However, out of 1,300+ locations, only a handful have been remodeled in the past few years. Others have seen only marginal improvements such as new shopping carts, some fresh paint here and there, and other low-cost band-aids to help the stores continue to operate and look at least a little better.
Kmart could really compete if only given the chance. The problem is, they can’t compete because of the 800lb gorilla in the room – Sears.
While Kmart has managed to win back shoppers and increase revenue, Sears has been bleeding money like crazy. The latest quarterly results show that Sears lost over 260 million dollars. That’s a lot of money. Money that could be used to do remodels, refresh stores and help people rediscover the stores.
Sears is in bad shape. Worse shape than even Kmart was in back in the day. Their stores are also ancient and in desperate need of remodeling. Many of their core shoppers, older and elderly folks, are no longer around. They struggle with clothing and apparel lines that nobody wants to wear. Their bread and butter, appliances and hardware, is suffering because of the economy and also because of the condition of the stores. Nobody is going to buy a $1,500 refrigerator from a store that appears it will be going out of business in the next 30 minutes. Top that with severe cost-cutting measures that have drained a lot of the talented personnel who once worked in the stores.
Honestly, as an outsider looking in, I don’t see that much hope for the Sears department stores. It’s time they let the Titanic sink without trying to patch the hole with scotch tape anymore. There simply isn’t enough money to keep two retail chains going that are both in need of desperate makeovers.
The only hope Kmart has of surviving is to realize that Sears is dead, it’s time to let Kmart live again.