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Kmart's Ten Deadly Sins: How Incompetence Tainted an American Icon Hardcover – July 18, 2003

3.3 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Kmart was Wal-Mart before there was a Wal-Mart.
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

News that discount giant Kmart was filing for bankruptcy in early 2002 sent shockwaves through the retail community. How could a brand as widely recognized and firmly fixed in our cultural lexicon be teetering on the brink of extinction? Depending on who you talk to, Kmart’s fall from grace can be attributed to any number of factors. In the first in-depth examination of Kmart, author Marcia Layton Turner reveals the real reason behind Kmart’s troubles–bad management–and discusses how the large personalities and even larger dreams of Kmart’s misguided leaders played a significant role in transforming this once profitable retail titan into a bankrupt behemoth.

Even though Kmart has emerged from bankruptcy, the truth is that the company has made a number of bad decisions throughout its forty-year history–some 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.

Kmart’s 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 management’s thinking emerged as well as what went on behind the scenes–and 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.

You’ll 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 Kmart’s retail reign.

Kmart’s Ten Deadly Sins digs deep to uncover the real reason behind Kmart’s undoing, and will leave you with a better sense of the potential for its future. Can Kmart’s management sins be forgiven? Maybe, but only time will tell.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (July 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471435937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471435938
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,016,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marcia Layton Turner is an award-winning, bestselling author and writer who specializes in writing about small business, real estate, parenting and saving money. In addition to authoring, co-authoring and ghosting non-fiction books, Marcia also writes for magazines. Her work has appeared in BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Woman's Day, Health, Parenting, Black Enterprise and many others. She shares tips for writers and authors at www.becomeasixfigurewriter.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Marcia Turner does an excellent job of laying out what KMart has done wrong over the years and builds a very convincing case, citing mostly secondary sources such as retail trade journals. The writing is clear and lively, but the "10 Deadly Sins" idea is rather tentatively executed. Many chapters discuss multiple sins, and partly because the entire history of the company has to be addressed in each chapter there is a fair amount of repetition.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
When I picked up this book, I expected to find some interesting insights into why KMart, once so widely known and popular, ran into all its problems. A company whose stores were once part of the American landscape and whose blue light specials were exciting mini-events, spun into bankruptcy on January 22, 2002. What happened?
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Kmart debuted around the same time as other American discount retailers, but while they constantly adapted to changing times and styles to keep their relevancy, Kmart luxuriated in a 1970's/early 1980's holding pattern regarding customer shopping and store decoration.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
If you have watched with dismay (or glee) as K-mart has twisted in the wind for the last few years, you will probably find this book interesting. It is a pretty good analysis of what went wrong in the troubled company.
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.
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