Kmart Looks to Kwash the Kompetition

Discussion
May 19, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Kmart is hoping to clean up with a new laundromat concept
it is testing in Iowa City, IA.

The concept known as Kwash is located in an
area that formerly housed the Kmart store’s car care center. The facility includes
31 washers and 30 dryers and includes free Wi-Fi, a play area for kids, a wash-and-fold
service and on-site laundry attendant.

Kim Freely, a spokesperson for Kmart,
told the Iowa City Press-Citizen,
that Kwash is intended as a convenience for shoppers. "(It’s) so you can
shop while you wash. You can do all of your shopping right there and after an
hour, you can pick it up."

Another Kmart spokesperson, Chris Brathwaite,
told American Coin-Op, "We
hope to build new customer relationships through the availability of the laundromat
and through our premium services — [drop-off service] and [online shopping] — and
hopefully create a steady stream of multitasking laundry customers."

The
Kwash in Iowa City is currently in the process of going through a soft opening
with its grand debut planned for June 5. Kmart has said it will evaluate the
test store before making decisions on whether to expand it to other locations.

Discussion Question: Do you think Kmart is on to something with its Kwash
laundromat service? Will it help boost sales in Kmart stores as consumers take
care of their laundry and shopping at the same time and in the same place?

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29 Comments on "Kmart Looks to Kwash the Kompetition"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

“Klearly” they are all “Kwashed” up! What’s next “KShines” for your shoes?

Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

This story resonates in two ways: It illustrates how much unproductive real estate is sitting in Sears Holdings’ portfolio, and it also shows how Kmart is aiming at more downscale consumers. (The successful layaway program was another example.) Bottom line: Sears Holdings doesn’t appear to have a viable strategy for Kmart centered around merchandise content, marketing, or some meaningful reinvention of their store format. And do consumers, no matter how budget-oriented, really want to shop in the same place where people are washing their clothes?

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 11 months ago

The answer to whether Kwash will succeed is how serious Kmart takes the concept and how they execute the program. The concept is great since doing laundry is a time killer and now consumers can shop while they wait.

A clean, well operated Laundromat is the key to their success. If the place is not well maintained and no better than other options in town, then this is well be a quick opening and closing. If Kmart finds a way to integrate the Laundromat with the Kmart store, it could be a huge success. Maybe customers receive a 10% coupon for Kmart when they use the Laundromat and a 15% coupon when they use the wash and fold service. Also, why not have really nice glass displays of sale merchandise in the Laundromat?

Building a tie between the two would really be interesting.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

This is an old idea being recycled as new. I’m not a laundry expert but I would guess if people don’t have the wherewithal to own their own washing machine, they probably don’t have a lot of disposable income. Ahh, just the customer Kmart usually gets. Also, since Kmart is at the bottom of the list when it comes to sales per square foot for retailing, it means people don’t like them. This will probably carry over into any venture Kmart makes.

I wonder what is more lucrative? A car care center or a laundromat? Maybe they should look at Wal-Mart and wonder why Wal-Mart isn’t filling up valuable retail space with washers and dryers.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

While this idea is somewhat interesting, it is far more important that Kmart focuses its money and brainpower on fixing their base business. This is like playing the fiddle while Rome burns. But, then, what else would you expect from Kmart?

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Is Kmart paying to have an attendant inside each facility watching the clothes? Do customers have to come back to switch clothes from the washer to the dryer? Is there someone qualified with sufficient liability insurance to watch the kids in the play area? If not, then customers won’t leave to go into the store while the clothes are being washed. Did they think it through?

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 11 months ago

So, with home ownership rates at historical highs and home rentals declining and Gen Y simply living at home longer, you build a service into your business that appeals primarily to apartment renters?

I’d love to see the research that supported this decision.

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Kmart continues to work hard to deliver to the low end of the consumer market. I hope they are testing their way into this, even if inspired by shopper research. Theoretically, I can see consumers saying this could work in focus groups. But in reality, I’m not sure how many would really feel like shopping in a store that also is a laundromat is truly an enhanced shopping experience. Maybe this is a very select strategy to serve very rural areas where services are limited. If that’s the case, they could add basic medical clinics as well, which would seem to make more sense.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 11 months ago

Someone, somewhere in Lempert Land, must think laundering is akin to a Golden Sales Wand. Me thinks that Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck must be tumbling over and over in their washing machine graves.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

I am not sure what Sears Holdings is thinking when they came up with this strategy. There must be bundles of unproductive real estate in their portfolio to attempt this. Who is their targeted audience? Who is going to man the sites 24/7 that the general populus will trust? Who is responsible for lost items? I must be missing something here.

I start my wash when I leave home and finish it when I return. And guess what: It is all here with nothing missing when I return! Or I do it while watching TV in the evening.

Public wash locations have not been something the general population has ever been attracted to. What makes Kmart and Sears think they have discovered the next holy grail of cash cows? This is not what it is portrayed in the movies where boy meets girl and they fall in love. This is something most of us hope we never have to utilize.

Chuck Palmer
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

OMG. This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. I hope they at least use Kenmore machines. Yikes. Do they have any idea what they are doing? Or better yet, do they ever learn from these arrows in the night?

