What Are The Warning Signs That A Retail Store Is Folding?

I remember seeing several local retail chains die…stores like Ames, Bradley’s, Caldor, etc.
I remember that all of these stores seemed to pass into a condition where things were not looking well. The signs are things like:
-empty and poorly stocked shelves
-mechandise being heavily discounted
-old stock hanging around (like last season’s stuff)
-no help around, few cheeckout counters manned
-dirty/unwashed floors
That is what KMART looked like to me recently…are they teetering on the brink?


The empty shelves thing is a pretty good sign.

There was a video store near me that suddenly had a sale on all of their videos. They’d still rent things, but everything was also for sale. I got a bunch of stuff for myself. Then they closed for a couple of months. When they reopened, they started off with the stock that they had leftover, then started getting in new releases. Every movie left from before 1998 (or whtever it was) was pure crap, because all the good movies had been sold. Want to see something like Ghostbusters or The Godfather? Tough luck. But you could rent The Yin and Yang of Mr. Go.

They permanently closed a year later.

Structural damage with the buildings and signs. Burnt out bulbs in signs and missing floor tiles for more than a couple weeks are a good sign they are in trouble.

Unfinished construction for a remodel.

They keep trying new ways to sell stuff every month.

They make the clerks push merchandise left on the sales counter.

They put up displays all over the aisles that restrict aisles to being a cart wide. They put shopping carts full of merchandise and the product displays where people normally stand to que up for the checkouts

They don’t plow the parking lots or salt the entrance.

Lots of the same items in different places - kinda related to the empty shelves thing - but with the gaps filled up with whatever they’ve still got.

Entirely missing fixtures for products that are supplied and merchandised by the supplier, or supplied on consignment - the supplier may have uplifted the stands as well as their stock.

If by “recently” you mean “for the past 25 years”, then yeah, it’s been a recent change in KMARTs status :slight_smile:

When I was working for a video store about 10 years ago as they were closing, the telltale signs were a whole bunch of crappy movies. We had one (single) copy of the sixth sense when it came out on video, and two dozen copies of “eyes wide shut”. Our new release wall was mostly stuff people didn’t want to see, but we put the crap out there so we didn’t have a bunch of empty space on the wall. Eventually we stopped getting new releases altogether, and were instructed to keep pushing rentals of the older crappy movies.

Another sign was that employees (not me) would deeply discount or give away merchandise to people as a sort of protest against the company. They would waive late fees and in at least one case alter the account information of a customer so it would be impossible for the company to try to collect from them. The employees would ask people out on dates. Basically everything got lax. I eventually got fired from that job before the store closed, because a jackass manager whose store had already closed asked me to re-arrange the thousands of movies in the store, and I basically told her to stuff it.

Nah, that’s pretty much Kmart for ya. Especially the “few checkout counters manned”–that’s been SOP for a long time. Almost like they don’t want you to pay for stuff.

My dad will be sad if they do go under, though. Apparently, they are a cheap source for his “you better not be making meth with this” sinus medicine. He was excited to see that there was still a Kmart near my house, since the one near him closed.

The computer store I’d bought my Mac from a few years ago moved from a converted warehouse in a déclassé neightbourhood near the tracks (Bathurst and Dupont, for those who know Toronto) to a second-floor walkup in an area that desperately wanted to be part of the ritzy Yorkville shopping disctrict. This was apparently a bad move. Let me explain.

I went in there relatively often, and bought accessories and my printer there. I asked about a widget that would let me connect my turntable to my Mac. They’d had one, but I didn’t have the money. I came in later with the money and they were out of stock. I asked when they would be getting new ones, and they couldn’t tell me. I came in a couple of times in the following weeks in a browsing mood; still no widget.

One fine Saturday, I got to the door to discover it locked. There was a “we missed you” notice from a courier on the door. There was no other indication that something was wrong, not even a sign on the door. I checked the store’s website: they had closed. This was evidently very sudden; three months earlier, they’d been advertising for service techs.

My guess is that in moving from an out-of-the-way but easily-visible and presumably inexpensive location to a smaller but probably more expensive location with bad visibility, they set themselves up for failure.

There was only one door from the street up to the new store. For the majority of pedestrians, who approached from the subway and the corner of Yonge and Bloor, the entrance was invisible from a distance, being out of sight behind the corner of the pub next door. There was no large sign; just a “sandwich-board” sign and a small canopy over the door.

For people arriving by car, the entrance was more visible and near a large parking garage, but you have to know that the garage is there. It’s off a side street.

