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Kmart's Ten Deadly Sins: How Incompetence Tainted an American Icon Hardcover – July 18, 2003
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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)
From the Inside Flap
Even though Kmart has emerged from bankruptcy, the truth is that the company has made a number of bad decisions throughout its forty-year historysome seemed like good decisions at the time, while others were obviously off base. But what really hurt Kmart is the fact that most of these decisions were made by rogue managers who shirked their duty to shareholders and company.
Kmarts Ten Deadly Sins spins an intriguing tale of the missteps and miscalculations of a retail giant which once had the industry in the palm of its hand, and foolishly let it all slip away. Interviews with financial analysts, former employees, and industry observers, coupled with in-depth research of SEC filings, news reports, and background data, paints a clear picture of exactly how Kmart managements thinking emerged as well as what went on behind the scenesand why.
Weaving corporate history with financial analysis and expert commentary, this engaging book identifies and examines the ten management mistakes, which ultimately brought Kmart to its knees.
Youll learn how a combination of . . .
- Brand mismanagement
- Lack of customer knowledge
- Underestimating the competition
- Lousy locations
- Ignoring store appearance
- Technology aversion
- Supply chain disconnect
- Loss of focus
- Changing strategies frequently
- Repeating the same mistakes
. . . eventually ended Kmarts retail reign.
Kmarts Ten Deadly Sins digs deep to uncover the real reason behind Kmarts undoing, and will leave you with a better sense of the potential for its future. Can Kmarts management sins be forgiven? Maybe, but only time will tell.
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Top Customer Reviews
But for me, the most frustrating thing about the book is that it is entirely an outsider's perspective. Turner does such an excellent job of documenting Kmart's persistent stupidity over many decades that at some point you want to hear from an insider to answer the question "what could they have been thinking?"
A particular strength of the book is laying out the competitive landscape of discount retailing. One major unanswered question (which, granted, would be very difficult to answer) is how big a role pervasive corruption has played in Kmart's decline. The conviction of a senior real estate executive for bribery indicates that self-dealing in the company may have gone back much further than the executives who put the company in bankruptcy.
I looked at the author's credentials and, frankly, was a bit dismayed that she was author of "The Unofficial Guide to Starting a Small Business." Even though the title is described as a best-seller, I questioned whether such an author would be able to produce the kind of study that the K-Mart subject demands. Looking further through the book, I discovered that my concerns were totally unfounded. This book is quite well researched, as evidenced by the abundant footnotes at the end of each chapter. Turner lists, in her acknowledgements, some of the people she conferred with in putting this book together. Impressive. Almost academic.
The book begins with two features I appreciated. One was a chapter, called the introduction, which effectively sets the stage for the in-depth look at what happened... and why. The other feature is a time line that includes progressive events at Kmart and at Wal-Mart. A fascinating fact to ponder is that Kmart and Wal-Mart were started in the same year. Throughout the book, Turner interweaves and compares the strategies-and implications-of Kmart, Wal-Mart, and Target, as well as other retailers. This approach adds value to this book for every retailer-every business leader-who designs strategy with anticipated results. The bibliography and comprehensive index make this book a most usable tool.Read more ›
Insisting that discount shopping meant 'cheap' (despite the numerous negative connotations within American culture) Kmart itself turned American shoppers off from spending their money in these stores. Disaffected shoppers then began turning to the other discount stores.
Things became so bad that 'store brands' (usually a godsend for thrifty shoppers) were pulled only because of name stigmatization. It is a bad omen when a store is ashamed of it's own brands.
Kmart actually was unable to figure out why it's clientele base shrunk while Wal-mart and Target respectively grew into the powerhouses of today. By the 21st century, the only people really in love with Kmart's business decisonmaking were the executives who apparently got paid no matter what bad decision they fastened the company to.
After reading this scathing-but fair indictment for myself, I also am amazed nobody from the inside was concered about the shortcomings. The early 1990's 'Big K' concept failed because the company merely put a new sign on the same dinky and dingy stores of yesterday. Constructing more new stores AND a new training program would have made the critical world of difference.
In a Kmart as late as 2003, I was openly taken aback by the dirty floor and cluttered layout. I had honestly chalked that one 'current' experience up to the 'back to school' rush, but if most of the stores in a company are in this condition---there are very big management problems. No amount of downsizing or 'new' brand introduction can bail out a company with such obvious disgust for customers.
According to the book, in which industry analysts and business publications are quoted heavily, among K-mart's mistakes are:
Not having a focus (i.e., not knowing "who they are" or how to differentiate themselves from Wal-Mart and Target), relying too much on weekly advertising circulars, bringing back the BlueLight special, their haphazard approach to technology, having a short-term focus in terms of hiring and keeping a CEO, and their 2001 attempt to attract low-price shoppers by trying to undercut Wal-Mart.
The book's not without problems, though. For one thing, it is very repetitious. The book is divided into ten chapters, each of which ostensibly focuses on one of the deadly sins. But there is so much overlap in the content of the chapters that it's like reading the same chapter, reworded, over and over. I feel that I could have written the last half of the book myself.
In addition, Turner seems to contradict herself on several points. For example, at one point she criticizes K-mart for relying too strongly on Martha Stewart, and at another she seems to fault them for not focusing on her enough.
Not having read much business writing, I don't have much to compare it to, but I found the book to be a reasonably compelling read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I worked in retail for many years so the info in this book is interesting to read but dated.
I missed the part where this book was published in 2003 when I ordered, so the... Read more
As a business student and self-described retail afficianado, I love books about the history of major retailers, and so of course, when I came across this book at my local library,... Read morePublished on June 21, 2010 by Giselle Gzda
Learning from others' mistakes can be an important source of wisdom. However, this is difficult to accomplish if the information source lacks clear structure and conclusions - aka... Read morePublished on October 14, 2009 by Loyd Eskildson
K-Mart's rapid descent into a near corporate oblivion has been well captured by Turner in this excellent piece of business analysis. Read morePublished on September 16, 2009 by Lehigh History Student
I shold have guessed from the title that this book would be totally one sided...but I didn't follow my gut. Read morePublished on August 24, 2008 by J. Leith
If you're into retail marketing in any capacity, you owe it to yourself to read this book. At least twice. It's that good. Read morePublished on June 9, 2007 by Jason S. Comely
The Good: It has an almost crystalline structure to it. You could easily flip through it like a "what went wrong" reference manual for K-Mart, or any retail operation looking to... Read morePublished on December 23, 2004 by GavinFarrMedia
The author has researched well, using many footnotes to indicate her sources. However, the book reads like a high school student's report of individual articles (too, the grammar... Read morePublished on May 22, 2004
I read this book with interest from both the perspective of a consumer and a business person. As a consumer, I stopped shopping at KMart a long time ago. Read morePublished on January 7, 2004