Retailers Sears and Kmart, once giants in the industry, are in such bad shape that their closure is imminent, according to investment experts.
If you’re a fan of shopping at Sears and Kmart, you better plan a few trips soon…while you still can, as analysts are predicting the worst.
Business Insider reported that Moody’s has downgraded Sears’ liquidity rating and says Kmart in particular is at risk of shutting down.
I’d hate to see both brands disappear, but I have a particular nostalgic connection to Kmart since that was where I worked my first job way back in 1987. I made a whopping $3.10 per hour as a cashier, I remember. And they paid, at that time, in cash. (Unless you were a store manager, and in that case, you received a check from the home office.)
I worked there five years, and in fact, my last day was my fifth-anniversary date.
But I joined the company at the beginning of the end, I think. When I was hired, the logo featured the giant red italicized K and an turquoise-colored mart, a throwback to the 1970s, of course, but not something that the regular shoppers I saw week after week ever seemed to mind.
Then there were the famous “Bluelight Specials,” in which random pop-up sales would be announced as a blue strobe light on wheels was rolled to the particular location of the store. When managers learned I was in college studying broadcasting, they began to have me announce the specials. (It wasn’t so much because they thought I was particularly good at it, but rather because they didn’t like doing it.)
I distinctly remember “Moonlight Madness” specials that ran late into the night during Christmas shopping season during which droves of shoppers followed that light throughout the store for hours. It was almost like a herd of buffalo chasing that silly little light hoping to save a few bucks.
I don’t mean that in a bad way. We enjoyed watching it and the shoppers seemed to enjoy taking part just as much, even they knew the light was headed to a part of the store in which they had no interest. For those folks, the “game” was to try to figure out where the light would go next.
But eventually, Walmart, which began only four months after Kmart opened its first store in 1962, surpassed it in sales, pushing Kmart to third place.
Kmart could have gone after its “new” enemy, undercutting their prices to reclaim the lead.
Instead, Kmart, as part of a rebranding effort, did two utterly ridiculous things (at least as far as some of us who worked there at the time were concerned).
First, it eliminated Bluelight Specials, one of the very things that put Kmart on the map to begin with. We were told a new chairman considered them a “cheap and degrading way” to sell merchandise.
I never understood the “degrading” argument, but the fact was “cheap” was the primary reason shoppers liked Kmart: cheap, in this context, didn’t mean “poor quality;” the “cheap” I’m talking about just meant “low-price.”
Second, Kmart tried to reimagine itself as a serious contender to Target, not Walmart. Well, Kmart was never going to be Target, but that’s what it seemed the company wanted to be.
Like the Bluelight Specials, they trashed that old familiar logo in favor of a giant red block K with the word mart scribbled diagonally across the upper arm of the K. The signage changed to look more like — you guessed it! — Target’s. And as some stores began remodeling projects, some obvious instances of budget cutting occurred: in the store I worked in, for instance, the brown, wood-grain checkout counters were replaced with newer, cleaner-looking gray counters; but some of those wood-grain brown counters weren’t replaced, creating a glaring discontinuity that made the store look “cheap”  in the bad way.
Unimpressed with the facelift designed to make Kmart look more “upscale”  and the removal of the quickie discount specials, more and more customers began to abandon the ship.
The last time I was in a Kmart store, it looked like a tornado had hit: aisles were disorganized, products seemed to be placed wherever there was room and the place looked generally dingy. I would chalk it up to the store having a bad day, but by the looks of it, it must have been having a bad couple of years. It’s a shame. When I worked there, that’s not how things were at all.
I’d miss Kmart if it did bite the dust because I hate to see long-running successful American brands disappear.
But I miss the older version of Kmart I grew up with even more.