Having to climb a set of steep and narrow stairs to get to the store probably dissuaded people too. I know getting my iMac up there would have been awkward.

I suspect that their business went down dramatically after the move, and their fixed expenses (rent?) went dramatically up.

Unfinished construction for a remodel is often just a way of covering the lack of stock - so it doesn’t look so thinly spread, they close off areas for “remodelling” without any genuine expectation that any will occur. Sometimes whole floors are closed down.

I was an occasional visitor to an inner-city pub run by two brothers that was so on its uppers that the breweries wouldn’t extend credit for kegs. They had to scrape money together to nip out to another pub, pay bottleshop prices for bottled beer, then stick the bottles in wooden tubs of ice on the bar (they couldn’t afford refrigeration any more) and try to make money selling the bottles at the bar prices markup. When they got enough sales, they would discreetly go out and buy more bottles (and ice). The beer on ice thing was presented reasonably well as a quirky gimmick, but you pretty much knew something was up.

They got incredibly lucky one February - they were struggling to pay their power bills, so they turned off the lights, put candles all around and pretended it was a Valentine’s Day promotion.

They also eventually got done pinching cash from the gambling till. They had tried to blame a barmaid. When that happened, they lost a lot of the residual goodwill they had had (which was substantial) and went under. I suspect problem gambling may have been behind all their problems because they should have done OK.

Eventually went under in the end.

Print advertising gets much more junky-looking and busier.

There was a clothing store that opened up near me, and the first time I walked in there I knew it was doomed. It was in a crappy basement location in a place where there was not much visibility. The clothes were trendy and hip, and way overpriced. It was a great place to spend $90 on a t-shirt. This is in a neighborhood mostly populated by poor college students.

But the real kicker was the owner and employees. They never smiled, never said hello, and generally acted annoyed with customers.

they lasted about a year.

How about when the owner offers to sell the business to you?

This happened to me awhile back. It was a new comic book store (after the comic book boom on the 90s had collapsed) that had been open for no more than two months.

I went in for the first time just to check it out. I didn’t know the guy, but he asked if I wanted to buy the business. He was serious.

I declined.

The store closed a few weeks later.

I know Sears bought out KMart several years ago (thinking, about 5? 6?), when KMart was pretty much just going to shut down. It seems things aren’t getting a whole lot better for the two now:

There’s a local mom & pop grocery store near me.

  • Expired food everywhere on the shelves. ALWAYS check ALL expiration dates there.

  • Poorly stocked shelves

  • Gradual decline in the variety of things offered

  • Recently, they completely emptied and shut down an entire shopping aisle. They blocked it off with a big display.

Coupon promotions. As in pay $10 for a coupon that gets you $20 worth of merchandise. You see it a lot for restaurants. Or it’s pay $20 and get a lifetime 40% discount.

It’s a way of drawing money out of your business name or reputation, before it starts to slide. Often the restaurant will close or change hands/names and the coupons will be useless. It’s an effective way of grabbing cash for promises you won’t have to honour.

People enclosed in sandwich board signs patrolling blocks away from the storefront.

I was just wondering this last night.

There is a local sub shop (excellent) that just recently began franchising. Unfortunately, no one seems to shop at the 2 new stores.

The one I was in last night around 6 PM had maybe 2 customers come in while I was there (~15 minutes).

What made me wonder was seeing the drink coolers mostly empty. They had about one cooler full of stock spread among 4. I’m guessing that may be a sign of demise.

My daughter is in college. She has a part time job at Movie Gallery. A while back she told me that their new releases were coming in late. A quick search online, and I emailed her about their bankruptcy.

The purchase actually happened the other-way-around; Kmart Holding Corp. bought Sears for $11 billion in 2004 when Kmart was on one of its periodic “we just barely survived bankruptcy again!” stock price surges, merged the two companies, then changed their name to Sears Holding. Sears may not have been doing well at the time, but the merger seems to have made things worse.

I worked for a higher end division of a national home improvement big box. Think high-end department store rather than warehouse in appearance.

They announced they were closing the division. We didn’t have a clue. Not even the store manager. They had just remodeled one of the major showrooms, did some nice enhancements in others, merchandise for the new season was arriving, etc. We found out the same day they sent out the press release to the media. Our regular customers–many in the middle of substantial projects–were shocked.

Nope, with our division, no signs at all. Oh yeah, and our store was definitely in the black. A few others weren’t doing well but everyone thought they used the current recession as an excuse to unload a division management didn’t really know how to run properly on a national level.

After the announcement all hell broke loose as people were coming in for bargains… You haven’t lived until you’ve gone through a liquidation sale… Jeez…