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Monday, December 27, 2010

NYT: A Tough Sell at Sears

In random recent news, Everlast (athletic brand) has signed a deal to be sold at Sears/Kmart stores. But, here's a very nice article from this week's New York Times - Sears Struggles Five Years after Merger with Kmart.

From the New York Times, a look at the current state of Sears Holdings: or copied below ( I hope that's legal!)

A Tough Sell at Sears

This holiday season, Sears and Kmart, which merged in 2005, are pushing a single message: Buy with layaway, buy with coupons, buy now and pay later, buy with loyalty rewards points — but please, just buy.
Five years after the merger, Sears Holdings is beleaguered, with sales markedly worse than its competitors’. The company’s revenue dropped more than 10 percent from 2005 through 2009, the most recent full fiscal year. In the same time period, Wal-Mart’s sales rose almost 31 percent, Target’s more than 24 percent and Macy’s about 5 percent. Sales at J. C. Penney’s declined by about 6 percent.
Recently, too, as shoppers seem to be cautiously loading their carts again, Sears Holdings has not benefited. In the first three-quarters of this year, Sears Holdings’ sales are down about 1.9 percent compared to the same period last year, while the competition moved into positive territory.
Edward S. Lampert, the billionaire hedge fund manager who engineered the merger and is chairman of the company, has promised that Sears Holdings will be “unrecognizable” in 30 years. To drive sales, it is emphasizing online shopping, mobile apps and an marketplace with other vendors, along with heavy promotions in stores.

Still, its long-term strategy remains murky, analysts say. Sears Holdings is primarily a physical retailer, and many of its 2,200 stores in the United States are run-down and in undesirable locations. Among discount stores, Kmart lags Wal-Mart and Target. Sears is trying to edge out Lowes and Home Depot in appliances on the one hand, and Macy’s and J. C. Penney in apparel on the other.
“People assume that Eddie’s got some magic formula,” said Gary Balter, an analyst with Credit Suisse. “If you’re Sears, you’ve got a problem because you’re trying to sell a product in a dilapidated building,” he said. And Kmart stores are “about a quarter the sales productivity of Wal-Mart,” he said. “How do you compete?”

When Mr. Lampert combined Kmart and Sears in an $11.9 billion deal that went through in 2005, many of the same analysts considered it a smart move. Mr. Lampert, who became the majority owner of Kmart after it went into bankruptcy, said then that he wanted to combine the best of both, putting brands like Kenmore and Craftsman into Kmarts, and building Sears’s presence outside of malls by turning some stand-alone Kmart stores into Sears stores. Some attractive store locations, particularly in urban areas, led analysts to believe he could sell those to competitors for premium prices.

But the sudden consumer pullback in 2008 led to lots of empty retail space, at less expensive prices than Mr. Lampert’s. Today, Mr. Balter said, Sears Holdings still has some showcase spots, in high-end, high-traffic areas like Bergen County, N.J.; South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.; and in Manhattan and Bridgehampton, N.Y. But much of the remaining real estate in older, decrepit malls is a problem, Mr. Balter said. “Of the 2000, there’s 1,500 that you don’t want to be in, that nobody’s going to buy,” he said. (It also has a growing division of about 1,600 specialty stores, like small hardware stores and outlets. ) The better locations “are where Sears and Kmart are making their money — if you sell those, what are you going to be left with?” Mr. Balter said.

Mr. Lampert has also not invested much in the stores themselves, analysts said. In 2009, capital spending only amounted to 0.82 percent of sales. That is about half of Macy’s spending, at 1.51 percent of sales, and a fraction of the spending at Target, Wal-Mart, J. C. Penney and even publicly traded dollar stores, all of which are at 2 percent and above. In an interview, David Friedman, Sears Holdings’s new senior vice president and president of marketing, played down the importance of appearance. “The customer’s experience is made up of lots of pieces,” he said. “The in-store experience is one of those that matters a lot, and we believe that the physical plant is one piece of it, but we believe the associates and the products drive the in-store experience.” Sears Holdings is experimenting with new layouts and fixtures and will introduce those more widely if they are shown to improve sales. And Tom Aiello, a Sears spokesman, said in an e-mail that brightness and cleanliness were priorities, and noted that customer-satisfaction scores had risen this year.

