Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Clearance of a Long Relationship

Walk into a Kmart store today and you’ll be hard pressed to find Martha Stewart Everyday merchandise. The aisles are being cleared to make way for the new girl in town: Country Living Magazine. The sprinkling of merchandise that remains in the stores might be found on an end cap or on the special clearance aisle in the back of the store. Martha Stewart has left the building.

A merchandise powerhouse known to millions of shoppers, Martha Stewart Everyday was the dominant force in bed, bath, kitchen, garden and holiday at Kmart. Introduced in March of 1997 with two quality levels of bed and bath items, MSE brought a new sense of style to the typical Kmart customer. Shoppers could select between the Blue Label collection of bedding that featured 180 thread count sheets and the White Label line that touted the softness of a 200 thread count. With solids, checks, stripes and prints, the blue and white label bedding and bath coordinates flew off store shelves as the country was eager to be just like Martha. It was a marriage made in heaven, despite the constant ‘image struggle’ of high class diva to mass market cheap-o retailer.

By October of the same year, the MSE bed and bath collections expanded with a new Silver Label program that featured 100% cotton sheets, jacquard comforter sets and Matelasse coverlets. Also introduced that fall was a line of kitchen textiles and window treatments. Bed pillows were also introduced as part of the MSE brand. Quality had reached a new height at Kmart and the public was mad about Martha. Kmart customers couldn’t get enough and wanted more.

The line continued to gain popularity and proved to be profitable for both Kmart and MSLO. New items were being added seasonally, including a line of “Martha Stewart Holiday” kitchen textiles that first year. (The textiles were later replaced with larger holiday selections once the holiday line hit store shelves)

In May of 1999, MSE expanded into the Garden Shop, with a line of quality tools, potting soils, seed starting, pots and planters, and a very successful line of garden furniture. The garden furniture in particular was a huge seller in mass market. Touching a variety of quality levels and price points, MSE Garden did for the seasonal business what it had done for bed and bath. It raised the bar on mass market and made quality merchandise affordable to the average Kmart customer.

The next year, brought the MSE live plant and seed program to Kmart. A wide range of plants, from annuals to vegetables brought consumers in, wanting a piece of what was in Martha’s garden. Unfortunately, the live plant program only lasted the one year. Quality issues from the growers as well as Kmart’s commitment to making sure the plants remained ‘lush’ while lining their outdoor garden area, prompted the decision to eliminate the program.

Just in time for the holidays, MSE Kitchen was introduced in the fall of 2000 at Kmart stores across the country. Coordinating glassware, flatware, and dinnerware collections were designed to help the Kmart customer create beautiful, versatile table settings for every occasion. Martha Stewart Everyday Kitchen also included pots, pans, utensils, serving pieces, and cutlery. MSE Kitchen made life in the kitchen easy as well as stylish. The rollout of MSE Kitchen was touted as one of the most successful brand extension rollouts in Kmart history.

Right on the heels of the Kitchen rollout, Martha Stewart Holiday hit the shelves with a HUGE reception from the buying public. Iconic Martha holiday crafts and images from the television show were now available for sale to make the holiday season a Merry Martha Christmas. Ornaments, lights, wreaths, garlands, trees, and tabletop coordinates took the majority of shelf space during the seasonal selling period. The unveiling of the holiday line in years to follow was something shoppers looked forward to, wanting to turn their home in to Turkey Hill for the holidays.

The last extension of the MSE brand came in 2005 with the introduction of Martha Stewart Everyday Rooms – a line of ready to assemble furniture for the bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bath. Stylish in design, the RTA line of furniture was great to look at and was very high quality for the price point. It was easy to assemble, and gave the home that “Martha look” and feel. While not as successful as had been hoped for, the line expanded twice to include a country kitchen theme and a modern deco theme. Plans to create a line of home office furnishings never became a reality.

