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Martha Martha Part VII

The Kmart Miracle Continues . . .




Peter Glen's column appears monthly in VM+SD magazine. And it hits you as soon as you walk in, Blam! It's Martha Stewart gazing down at you from a dozen mural-sized signs. Her gaze is big; it travels many aisles and many merchandise categories, and it is a good thing. There is even a poster of Martha doing something never seen before in public: she's taking a nap. On gorgeous sheets in a gorgeous room like yours could be if you turn left and whip out your wallet. You quickly develop an itch to tear down your house and fix it. Let Martha be your guide: “This goes with this.” Up and down every aisle, in every direction, all over the place — this is no testing-scouting-sampling for research boutique — this is “tonnage” and they need to sell it now. And (over all, above all) you think it will sell, because it is cheap, it is stylish, and it all goes together so easily that every customer will succeed as surely as they do in a good sportswear department (this goes with this, which goes with this). Martha is designing, not just celebrity-endorsing. And Martha is not only designing, she is selling merchandise. There are booklets coordinating everything, plus the whole underworld of other Martha books and products and videos to help and persuade you. And your first, and second, and third impressions are interest, examination and excitement: you and all of Kmart's other stunned customers are looking at really great home furnishings at really good prices. Yes, Kmart. You are in a Super Kmart, another of those trendy mega-semi-grocery-garden-fashion tool-and-books stores that the big boys are all putting out. It is a kind of wonderland (or at least Martha-land) as you wander up and down enchanted aisles adrift in checkerboard gingham bedroom sets, curtains, bath sets, terrific Martha paints at $16.99, and more Marthaware everywhere, all totally coordinated (the paints, the towels, the taste). This is an idea as old as the founding principle of the oldest department store: this goes with this, which goes with this. It is called coordination and it sells multiples, and it pleases customers and makes money. And now Kmart is doing it, and they have done it big. And Martha is there. My, oh my, is Martha there! Customers already trust Martha. Now they'll trust Kmart as long as they deliver. She sells Kmart. If you strip off the Super K signage identity program and walk through the glaring new front door, you're at Target. Wait. That's easy to say. And it is a compelling instant deja vu. But, to be fair, the “Super K” signs are there; indeed, a whole system of brand store identity is evident from the titanic sign out front to the K-Grow brand extension in the outstanding garden shop. This is Kmart. I missed the wit of Target — their own-brand, stylish, fun-ness of their marketing. But, after all, they've been at it a long time, and we have studied it a long time. And, after all, this is no trifle at Kmart: THIS MUST WORK FOR THEM — it's now or never. The instant impression of this Super K is big, clean, sharp, bright, inviting, clearly laid out, and (wagga wagga wagga) filled with exciting, desirable merchandise at just plain amazing prices. (If that's not a customer's Mission Statement, I don't know what is.) The store is just plain great, and to have done it this big and this well for an eager audience of under-stored people in Ukiah, Calif. . . . bravo! It's easy to develop focus on a narrow designer market target (Ralph, Calvin, Tommy), compared to the enormity of taking such risks at a huge, mass-market structure like Kmart. Even after announcing salvation and a plan, there are years to be undone, and minutes to do it in. The clock ticks fast at Kmart; it is undoubtedly a very exciting place to be working right now. Thousands are being liberated from indecision, and it is beginning to be an exciting place to shop. All this is but a small light, but I love slivers like these; there must have been some similar glimmers of lightness deep in Sears when at last it began to come back to life. And when the innovation began, it brought the recent greatness at Sears. Now innovation has come to confront the customer at Kmart. And it is Martha who has brought the reality of exciting merchandise instead of cheap goods, and coordinated selling, and home fashion emphasis, and attention. There's a prequel to the Martha-and-Kmart synergy. It's really The Return of Martha. Martha worked for Kmart once before. Her man was Joe Antonini, and after he hired her, he was so shocked at what he got that he didn't use her. She was locked up so she could do no harm until by mutual agreement it was over. Well, her man's gone now, and Martha is back. She was hired back by the new head man, Floyd Hall, the chair, president and ceo (from Target!). And this time they are using her. And this time, meanwhile, Martha has gotten smarter, too. For one thing, she now works only for herself and she expects — and gets — a whole lot more. I hope the management is visiting the stores to see the outcome of their long-awaited efforts. They should get out of their offices on Big Beaver Road in Troy, Mich., and visit Ukiah right now. Something has sustained them during the pain and effort of such critical changes. Now they deserve the thrills they'd get from seeing their work in action. This will not be the last article written about Martha and Kmart. Whatever happens between them now, they are sharing an enormous risk, and they expect rewards. Now even the employees expect more than they used to. But whatever happens, this is their opportunity, all of them, many thousands of souls who have all been living in limbo for a long time. This is no guarantee that Kmart will make it. There are variables beyond Floyd and Martha and even a rededicated staff. And even great marketing can be jinxed by faults in finance, real estate, distribution, MIS, expense control, bad reputation and disinterested customers. Tune in again for Martha Martha Part MDCLXII.

Peter Glen's recent activities include presentations to Nautica, Marketplace Redwood, WSAAA (Western States Advertising Agencies Association), ICSA (International Customer Service Association), and the California Community Colleges Symposium '98.




MasterClass: ‘Re-Sparkling’ Retail: Using Store Design to Build Trust, Faith and Brand Loyalty

HOW CAN WE EMPOWER and inspire senior leaders to see design as an investment for future retail growth? This session, led by retail design expert Ian Johnston from Quinine Design, explores how physical stores remain unmatched in the ability to build trust, faith, and loyalty with your customers, ultimately driving shareholder value.

Presented by:
Ian Johnston
Founder and Creative Director, Quinine Design

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