Happy Birthday, Kmart. We know where you can find your candles.
Happy Birthday, Kmart. We know where you can find your candles.

PHOTOS: How Kmart has survived 50 years in retail

Kmart celebrates its 50th birthday today after opening its first Australian store in Burwood in 1969.

It was an instant success with more than 5000 people flocking to the opening of the country's first discount department store, with store openings quickly following in NSW, South Australia and Western Australia by the end of the same year.

Managing director Ian Bailey says Kmart opened at a time when competition was limited and there were only a few players in the department store category.

 

Kmart’s first grand opening ad. which is celebrating 50th birthday tomorrow, 30 April 2019.
Kmart’s first grand opening ad. which is celebrating 50th birthday tomorrow, 30 April 2019.

 

Official opening: Mrs H.B. Cunningham, wife of the President and Chairman of S.S. Kresge Co. Cuts the ribbon to make the opening of Australia's first Kmart at East Burwood, Melbourne. Assisting her is Kmart manager Mr. Langley.
Official opening: Mrs H.B. Cunningham, wife of the President and Chairman of S.S. Kresge Co. Cuts the ribbon to make the opening of Australia's first Kmart at East Burwood, Melbourne. Assisting her is Kmart manager Mr. Langley.

 

The huge car park at the flagship store in East Burwood in 1969.
The huge car park at the flagship store in East Burwood in 1969.

 

1969: Staff at your ready.
1969: Staff at your ready.

 

The check-outs: Taken after almost three months of trading.
The check-outs: Taken after almost three months of trading.

"Kmart initially opened in Burwood in 1969 as a discount department store with over 40,000 items on offer and we also contained a supermarket. We were your one-stop-shop and it was a first of its kind in Australia," he says.

Christmas Eve 1987: Even at 4.30am you can still have trouble trying to find a parking spot at the Burwood store.
Christmas Eve 1987: Even at 4.30am you can still have trouble trying to find a parking spot at the Burwood store.

By the early to mid-200s sales were static and Kmart was at risk of going out of business.

"We had stopped listening to our customers and were not offering them what they wanted," Mr Bailey says.

It signalled a dramatic turnaround for the retailer which led to the dumping of big name national name brands and the introduction of low price Kmart designed products. On-trend, affordable homewares and lifestyle products have led the resurgence in popularity.

"Kmart now has a footprint of 232 stores along with 70 per cent of products sold being designed in-house by the Kmart team making global trends accessible and affordable," Mr Bailey says.

The famous signage as it looks today. Picture: Andy Drewitt.
The famous signage as it looks today. Picture: Andy Drewitt.

Cathy Turner and Sean McCann have more than a combined 50 years working at Kmart.

Merchandise planner Mr McCann began as a team-member on the floor almost 30 years ago, while Mrs Turner has worked at Kmart for 22 years.

It has a special place in her heart, meeting her husband while working there.

"I was working at the service desk at Greensborough and this handsome man walked past me, at the time he was the new line manager and had just started at the store. Two years later we were married, a true Kmart love story," she says.

Mr McCann recalls coming to a desperate mother's rescue on Christmas Eve as one of his most memorable experiences.

"I'll always remember was when I was closing the store one Christmas Eve and a Mum came hurtling through the centre with her handbag, hair and jacket flying everywhere begging to be let in looking like she was about to try and slide under the door we'd almost closed… Indiana Jones style! Of course, we let her in and she bolted down to lay-by to breathlessly pick up some toys for her kids for Christmas," he says.

Both say it's the people they work with that have inspired them and led to their longevity at Kmart.

"I have stayed with the business for so long mainly because of the people, it's like one big family. My husband used to be with the business for a very long time and was a store manager and whilst studying my two children worked with the business - so you understand what I mean when I say we are one big family." Mrs Turner says.

Prams lined the shop window.
Prams lined the shop window.
A throw back to how it all started.
A throw back to how it all started.
The store is still located at the corner of Blackburn Rd and Burwood Highway.
The store is still located at the corner of Blackburn Rd and Burwood Highway.
The sign has stood the test of time with only minimal changes.
The sign has stood the test of time with only minimal changes.
The sign has had a few incarnations over the years.
The sign has had a few incarnations over the years.
Kmart East Burwood unveiled a new extension in 1997.
Kmart East Burwood unveiled a new extension in 1997.
Kmart steadily grew in popularity.
Kmart steadily grew in popularity.


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