Smaller but no less important brand extensions also took place with MSE: picture frames and home decorating items, candles, lighting, decorative pillows, Baby-baby, paint and clocks filled the shelves, making Martha Stewart Everyday items available for most every need in the home.

I’d say, Martha Stewart Everyday was pretty significant to Kmart. Unfortunately, they weren’t willing to do their part to continue the relationship.

After Kmart emerged from bankruptcy and Martha emerged from that unfortunate prison thing, negotiations began for the future of the Everyday line at Kmart. Kmart, being cautious of huge out pouring of cash and Martha, not budging on the need for quality and how that should happen, couldn’t reach an agreement to continue the line at Kmart. Martha Stewart Everyday, as we know it, will contractually cease in January of next year. However, to look in a Kmart store today, you’d hardly know it ever existed.

As I was walking through Kmart recently, looking around to get a feel for the transition, there was a sadness that came over me. Martha items tossed onto back of store shelves, signage torn in half or nonexistent, and clearance stickers over everything, signaled the death of the brand. I knew as I walked the aisles looking for a hint of MSE life, that my days as a Kmart shopper were numbered. Prior to the MSE introduction, I never shopped at Kmart. Post MSE, I can’t say I’ll regularly step foot in the store again. Why should I?

While breaking up is hard to do, this could be the start of something even better for Martha and company. Rumors are running rampant about where the “mass market” retail relationship will land next. Some say Kohl’s, some say Target (actually many HOPE for Target!), reports have surfaced that Home Depot will carry the garden line. There has been no official announcement from the company other than an announcement will be coming!

So, until we see how Martha Stewart Everyday will be reincarnated and where it will live, we live with the memory of Kmart shopping days gone by.

Farewell, Everyday. The newest line from Martha Stewart and Kmart.


mike said...

I'm printing this post out - I LOVE it. How lucky you saved all those wonderful circulars. What a fantastic post, I only "found" Martha in 2001 - during the holiday season, and been hooked ever since. I'll miss the wonderful products that were reasonably-priced and packaged so beautifully (especially the holiday products). Guess what season I love the best??? Great post Kenn!

Svarga said...

I still remember my first MSE purchase - the colorblock shower curtain and bath mat (which I still have today!)

I always loved the MSE packaging and logos -- designed by Gael Towey's husband .. espcially the Kitchen logo with the bowls

and I think my favorite part of the MSE line was the Baby Baby line ..
they were the best gifts! ever for a new mom ...

So long Kmart! ... Hello ...??

Sarah said...

I would like to know if there will still be a Holiday line this year, since the contract is up at the end of 09. I sure hope so. Every holiday I buy way to much MSE giftwrap because it is vintage inspired and unique, and then I dont want to use it all! I already have two Martha tree skirts, one from last season is heavy felt with cutouts, I love it.

My local KMart's still have quite a bit left, especially boxed glasses and the bath section. I am waiting for the prices to drop further on a few items.

Does anyone know if the Holiday line will appear this year?

Kenn said...

Hi Sarah,
From what I know, there will NOT be a holiday line this year at Kmart. The stores are clearing out the remaining inventory so it's unlikely that they'll bring in a holiday collection. I liked the holiday line! I'll miss it!

John R. said...

It is such a sad goodbye! I can still remember when I was very young, even before I knew who Martha was, my mother bought a set of dishes and on the back they read "At Home With Martha Stewart - Westport Classic". How I wish she still had those dishes. I think they came from Kmart, she said they did. This would have been the late 80s/early 90s I think.
I even have and still use, to this day, a Martha Stewart Everyday Table Top Gas BBQ Grill. Kenn - remember the short lived line of MSE Gas & Charcoal BBQ grills, grilling tools, as well as MSE smoking wood chips?

Elaine said...

Thank you for outlining the history of MSE at Kmart! It is so very sad to see it disappearing from the shelves and the disarray of everything Martha at Kmart. I just hope we don't have to go to too many different stores to get the MSE products in the future.