25th Anniversary Countown to Christmas: Day 2

Throughout December, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Martha Stewart Living magazine, I will examine 25 of the most memorable and influential people, moments and milestones at Martha Stewart's company over the last quarter century: the Martha Moments that fans are especially grateful for. I hope you enjoy these reflections on twenty-five years of excellence!


It was July 16, 1986 when Martha signed her contract with one of America's biggest mass-market retailers. History was made when Martha became the spokesperson for Kmart's line of housewares and it was likely the smartest business decision Martha ever made. The exposure Martha gained through her deal with Kmart was enormous, and it happened almost overnight: she was on the cover of the 1987 Kmart Holiday mailer, which went out to ten million American homes. She starred in over 43 Kmart television commercials, seen nationwide. Her name and face were shown in Kmart's print ads in leading national magazines and newspapers across the country. Martha was, literally, everywhere.

What is interesting about the Kmart deal is that Martha did not seek it out. Kmart came to her. It was a retail consultant named Barbara Loren-Snyder who first reached out to Martha on behalf of Kmart. In her search for a female spokesperson for the company's home line, she could think of no one better than Martha, a former caterer who had by now published several books about entertaining, cooking and gardening.

The role was initially designed to have Martha act as the face and image of Kmart's home line, which at the time consisted of little more than cheap pots and pans, sad looking aprons and tablecloths stacked into a section of the store known as the "Kitchen Korner." Martha's job did not require her to become involved in the actual design of the merchandise, just to consult on various concepts and proposals to help revitalize the home division and subsequently to help advertise it. Since the new products would bear her name, however, Martha wanted to ensure a high level of taste and quality. It was not always an amicable relationship as Martha struggled to find a voice behind the scenes and become involved with the design of the merchandise. As always, she took the job very seriously and recognized that if her name was going to be attached to something, it had better be good. 

Martha took every design detail into consideration, from the product itself to how it was packaged and displayed in the stores.

In 1998, Martha's contract with Kmart was renegotiated and Martha's new company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, would oversee the design concepts of the Martha Stewart Kmart products. Martha had by now assembled her own team of merchandise designers who oversaw the development of the products at Kmart. The line was now called Martha Stewart Everyday (sounds almost like a prescription!) and it became the best-selling product line Kmart had ever seen. With dinnerware, glassware, bakeware, bath and bed linens, paint, garden furniture, holiday decor and more, the Martha Stewart Everyday collection covered all the bases. And consumers flocked to it. Kmart saw an influx of customers who had never even considered entering its doors prior to Martha's involvement. 

 Beautiful Christmas ornaments from the MSE collection.

What made the line so good was its quality and design: two factors that Martha had fought so hard to enhance. What Kmart did for Martha was to make the beautiful products she conceived of affordable, ensuring Martha's appeal to a vast cross section of the American consumer. It was the perfect marriage of high and low: high quality at low cost. Other designers, such as Ralph Lauren, took notice and began to design lower-cost brands for mass-market sales. (Lauren's "Chaps" clothing line was sold at Sears and JC Penney at a much lower cost than his Polo line). Martha really was the first person to build her own brand through a mass-market retail partnership. Her association with Kmart made Martha a household name across America and gave her the leverage to start her magazine, her television show and help build her company.  While the line was hugely successful, Kmart and Martha parted ways in 2009. Many fans still lament the loss of the Everyday line of housewares. Still, her time Kmart made an indelible impact on Martha's fame and her fortune and gave her the influence she needed to bring good taste and quality products to the masses!
 One of many of Martha's designs for outdoor patio furniture for Kmart.
 This was an in-store promotional magazine that mixed how-to content with advertising. 

Below are two of Martha's commercials for Kmart: 


Unknown said...

Oh boy, the 2nd day, and I am already a bit misty eyed. I remember everything shown here, but didn't know a lot of the information shared. Thanks Andrew!

Dennis, Madison, WI USA


Dennis, I'm so glad you're enjoying these entries!

Anonymous said...

Martha's Kmart line was in stores until 2009, and then clearenced out by 2010.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget, for a shorty time Ms Stewart also had an excelent line of baby clothing and beding. It was, as to be expected, beautiful, stylish and good quality. Unfortunately this line seemed to have the shortest shelf time of any product.

Anonymous said...

Amazing that Kmart did not realize what they had in Ms Stewart as a representative and the various lines of goods she designed.
On the other hand they still have that "cool" Blue Light Special!

Anonymous said...

eBay and Replacements' website are great places to start to find old MSE products. I wish Martha had bought Kmart and made it Kmartha... This would have been the ultimate store. I walked into a Kmart last night and became sand and nostalgic about all the Martha Stewart products that used to be there (and most of which were in fact made in the USA!).

Rowaida said...

Wow beautiful post Andrew, I love the videos from the 80s

Anonymous said...

I still cherish my Martha Stewart Everyday products, the quality has held up for a good 10-15 years on these products. Cookware, bedding, towels, are all still from that collection.

בצק אלים said...

so nice to see Chris + Sophie herbert, along with big martha and kevin sharkey at the table in the last ad (did i miss anyone? was alexis anywhere?)... thank you so much for this awesome series andrew!