Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Advertising Age Marks 50 Years of "Retail Revolution"

The current issue of Advertising Age* has a collection of articles about the "Retail Revolution" that began in 1962. Did you know that Target, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, and Kohls all opened their first stores that year?** Bonus points: Can you name which state each retailer started in? (Btw, although the graphic is correct, the lead article text flubs the order.) Although the articles focus on advertising (of course), there are some interesting facts tucked inside.

Alas, a magazine offers limited depth; I would love to read a book about these four competitors and how their paths have varied over the years. For example, K-Mart started big, opening 150 stores within a few years. Their goal was to become bigger than Sears, and although they succeeded, surely they never expected to merge with Sears 40 years later when both were in decline (in another article a retail expert describes K-Mart as "a slow-motion train wreck"). In contrast, Target and Kohls grew more slowly. The article doesn't compare apples to apples, but Target had 50 stores in 1976 and Kohls had only 40 stores in 1986. The companies also had different growth strategies. While the other chains opened stores in cities and suburbs where more potential customers lived, Wal-Mart dominated large towns in rural areas early on, waiting until it was huge to launch in suburbs and eventually cities. I remember when the only Wal-Mart around Chicago was in Plano, about 50 miles from the city. I also remember what was probably my first visit to a Target in 1987 in Bismarck, ND, three years before its parent Dayton Hudson shocked Chicagoans by purchasing Marshall Field's.

It's beyond the scope of Advertising Age's coverage, but these chains also played a key role in the bookstore segment. Target's parent company started B. Dalton Booksellers in 1966 and sold it to Barnes & Noble in 1987. K-Mart acquired Waldenbooks in 1984 and Borders in 1992, eventually merging the two and spinning them off into one ill-fated company.

* Last time I checked, adage.com required readers to register to read articles, but there is no charge, at least while the issue is current.

** A commenter notes that Shopko and Woolco also started in 1962.

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