Can a Millennial-Focused Reboot Save Kmart?

By Markets Fool.com

When a business run by older people makes big changes to appeal to younger people, the whole affair runs the risk of coming off like your grandparents hitting the clubs.

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Attempting to be hip and relevant can often backfire. Just putting on the right outfit or using the correct slang may not be enough to pull off the charade.

Trying to appeal to young people by speaking their language might work for Sears Holdings' (NASDAQ: SHLD) Kmart, but it's more likely to be way off, like when the Pillsbury Doughboy rapped. Sears Holdings deserves credit for trying to revive its failing brand, but admitting you're trying to appeal to "a new Millennial Kmart audience," as the company did in a press release this week, comes off as desperate.

The classic Kmart look may be in need of an update. Image source: Sears Holdings.

What is happening?

The retailer has held a grand reopening for its completely revamped Des Plaines store in Illinois. Dubbing the changes "A Whole Lotta Awesome," the company said it created the new concept based on "customer insights and feedback," claiming that "as a result, Kmart is providing improved and bragworthy product offerings, an enhanced shopping experience and a reinvigorated store environment for members."

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The grand reopening included an appearance by basketball great Scottie Pippen, The Rise Challenge (a slam-dunk contest created to celebrate Kmart's house sneaker brand), sales, and prize giveaways.

"We are excited about the relaunch of the Des Plaines store because it exemplifies our dedication to our members and it's in our own backyard," said Kmart President Alasdair James in the press release. "We want our members to know we are listening to their feedback and bringing them new products, deals and experiences they'll love!"

The new store includes a number of new services and rebranded offerings. These include an improved customer service center; "Shoparazzi," a free personal concierge service that does the shopping for you; and "Aisle of WOW!," an aisle devoted to deals that also houses "Dollarpalooza," a section where everything costs $1.

The new store also offers "Super 6," a store-within-a-store "featuring six outrageously priced items and a fully stocked grocery section packed with local, fresh produce." In addition, the store has a "beauty bar" featuring products and experts, an upgraded pharmacy, an improved candy section, a bigger pet-care area, and a full-service paint shop. There are also new signs and wider aisles.

"In an effort to evolve the Kmart brand to better serve our members, we will continue these efforts to test and learn at our stores," said Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Cook. "Our goal is to deliver the best value, price, product and experience, and in doing so, we believe our members will keep coming back for more of A Whole Lotta Awesome!"

Will it work?

Kmart deserves credit for trying, but many of these moves feel like it's trying too hard. However, going after younger customers makes sense as a way to revitalize the Kmart brand and some of these ideas are good ones even if the branding reeks of desperation. If Kmart uses its first "Whole Lotta Awesome" store as a lab, it may learn what appeals to millennials and what does not. It can then take those concepts to the rest of the chain, perhaps in a more subtle fashion.

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Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. He cannot pull off acting like a millennial. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.