Originally a chain of retail stores along the lines of F.W. Woolworth's "five and dime" outlets, the former Kresge's evolved into the larger Kmart in 1962, with 18 "super-stores." Wal-Mart began the same year with a single rural Arkansas location.
Kmart cruised along nicely for the first 25 years or so, but by the end of the 1970s profits began to dip, coincidental to Wal-Mart's ascendance.
Business journalist Marcia Layton Turner offers a remarkable, no-nonsense examination of Kmart's fall. Her carefully documented tale relies on reporting from the trade and general press, amplified by testimony and commentary from a number of expert witnesses. It's a grim story; reading it is somewhat akin to watching a train going off a mountain, but the tragedy of Kmart is a tale of human incompetence, ignorance, greed and hubris.
Here, according to Turner, are Kmart's 10 fatal mistakes: 1. Brand mismanagement; 2. Not knowing its customers; 3. Underestimating Wal-Mart; 4. Lousy locations; 5. Ignoring store appearance; 6. Technology aversion; 7. Supply chain disconnect; 8. Loss of focus; 9. Strategy du jour; 10. Repeating the same mistakes.
Squeezed by thrifty and technologically savvy Wal-Mart on one side, and trendy, more fashion forward Target on the other, one wonders if the once-mighty Kmart still has a prayer. Hard to say, but if the chain's immediate history of monumental mismanagement offers any clues, it's just a matter of time before Kmart flat-lines — barring a miracle. (The Miami Herald (circ: 327,000), Sept. 29, 2003)