The stores’ products pose another challenge. Sears has long commanded the appliance world, but Home Depot and Lowes are formidable up-and-comers. In 2009, Sears still led the group with a little more than $7.1 billion in major appliance sales, according to This Week in Consumer Electronics magazine and the Stevenson Company. But its appliance sales fell 8.2 percent that year. Lowes came in second, with $4.5 billion, up 3.8 percent, and Home Depot was in third with $3.4 billion, a 4.3 percent decline.
“That’s increased the competition for sure,” Mr. Friedman said, but he added that Sears’s employees and price-matching gave it an advantage. Sears is also now selling some exclusive brands outside its stores. Craftsman tools, for instance, are available at some Ace Hardware stores.
It is also trying to figure out apparel sales. In its high-performing stores, it has been able to sublease space to the teenage retailer Forever 21, and it is trying to lease other spaces to other brands.
New exclusive brands, like a fashion line by the Disney star Selena Gomez at Kmart, and ones by the British brands Next and French Connection, are the latest efforts to lure shoppers.
“When you have things that are more on trend,” Mr. Friedman said, “aligned with people that are more compelling, they’re more willing to take a separate trip to your store.” But exclusives may not hold the same cachet anymore. Kmart may have signed Selena Gomez, but Target has Demi Lovato, Wal-Mart has Miley Cyrus, Kohl’s has Britney Spears and so on.
Transforming Sears or Kmart into fashion destinations will be difficult, said Jason Asaeda, a retail analyst at Standard & Poor’s. Mr. Friedman said that customers were “more willing to purchase fashion at a Sears than at a mass merchant,” and described Kmart’s fashion efforts as having a “very good response.”

Aside from working on appliance and apparel, Sears seems to be putting the most weight behind its promotions and Internet efforts. Through a program called AdYourWay, shoppers can choose an item online and direct the site to notify them when it reaches a certain price, or ask the site to recommend products. Mygofer lets people shop online for basics like eggs or bread along with tools or gifts, and pick up those items in a store the same day. Sears Holdings has several mobile applications to help people choose gifts or order items. Earlier this year, it formally announced Sears Marketplace, where more than 18 million products were available via third-party sellers. And a single login and profile can be used across all Sears Holdings sites, like or Analysts said that while they were impressed with the company’s forays online, they did not see the Web sites as a cure-all. The retailer is also trying to lure shoppers with promotions. It extended its popular layaway program this year, and is also running no-interest offers on the Sears credit card and buy-now-pay-later plans with monthly payments. It began a rewards program at Kmart last year and Sears this year, offering points for buying and activities like writing reviews online. It is also offering holiday-season promotions, like offering Black Friday-level pricing on weekends beginning in October, and keeping Sears and Kmart stores open on Thanksgiving day.

For longtime shoppers like Linda Formicola, the rewards are a nice bonus, but it is Sears’s history and good discounts that bring her in. “We’ve been shopping at Sears since I can remember,” said Ms. Formicola, 43, of Franklinville, N.J. Her husband is a mechanic, so he picks up tools there while she looks at clothes and supplies. “If stuff’s on sale, it’s pretty much the same price as you’d buy at a Wal-Mart,” she said, adding she believed the quality was better at Sears. Bill Dreher, an analyst with Deutsche Bank, acknowledged that the company had maintained some loyalty among shoppers, but said he was puzzled about its future. While an asset mix including brands like Kenmore and Lands’ End, real estate holdings and the successful Sears Canada division may be valuable, retailing magic seems to be lacking in Mr. Lampert’s vision, he said.
“He’s got this huge conglomerate of retailing which is really not doing very well right now, and frankly, if it weren’t for Sears Canada, would be in a real mess,” Mr. Dreher said. “He’s focused so much on reducing costs and driving cash flow, and not focusing on sales and market share.”

Cheryl Thomas-Gorny, a mother of three in McRae, Ark., may not be concerned with Mr. Lampert’s market share strategy, but shoppers like her contribute to Sears’s diminishing popularity and sales. Although she said she sometimes shopped at Kmart, she criticized the quality of its goods, and said she often found the employees disagreeable.
“Honestly, I’d rather go to Target,” she said. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Toledo OH brief glance...

Update: EXTENDED HOLIDAY STORE HOURS: Most Kmart stores nationwide are open 6am until MIDNIGHT this week (the week before Christmas). The few remaining Super Kmarts are mostly open 24 hours as usual. 

