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What Career Insight Can You Take from Kmart?

The other day I was walking around Kmart.  You remember Kmart right?  The place that used to compete with Walmart back in the day.  How things have changed.  Kmart failed to adapt to change or really differentiate themselves from the pack.  There is a lesson there for those who want to see it.

Why Was I in Kmart?

Why was I in Kmart you ask?  Well, honestly my wife and I had just completed a date night out for dinner at a local restaurant.  After the meal, we wanted to walk it off.  It was too dark and wet to really go to a park or much of anywhere so we decided to walk around the shopping center.

Bankruptcy Rubbernecking: Kmart

We finally settled on stopping in Kmart.  Honestly, both of us were just curious how bad things had gotten given the recent bankruptcy.  Like a pair of rubberneckers on the highway, we wanted to see how far the mighty have fallen.  I have to tell you, it was bad.

Disorganized shelves, merchandise on the floors, and not another customer in sight.  It reminded me of one of those disaster movies where they break into a giant deserted department store.  Anyway, as we walked around the store I began to ask myself what does Kmart mean these days?

What Brand?

It’s certainly not low prices because I see cheaper ones at Walmart or online.  High end, HA! Products I can’t get anywhere else?  Nope, they already sold all their proprietary brands.  Like its sibling Sears the only thing I could say that differentiated Kmart was there are no lines to compete with as we were the only shoppers there. (I recently got an oil change at Sears because it was the only place I didn’t have to wait in line).  Hardly a reason for anyone to come back.

It wasn’t always this way.  I remember as a kid shopping at Kmart and Sears around the holidays.  One particular year the parking lot of Sears was so full of shoppers my father had to double park.  The resulting ticket glued to his window a week before Christmas is still a sore spot of discussion.

Failure to Adapt to Change

So what happened?  Both stores failed to adapt to the changes wrought by Online Shopping and increasing competition.  If either has an online presence I’m not aware of it.  It might exist but it’s certainly not front and center.  Are they discount options or high end, unique or mainstream?  I honestly have no idea, and that is not a good sign.  The end is likely nigh for their company if your customers can’t pinpoint your value proposition.  That value proposition must change with the times, and there’s has not.

Your Career and the Importance of Adapting to Change

But honestly similar problems would also mark the end for a person’s career.    The work world is ever-changing.  30 years ago computers were just starting to enter the office space.    20 years ago the web began to eek in.    10 years ago and digital wasn’t in the discussion.  Today if you can’t do digital you are on borrowed time.  The person who can’t use email or a computer has probably already been canned.  

Email and Digital are general examples, but honestly, in every field there are more specific examples.  Things are constantly evolving with new technologies in the modern workforce.  Adapt or die so to speak.  One cannot stress enough your career depends on always learning and evolving your skills.  Take an extra class or an added assignment.  Always be looking for the next big thing lest that thing takes your job.

Adapt to Change: Avoid Dead End Jobs

Honestly, taking a class and always learning are not the end of it.  You need to direct your career path along jobs that have a future.  If we look in the past plenty of positions are long past gone.  When was the last time someone got a job as a phone operator for example?    Your current or next job, no matter what it pays, could go the same way.  That means those earliest in their career would be best served to always first evaluate a position for its future growth and adaptability potential.  Don’t just take the highest paying job out there,  If the job doesn’t exist in 5 years where does that leave you?  You get the picture.

Adapt to Change: Differentiation

Which brings us to standing out.  The labor market is just that, a market.  The supply and demand of labor dictate the pay of any worker.  The more laborers providing the same thing you are, the less the pay.  So it’s really important whether you work for someone else or run your own business that you differentiate from others.

What type of differentiation?  Well, the obvious is to just work harder than everyone else.  Let’s be honest though, that is a road to burn out over the long haul.  Also, to be honest, every Tom, Dick, and Harry who really wants to climb the ladder is also doing that.  It’s a race to the bottom.

No, the key is to pick something where you have a knack beyond most others.  Then focus your career around that skill or aspect.  Draft your resume and the way you present yourself around that aspect.  Above all stay on message.

Adapt to Change: Find Your Niche

So if you look at myself as an example, I found a niche years ago being able to bridge the gap between business and IT.  I can do either decently, but I am hardly differentiated as a pure play.  So I have spent the last 15 years of my career sitting in the wide crevice niche between the groups as a go-between.  The guy that can talk to the CEO about a plan, adjust processes, lead projects, and yes, design a system when needed.  You’d be amazed at how rare that skill set really is.  

That being said it’s also a small zone.  It’s a constant effort on my part to cast the message that I am neither IT nor just another operations manager.  Hence I’m also managing my message that I am somewhere in the middle.  Failure to manage that message might mean I get pigeonholed into one work or the other, thus eliminating my innate advantage.  

Now I am not saying my niche is for everyone.  In fact, I would kindly request you find your own lest mine become too crowded.  But I am suggesting you find that unique strength of yours.  Then apply it in some way to make yourself stand out to your employer or customer.  Then continue to develop it and other skills as you go.  Carefully consider each new job you take with respect to how it fits into your niche.  Finally, always keep learning.

Adapt to Change: Don’t Get Comfortable

Only the combination of differentiation and adaptability can ensure a long successful career.       Waiting for the trends to pass by you is too late.    Don’t get comfortable as those that get comfortable end up in bankruptcy.  Take what is happening with Kmart as a cautionary tale.


  1. Steveark
    Steveark July 3, 2019

    Good advice. As a guy who formerly ran a billion dollar business and then retired early, I used that unicorn strategy to build a one day a week consultancy to keep me mentally challenged. I basically monitor regulatory issues for other people running large businesses so they can focus on other things. Eight hours a week making six figures a year because I was the rare head guy who stayed in the weeds on regulations, which I did on purpose so I’d have this gig in retirement. Great post!

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance July 4, 2019

      Thanks Steve! From what I’ve seen regulatory is an underserved area so I can see that working.

  2. xrayvsn
    xrayvsn July 3, 2019

    It’s been a few years since I walked into a Kmart and that was a last ditch effort to get a plastic pumpkin container for my daughter for halloween trick or treating.

    It is funny but just the other day when I was wrapping up my latest travels I thought of how all things had to go through travel agents to plan a trip. I remember my dad would drive to the travel agency and sit there and then wait for his turn to make the necessary bookings. Now it can be done instantaneously and much cheaper.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance July 4, 2019

      Great point, I can’t remember the last time we were in a travel agency office.

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