Management Lessons From Kmart’s Fall

The worst job I ever had was for Kmart.

It was the summer of 1992, and I took a summer job at Kmart after my first year of college. It was close to our house, and they were hiring, so why not?

Even though I was 19 and my previous jobs were fast food, I learned what not to do far more than what to do at that job. While, clearly, it took another 30 years to get to the point of three stores out of a high of over 2000 remaining, if the Kmart in St. George, Utah, was like the other ones, the writing was on the wall even back then. Your business will go the same way as Kmart if you’re making these mistakes.

They lied to get me on board.

I needed money for school, so I wanted as many hours as possible. Kmart advertised and offered me 20-24 hours a week. Great! I turned down an offer at Walmart for more hours at Kmart.

To keep reading, click here: Management Lessons From Kmart’s Fall

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10 thoughts on “Management Lessons From Kmart’s Fall

  1. That was a bad job. My last trip to K-Mart was shortly before Christmas, probably 15 years or so ago, to their last store in Dallas. The store was packed, with people making last-minute holiday purchases. We filled our cart and headed to check out, only to discover that ONLY ONE CHECK-OUT LANE WAS OPEN, even though we had seen many employees in the store aisles and out in the parking lot, corralling shopping carts, on our way into the store. The line was long and snaked through the store. After waiting a long time, we abandoned our cart — which, surely, contained more than $100 in merchandise — and left, as did many others. There were carts full of merchandise sitting around everywhere. Abysmally poor management and customer service. I don’t believe in dancing on anyone’s grave, but am not surprised at K-Mart’s pending demise, although it saddens me, as I was born and raised in Detroit, where it originated. Much better competitors — such as Montgomery Ward and Sears — could not survive either.

  2. Well, that was a long time ago, and certainly, it couldn’t have been as bad as you make it out to be.

    I mean, just because today, 30 years later, you can still see it as clearly as if it were yesterday …

    Sure, you can still see yourself behind the register in your dress shoes, feel your aching feet and actually hear the sounds all around you … 30 years later … but honestly, admit it, it couldn’t have been all that bad.

    Maybe it was actually worse.

  3. This is just another representation of how badly run is retail businesses. Someone on the top end of corporate management makes a decision about labor staffing based on some numerical requirements ( sales per hour, which are measured by sales recorded through the register) but has nothing to do with the reality as described in the article. Every one of those carts are potential sales but the semantics used by the efficiency experts totally ignores that. I used to argue about that when I worked, I was in charge of scheduling using the computer model program. Unfortunately, those programs don’t look at the reality of any situation as they deal with theory ( x amount of sales equals y amount of employees). It expects your employees to be multi-talented and also able to be as efficient as the computer as the program demands. As for the examples of the individual store management behavior ( supposed ignorance of the employees’s needs for breaks) I could also give examples of management individuals who got no breaks because the employees have to get their required breaks at a set time ( every two hours) regardless of the needs to meet the demands of consumer presence. In either case, consumer flow demands is not something that is very predictable because it varies per diem, weather related, etc. But what is needed to match demands is not allowed to be adapted at any time, with just scheduling if you exclude the human element of individuality. None of us are robotic computers able to output correctly the same predictable performance. Both consumers and efficiency experts totally ignore this in their expectations. Which is why retail sales companies have to adapt constantly from the ground level up, not from the corporate level down . Until that happens we will always have this problem with dissatisfaction.

    1. I remember being a broke college student and choosing to shop at Kmart for that reason – but shelf after shelf was missing the price tags and workers were nowhere to be found. I remember thinking “why would consumers with little wiggle room in their budget choose Kmart when they could go to Walmart, Target, etc. and know for sure what the price is?”

      I also worked retail at a store that sold supplies for my hobby. Our “hard sole” rule was that employees were automatically denied the store’s credit cards (you could earn points and qualify for cash back promos). For most of us, that job was a 2nd job we had just for “fun money” – which most of us spent on hobby supplies from our employer. Yet we could not get a store credit card. Who better to promote the store and show off stuff we made using their products than us employees? But nope! Joke was on them though – their competitor was right across the street, also offered a store credit card with bonus points and freebies and we all somehow qualified for that card and started shopping there. Guess which of the two is still in business today and which one filed for bankruptcy and went under?

  4. I worked for a homebuilder once (in the office – I was an Executive Assistant) who installed a new company President. His first rule was no eating at your desk…. The entire office staff was used to just eating at our desk and doing work. Now everyone trooped off to the lunch room and took their hour for lunch. Losing valuable productivity over this silly rule that was put in place because the new guy didn’t like to see people eating. Yep, company is no longer in business (obviously not just because of this rule!).

  5. I worked at a Super Kmart in the Summer of 1998. What you chronicled is precisely what happened at the Kmart I worked at in suburban Chicago. My issues with hours was the opposite: I was technically part-time. However, I was scheduled at full-time hours!!! The place was terribly ran. Our employee lounge was always filthy!!! The manager was highly incompetent!!! All I have to say is good riddance!!!

  6. The converse is also true: do the right things and make loyal employees. I was only in my new entry-level job a couple weeks when the company asked us to work late into the night to make a deadline. I (not too tall) was unloading rather heavy products from a high rack when not my boss but my boss’s boss, the director, said, “Go find something else to do,” rolled up his sleeves, and hauled product all evening. It seemed like an okay job before that but taht made a big impression on me. Afterward I was a loyal employee aiming to do the “over and above” thing for years with that company. It’s small acts like that one that build culture.

  7. Ohhhhh, I remember those days. I worked at a store in the late 80’s and early 90’s at the end of high school and start of college. After I left KMart, I refused to even enter another store for over 20 years. Though, our store was poorly run, I must admit, I was far from a model employee.
    I still hear certain Christmas songs, I cringe, those tapes that repeated……….

  8. Bad pricing is why it’s illegal pretty much everywhere, though enforcement is spotty. In California, it does get enforced with regular inspections by Weights & Measures, it if an item rings up for more than $1 over what’s on the big tag, it’s a felony, with fines in the tens of thousands of dollars as *frequent* inspections for years after.

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