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Vendors Await Kmart’s Plans

<CS:BOLD>NEW YORK -- If retailing were a democracy and vendors were voters, the informal polls would have Kmart Corp. filing Chapter 11. <BR><BR>Alan Melamed, who heads up a credit reporting service under his name, said Tuesday: "My clients are...

NEW YORK — If retailing were a democracy and vendors were voters, the informal polls would have Kmart Corp. filing Chapter 11.

Alan Melamed, who heads up a credit reporting service under his name, said Tuesday: “My clients are closely following the situation. One company that has $9 million in orders said to me, ‘I wish they would file so I could ship.’ A week ago, I wasn’t that concerned, now I am because of the lack of vendor support.”

Melamed said that, according to his analysis, 90 percent of Kmart’s assets are centered in its inventory and that such a high percentage could be extremely troublesome if a huge chunk of that merchandise is somehow deemed nonsaleable.

At a dinner hosted by investment bank Financo Inc. on Monday, Martha Stewart of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. said that her company was “nervous” over the recent developments at Kmart. Martha Stewart Living, a home line carried exclusively by the discounter, generates annual revenue of $1.5 billion. She admitted to being “very anxious to see what happens with this large, American company.” Stewart also acknowledged that in a personal meeting with Kmart chief executive officer Chuck Conaway, the ceo admitted that the situation at Kmart was more difficult than he thought it would be.

Kmart’s board met Monday night and was still reviewing the firm’s options Tuesday evening. A spokesman at press time declined comment on the discussions and advised there might not be any news from the retailer on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, Salomon Smith Barney downgraded Kimco Realty to “neutral” from “outperform,” based on the uncertainty surrounding Kmart, Kimco’s largest tenant. Kmart represents about 13 percent of rents in the Kimco portfolio.

Another company that will be touched directly by Kmart’s actions is Footstar, one analyst observed. Its Meldisco unit operates licensed footwear departments in Kmart and Rite Aid drugstores and contributes toward 90 percent of Footstar’s profits.

On Tuesday, shares of Kmart fell for the fourth day in a row to close at $2.45, down 39 cents, in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. In intraday trading, shares dropped as low as $2.29.

While Kmart shares and bonds have been reacting as if a bankruptcy filing is expected shortly, vendors and suppliers have been busy figuring out how to protect themselves.

One private label apparel vendor said Tuesday that a substantial replenishment order was just about to be shipped to Kmart late last week when company executives abruptly decided to stop shipment. Other vendors, according to market sources, have been doing the same thing because of a dearth of information from which to evaluate Kmart’s financial condition. Sources said that even those vendors whose major client is Kmart — and who are most likely to accept new orders because of their inability to make up the lost business — are either halting ready-to-go shipments or delaying production on the new orders.

At least one label supplier, a source said, wasn’t even planning on adding to its stock of labels for Kmart’s company-owned brands. “Labels will be printed on an as-needed basis when orders are placed,” she said.

Martha Stewart reportedly is scouring alternate channels of distribution should her contract with Kmart go south. Laura Richardson, an analyst at Adams, Harkness & Hill Inc., said: “We don’t know that the contingencies are in terms of the company’s ability to switch partners. Martha Stewart is such a great brand that many retailers would want to carry the brand. However, it took Martha Stewart since the Nineties to build up the assortment it has now for Kmart. For another retailer to immediately take all those [stockkeeping units], about 5,000 total, is a big assortment to commit to. I don’t think it can be done right away.”

Martha Stewart and Kmart on June 21, 2001 jointly announced the signing of a new long-term agreement for home and gardening products that continues until 2008 with conditional renewal until 2013.

Jeffrey Klinefelter of U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray noted in a November research report that under the terms of the contract, Martha Stewart Living receives “higher royalty revenues and eliminates expense reimbursement.”