Wednesday, September 2, 2015

First Kmart Blue Light Special was flashed on Colfax Avenue

I have this on no less of an authority than Bob Anderson, one of the Kmart workers who conceived the blue-light idea. It took place 30 years ago at the first Kmart store in the Denver area, No. 4101 at 7325 W. Colfax Avenue.

“Self-help department stores were a new idea, “Anderson writes,” we had a whole new merchandising system. I was managing men's wear. We had to have a fast turnover for it to work.

“When we had slow moving items, we had to move them out. We announced “15 minute specials” (on the store’s public address system), but people couldn’t find out where they were. We tried helium balloons, beach balls suspended in the air over vacuum cleaners, but customers still couldn’t find us.

“We rigged up a cart used to carry shirts and other items to the counters where they were to be displayed. There was a tub on the top and a shelf at the bottom. We put the car battery on the shelf, a chrome tube through the middle of the cart with a blinking red light at the top.

“We would move it from department to department, and on Saturdays and Sundays, we kept it going all day long. It was a instant success. The Fire Department made us change the light from red to blue because the color red had the exclusive function of marking exits.

The district manager saw it and put the system in all his stores. Within six months, flashing blue lights were in every Kmart store in the nation. I’ll be that even the Kmart historians don’t know how it got started but I do—and now you do too!

“The story might bore the hell out of people, but it is an event in the history of merchandising and perhaps the closes thing I have to achieve celebrity status.”

Not only that, but the “Attention, Kmart Shoppers” announcements over the stores’ PA systems are still the stock and trade of comedians who stand in front of brick walls on cable TV and think they are making people laugh by using the MF words.

We are indebted to celebrity Bob Anderson for the information. Now, if we can just find out how “red-tag sales” started. My earliest recollection of them was 40 years ago at Nessie Nides’ appliance store on East Colfax during one of her frequent “sell-a-brations”.

Author Gene Amole - from his book "Amole One More Time" - October 8, 1992

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