Jesse Rooney
Guest
Jesse Rooney
10 years 11 months ago

Sit & Spin was a remarkable laundromat-restaurant-club that was an iconic destination in Seattle with many loyal patrons. It is now closed. If Seattle can’t support a hip, hybrid laundromat then Kmart in Iowa City doesn’t have a prayer.

Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
10 years 11 months ago

I find this is an interesting concept, particularly if they have done market research to show a good dovetail between their target customer and the lack of home laundry facilities. If there is any niche for Kmart, I believe it is at the bottom of the economic scale as Walmart steadily upscales. There’s no shame in that.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
10 years 11 months ago

I’m with Doug–love to see the research on this one (consumers, markets, sales per square foot, traffic, etc, etc). I can’t imagine it will move the needle in any significant (positive) way for Kmart.

PJ Walker
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

I agree with Doug (Retail Prophet): I’d also like to see the research that supports this decision. I can see setting up a laundromat next to a convenience store but a retail store? And there would have to be some great tie-ins to get people to leave their laundry in machines while they shop–I’m not seeing it, but I’m curious as to how this will play out.

Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
10 years 11 months ago

One of the best examples of groupthink I have seen in a while. I can just picture the meeting….

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Kwash is an oddity, to be sure. If the test unit provides a comfortable lounge for netbook-toting launderers and laundresses, it might achieve a kind of hipster status as a social hub. It would help to sell beer and wine.

Unfortunately it sounds more like a place where many patrons would rather be somewhere else and others would arrive packing their own 40-oz. in brown bags.

Art Ruder
Guest
Art Ruder
10 years 11 months ago

How close is the Kmart to off-campus housing areas for the University of Iowa?

Drew McElligott
Guest
Drew McElligott
10 years 11 months ago

Iowa City is a college town, so assuming this is a location near campus housing and a concept catered to campus stores, then I give them credit and think it can make a lot of sense strictly for those locations/markets with those campustown characteristics. You still have to wonder about newer campus developments with laundry as an on-site amenity, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that this has been researched.

Now, if however this is planned as a potential broad initiative some day for all stores, then you will peak my skepticism — because at that point I’d say you’ve put too many MBAs in a room and your brand is too stained and suspect and largely unsustainable (as is therefore Kwash). And that’s how I kinda feel about the myGofer concept.

And on a PR tip–didn’t anyone consider how quickly cynics will gravitate to the eventual headline, “How Soon Before Kwash Gets Skwashed?”! Just a thought.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Like DigiDiva, I see this as something that seems like a better idea for a C-store than for a big store like a Kmart. It may work in some rural areas that need more laundromats, but it may not, too.

Anything Kmart can do to improve the use of all that unused real estate is probably to the good. I don’t see them as believing this is their panacea, or their way out of trouble. Hey, if they can’t sell the real estate, might as well get some use out of it, and this is one idea. Might as well hype it, too, to help it succeed in whatever way it can.

All in all, however, this has become one of those slow horrific deaths that is difficult to watch without flinching. So many good people have been hurt by Kmart’s senior management floundering in recent years.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
10 years 11 months ago

I am not sure I want to spend that much time at Kmart (or ANY store for that matter). Yet it may make sense for certain demographic/lifestyle. Yet what about the loitering, beer drinking, etc?

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

OK, I’m late to the party in posting my opinions about how this clearly is a desperation move to the downscale side.

So here’s my only troubling thorn in our collective reasoning–how is it that the recent Chicago Sun Times listing of CEO compensation and return to shareholders for CEOs in the Chicago area listed the following:

BEST SHAREHOLDER RETURN
1. W. Bruce Johnson, Sears Holdings, 115%

Somebody’s doing something right over there….

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
10 years 11 months ago

While this is another example of Sears Holdings thinking creatively outside of the box trying to add value, I agree with Gene Detroyer. The fate of both Sears and Kmart rests with their ability to reinvigorate their base businesses, and make both relevant again to their respective target markets.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

I give Ms.(Mr.?) Freely props for putting a positive spin on this idea (yuk, yuk, yuk), but I’d love to be a soap bubble on the wall at Kmart HQ when this idea is evaluated: what, pray tell, would constitute “success”?

Bob Houk
Guest
Bob Houk
10 years 11 months ago

I’m very much in the minority here, but I think this could be a good idea and is worth a test, which is all it’s getting.

It could work in a college town or an area with lots of apartments. Obviously it wouldn’t work in a suburb where almost everyone lives in single-family homes.

I agree with the concerns about keeping the area clean, and about security–can I feel safe leaving my clothes while shopping?

Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 11 months ago

Great idea! It keeps the shoppers in the store longer, and anything that does this increases sales. It would be even better if they offered a dry cleaning service along with it. This will attract both upscale and downscale customers, while services like quick pressing in just an hour, can keep customers in the store. This type of thinking will keep Kmart resonating in a down economy.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 11 months ago

That’s not the problem! If you can’t deliver on your basic business proposition, tacking a laundry on the side isn’t going to help. Do you buy used, inefficient machines so you keep customers waiting longer so they have more wander in the store time? Pardon me, but this is the kind of thinking that is killing American retail. No one seems to be working the floor. Everyone seems to want to sit in an office and jump from one silver bullet fix to another. It ain’t gonna work!