Blog post

Kmart – Some Things You May Not Know

By Robert Hetu | December 15, 2022 | 0 Comments

Retail Digital Transformation and Innovation

Recently Kmart has been tweeting a lot of old pictures as I think it is nearing the final end of the longest death spiral in history. Its kind of bitter sweet for me to see these old images. I worked for Kmart from 1983 through early 1994 and overall it was some of my most favorite years from a long career. I started as an apparel manager trainee in Annandale, VA, after college, having no intention to stay. I took the job because there was a terrible recession and I needed the money. I progressed quickly and managed to move up from store to larger store. Williamsburg, VA, Clifton Heights, PA, and then Long Branch, NJ. Around 1988 or 89, I was planning to look for something else, but I was promoted to the Kmart Apparel HQ in North Bergen, NJ. Then later was transferred to Kmart HQ in Troy, MI. In 1994 I decided that, since I had only ever worked for one company, it was time to make a change. It also seemed that the handwriting was on the wall, with the first of many downward quarters.

I fondly remember those years and all of the fantastic learning and opportunity I found personally and professionally. But its such a sad tale of lost opportunity. I vividly remember all of those times that a fire drill would happen whenever the chairman was going to visit stores in some location. When in the stores organization I would frequently have to send staff from my store to some other that needed a lot of help getting ready. When in HQ, we would scramble to ship product to be sure the shelves were full.

Here are a few things that Kmart pioneered for the industry:

  • Size and color level sales tracking – in the 1980s Kmart tracked every apparel item at a unique SKU level using magnetically coded tags that were unique for each.  These were collected at the checkout and processed in the office onto disks that were then mailed to the HQ for processing.
  • Automated replenishment – It implemented the INFOREM system for basic replenishment in the 1980s.
  • EDI – Kmart developed a proprietary EDI capability that served as the foundation for later industry standards.
  • Bar code labeling  – It developed bar code capabilities that allowed scanning of cartons through the distribution centers as quick response crossdocking.
  • Private brands – Kmart (and Sears) were the first companies to develop large scale brands that became nationally identifiable name brands.
  • Celebrity brands – Kmart launched the Jaclyn Smith collection in 1986, and also started Martha Stewart’s brand. 
  • Power centers – at one time it owned Pace, Borders, Builder’s Square and Sports Authority.  It was able to build shopping centers where it owned most of the retailers present.

So I will always be glad that I had the opportunity to be part of its time of tremendous success.   Here are the many blogs I found that mentioned Kmart here at Gartner:

Sears-Kmart: Is there a way?

Kmart (and Sears) are victims of invasive species; who is next?

Shop Your Way: When Good Ideas Go Bad

Me-too is Not a Winning Retail Strategy

The Great Back-to-School Race Begins

What Advocacy Really Means (To Marketers, Just Like Everyone Else)


Of Standards, efficiency and innovation – Internet of Things

When Your Competitor Delivers More for Less



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