Kmart fighting to regain form

The rejuvenation of Kmart Canada is already evident in-store this holiday season with each of its 122 locations chock-a-block with a new range of merchandise. This scene is in dramatic contrast to last year when its then-parent company, U.S.-based Kmart Corp.,...

The rejuvenation of Kmart Canada is already evident in-store this holiday season with each of its 122 locations chock-a-block with a new range of merchandise.

This scene is in dramatic contrast to last year when its then-parent company, U.S.-based Kmart Corp., kept shelves sparse and stocked with clearance items in order to make the Canadian operation cheaper to sell.

Now word has leaked onto the street that the retailer is in the early stages of an agency review. Graeme Spicer, general manager of marketing, declines to comment on the matter, but says he’ll be in a better position to discuss Kmart’s advertising plans in a few weeks. He does say Kmart will be more active with its marketing activities in 1998.

For the past two to three years, Kmart has handled advertising in-house with O’Rourke Communications of Toronto working on the most recent projects.

One of the major campaigns to watch for, says Spicer, is the March launch of Martha Stewart Everyday, a new bed, bath and linen line.

Since its purchase by a group of Canadian and American investors in June, Kmart of Brampton, Ont. has imported a roster of heavy-hitters to fill management positions throughout the company and is now poised to step up its marketing activities in 1998.

The evolution began with with appointment of George Heller, president and ceo, who was previously president of North America and Europe for Bata Industries.

The person responsible for the new look in-store and the influx of new merchandise is Thomas Haig, senior vice-president of merchandising who was brought in from the T. Eaton Co. in July.

Spicer joined the team this fall along with two seasoned fashion merchandisers. They are Don Smith, the new general merchandise manager for men’s and children’s fashions, who was previously with the Randy River division of Woolworth Canada, and Sylvia Bachelder, general merchandise manager for women’s fashion and family footwear, who comes from Wal-Mart Canada.

Spicer himself came from a two-year stint at Bata Retail Canada, where he was responsible for marketing The Athletes World and Bata Family Shoe Store chains in Canada.

He also spent time on the agency side with one year at Blitz Direct, a division of Cossette Communication-Marketing, where he worked on the Nike business; two years at The Cundari Group; and five years running his own sales promotion agency that worked primarily on the Coca-Cola Canada business.

The company recently signed an agreement with Kmart Corp. of Troy, Mich., that allows Kmart Canada to continue to use the Kmart name in Canada as well as other important product trademarks, such as Martha Stewart Everyday, through January 2002.

Spicer says Kmart still has high brand recognition, especially in smaller towns and suburban areas, even though it hasn’t been a heavy advertiser for a while.

‘We haven’t been nearly as active from a media standpoint as Wal-Mart since its introduction, and Zellers has a very aggressive ongoing advertising campaign.

‘But at the end of the day, our recognition is just as strong as either of those two competitors in the Canadian marketplace, and Kmart is seen as very much an ingrained part of the community.’