I have 500 shares of Kmart Corp. stock that I bought for $1.16 per share. “Hell, all it has to do is survive to stay above a buck,” I said when I bought them.
Kmart’s stock price has since hovered at 50 or 60 cents per share all summer, dropping to a low of 38 cents per share Sept. 24.
And I think I know why.
While people have been monitoring Kmart for something resembling a turnaround strategy, Kmart executives have been busy creating their public relations coup de grace: KmartForever.com, the place where only good things are written about the country’s ailing No. 3 discount retailer.
Under the “our goal” tab, copy on KmartForever.com says, “Since Kmart filed for Chapter 11 back in January 2002, we have been inundated with calls, letters and e-mails from people just like you who want to know what they can do to help support the company and its more than 220,000 employees in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam. That is why we created the Kmart Forever website.”
Uh, yeah. Inundated. We believe that. The first thing people always do when a retailer they like is falling apart is write the company asking how they can support it. After all, it would never occur to them that the answer is to shop there.
But Kmart is asking customers for much more than their dollars. Under the “take action” tab, the site explains that each month, the company will offer Kmart Forever team members — yes, team members — an “action item.”
September’s action item: Write a letter to the editor.
“A letter to the editor is the perfect way to inform area residents on how important your neighborhood Kmart store is to the community in terms of jobs, taxes for local programs, charitable giving, competitive landscape and shopping convenience,” KmartForever.com explains as if to village idiots. “Not only can your personal statement influence your community, it can even affect the actions of your local and state legislators.”
What is it about Michigan (Kmart is headquartered in Troy) that makes companies based there think government whenever they get in trouble?
Maybe in KmartForeverland — a magical place where the floors are always clean, shelves are always stocked, knowledgeable employees are immediately accessible to answer questions and checkout lines don’t require an overnight bag — community leaders are holding nightly candlelight vigils and leading tearful renditions of “Kum Ba Yah” … “Someone’s shoppin’, Lord, Kum ba yah.”
And for those who can’t get enough bluelight fuzzies, there’s the “share your stories” section on KmartForever.com:
“Tell us your fun, touching, interesting or just plain weird stories that involve Kmart. Had a baby in a Kmart store? Conducted a local rally to support Kmart?”
Among the items on the KmartForever.com community bulletin board is the following excerpt of a post from a customer about his mother:
“In one of her last trips to Kmart with me, I remember her saying, ‘They sell frozen food here now, Jackson? Shoot, if a chicken dips snuff, you better look up under the can and see if it was on sale!’ She didn’t make much sense anymore, but you should have seen her eyes light up for a blue light special! Man, that woman had gumption.”
Ah, yes. Gumption, that rare condition attacking the speech center of the brain.
Then there’s the global point of view from a guy named Mauricio:
“Hi, each year we spend 2 or 3 months in USA, for vacations. All our family enjoy together too much in Kmart, because there is a place for everybody, and very good prices: toys for kids, clothes for women, sports for men … We think the big Kmart is a symbol in USA. You must keep it!”
So let us get this straight. Mauricio has enough money to spend two or three months a year in the United States on vacation and he spends them in … Kmart.
Kmart reported a net loss of $377 million for the second quarter of 2001. Still, executives claim that it should emerge from bankruptcy by early next summer. Perhaps, but that executives spent any time on KmartForever is insulting even to someone who bought the company’s stock at just over a buck.
Message to Kmart: Please kill KmartForever.com. Looking at it makes our heads hurt.