Following up from the Black Friday sales, SHLD has not broken out the details publicly, so we aren't sure how Kmart fared. Both SHLD and Walmart are no longer providing some of the sales data that they used to. But, in comparison, a low-performing very slow Rite Aid store makes around $20,000 in sales / week (non-prescription) - around $1 million/yr in sales. That's probably the same amount a slower Starbucks does in a year. From our estimates using Wal-Mart official sales data, averaged over 711 traditional stores and 2898 Supercenters but not counting Neighorhood Market, Sams Club, or international stores, we think a Wal-mart store makes around $200,000 on an average day, for around $72 million / year in sales. Optimistically, in 1994, Super Kmart was expected to hit $80 million / year in sales per store. Of course, by 1998, sales per square foot at Super K were around $330 (pretty good compared to now), with Kmart's supercenters raking in approximately $4.3 billion a year, or about $43 million per store. In 1998, Wal-Mart Supercenters did about $32 billion this year, or about $60 million per store for ~550 stores, while Super Target, with 18 stores, will do volume estimated at $800 million this year, or $44 million per store.

Anyway, we'll save our Super Kmart analysis/history/photo post for 2011. And we'll do a "Seismic Shifts in Retail" layman's analysis post in 2011. And more Kmart Photo Blog Posts, of course. Stay tuned! And don't forget to vote for your favorite Photo-post of 2010!

Finally, if you ever want a photo-post of your store with pictures you submit, just email your photos (please, .jpg /.bmp / .gif/ other acceptable formats, no Zip folders, no viruses) , any commentary you want up, and the name you want to appear as the attributed author on our site to SuperKmartBlog {a t] g ma i l (do t} com. That's SuperKmartBlog - not SuperKmart, since that account was already taken. Cheers!

From comment by reader Daniel C: "As a sales associate for 4276 in Toledo, OH, I hope I can help you fill in on some details.

Our staffing level is roughly 70 permanent employees with around 30 temporary associates hired for October through the second week of January.

Sales for last Thanksgiving were $59,000 and we finished 10% over last year's figures. Black Friday sales were $196,000 and we finished at $192,000 (however, while we did not match last year's number, we did perform 8.8% over sales plan). On Saturday we did $56,000 last year and finished 16% over last year's numbers.

Our store (which is a 86,000 square foot store) performed at the top of our district and almost beat the Fremont store (which is a Super Kmart)."

So naturally, we were curious. At first we thought this was Daniel's store:

but it turns out that was actually Kmart Store #4209 
627 E Manhattan BLVD
Toledo, OH 43608

Another Kmart in Toledo is his store!

2244 South Reynolds Road, Toledo, OH
110,286 Sq Ft w/ 4000 sq ft auto center (I think the Sq Ft is total, not just gross selling area, not sure if it includes the auto center)

photos of KM4276 taken from Microsoft/Bing Maps.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Blue Friday

We'll update this post when the Black Friday /Thanksgiving week sales scores are out, but in speculation of SHLD's open-for-Thanksgiving strategy, there have been mixed reports of some Sears and kmart stores with "100's" of people in line, and others with more employees than shoppers. Sears was open for the first time, it claimed, on Thanksgiving, from 7am-12pm, while Kmart continued its new tradition of opening on Thanksgiving, until 9pm!

Given a typical Kmart store's permanent staffing of 50 to 120 employees, likely averaging around 70, it would be highly difficult to staff the store at full crowd-control level on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, especially given the extended hours, and especially given the need to de-clutter/restock/reprice items in the store in between (and during!) the busy days. Anyone know how many temporary staff were hired per store? Or what the Black Friday week results were? Kmart was prominently featured on several news reports, including NBC Nightly News, during their annual news-filler on Black Friday shopping, and Sears received a lot of publicity for being open on Thanksgiving.

Finally, Sears stores are seriously lagging in sales, so we wonder how much of a boost Black Friday was. Apple sells $11.8 million per store, Best Buy $9.1, but Sears only $2.3 million sales per store. Granted, only 18% of Apple sales are in its stores, but still, Sears stores generally are underperforming by most metrics, including sales per square foot, and profitability. It will take a great Thanksgiving to return Sears and Kmart to consumer minds, something increasingly difficult given the lack of investment in most of SHLD's stores.

Anyway, we'll update this post next week with more sales results. And next month, more Kmart store pictures!


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