and I penned face-off columns over the prospects for
, using very different modes of analysis. (
Click here to see his and
click here to see mine)
It was a clear risk for me. After all, Arne has been
wildly successful identifying turnaround candidates with his gifted value analysis. Who was I to challenge that notion with a little qualitative analysis?
Judging from the emails, many readers felt the same way. Yet, others felt that the Kmart shopping experience still leaves plenty of room for improvement. And most had pretty insightful comments as well as strong opinions about the future of the original discounter.
Here, we share some of those comments. And, if you want to chime in,
shoot me an email.
Kmart on "Target"
You Arne Alsin are right on target about how much Kmart has improved. For the first time in about a year, I ventured into a Kmart expecting much of the same: low-quality merchandise, dirty floors, and a generally depressing ambiance. I was quite surprised by how much lighter and cleaner it was. More importantly, I was blown away by how many of things I ended up buying there. They had a lot more of the stuff I needed than Target.
I was involved much of my life with mass merchandising. Compared to a few years ago, Kmart is a giant. They've gotten their act together. I called on Target. Nice operation. But I don't see where it's better in the last few years.
There's a Wal-Mart across from the local SuperK. I shop the SuperK almost exclusively. I like Martha's top-of-the-line products. But, the real thing is the store is brighter and better merchandised than Wal-Mart.
If I were dumb enough to buy a stock that I had to hold for 5-10 years in the sector, it would probably be Kmart.
Missing the Target
I happen to have a few shares of Kmart stock purchased a few weeks before the plunge into $4 territory. By July 30, it will be history. I would have ditched it sooner, but why get stuck on short-term capital gains? CEO Chuck Conaway as Messiah? Not in this lifetime.
There is a complete lack of coordination between Kmart's Internet venture, Bluelight.com, and the bricks-and-mortar stores. Bluelight says you can return items at any Kmart. However, nobody at the local store -- including the store manager -- had a clue what to do. After being told I needed to mail back an item I purchased online, I contacted Bluelight and was told that was false.
I returned a second time -- and after considerable handholding -- the store took the return. While waiting during two trips to customer service, I got to observe the Kmart operation in action. I felt like I was in the stupidest place on the planet. I couldn't believe some of the things I was hearing and observing. This gave me great comfort that my own experience was not an isolated one.
I have avoided Kmart for years. I do not have the time to wander around trying to find some little doodad in order to save 37 cents. Besides, if I should happen to find the item in less than 10 minutes and 1,800 steps from the front door, I know I'll be stuck in a checkout line for 27 minutes.
At our household, Sunday mornings are often occupied with reviewing the glossy ads inserted in the local newspaper. While my wife and I fight over who gets to see the Target ad first, the Kmart insert is totally neglected.
It's Management That Counts
I disagree with Christopher Edmonds' comments comparing Target and Kmart. I'm not saying Kmart doesn't have its problems, but I have been in several Targets that have left me wanting. The stores are poorly merchandised, messy or in general disarray. I have also found prices higher at Target.
I'm a little biased as my spouse has been employed by Kmart for 23 years, and I have seen the store and company change over those years. I have found it has as much to do with store management as corporate strategy. When there has been a strong management team, the store prospers and is well maintained.
Sure, I've been in Kmart's poorly lighted, dingy stores. But I've also been in the same type of store for Target and Wal-Mart. Look at what their stocks have done! I have been in Kmart stores in towns right across from Wal-Mart, and the Kmart store was clean, well lighted, and properly stocked.
Management has more to do with the problems you have encountered. This is where Kmart fails miserably. They pay their management the lowest of the major discount retailers. Wal-Mart has been headed down this same road since Sam Walton died.
Attention "Yuppie" Kmart Shoppers
I think the main thing that Christopher Edmonds is missing is the income level of the average Kmart shopper, and where their stores are located versus some of the other chains. In my area, Kmart is in the less-affluent parts of town, while Target is near mall developments. Big difference.
No doubt, upper-middle-class shoppers will respond to Kmart as Chris has. So what? The people that will create store-sales growth in Kmart don't have a lot of money and don't think that Kmart has crappy merchandise. If Kmart's sales are growing, it must be winning somebody over. It's silly to ignore that evidence just because it's not a "yuppie" magnet.
Several years ago I would never have shopped at Kmart. Now I visit Kmart more frequently than Target, Kohls or Wal-Mart. And I have recently invested in Kmart stock, which I believe is a value.
I'm an upscale shopper, frequenting
, and would not have been caught walking into a Kmart a few years ago. So for me, shopping at Kmart represents a really big mindset change. Of course, the economy of the past year has influenced my shopping habits as well.
NASCAR to the Rescue?
Kmart has the most loyal fans in the world -- NASCAR fans -- and this gives them an edge. They are really promoting the Blue Light Special. In fact, it has its own car. Traditionally, my wife and I have preferred Wal-Mart, but as a fan, I will make an effort, within reason, to choose Kmart.
One interesting point: Home Depot has a much-richer valuation than Lowes traditionally has received. This is even though the Lowes shopping experience is, at least anecdotally, far superior. Why? Perhaps because the Home Depot-sponsored car has been far more successful than the Lowes-sponsored car. Probably minor correlation, but correlation nonetheless.
Christopher S. Edmonds is president of Resource Dynamics, a private financial consulting firm based in Atlanta. At time of publication, neither Edmonds nor his firm held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While Edmonds cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes your feedback and invites you to send it to