It seemed like a normal Monday morning in the Vendor
Development Department at Kmart’s headquarters in Troy,
Michigan. All systems had apparently run properly over the
weekend and the merchandising staff was in their normal Monday
morning routine of evaluating sales.  

Early in the afternoon I began getting a series of unusual phone
calls. One of the services Vendor Development provided to Kmart’s
suppliers was that of a sounding board. Vendors were able to come
to us with questions they were afraid to ask their buyers (for fear of
reprisal or embarrassment) and we would get answers for them.

The first call came from Advanced Watch, a jewelry supplier
claiming their orders that week were larger than the entire past
year. They wanted to make sure the orders were correct as they
would need to run overtime in their shipping facilities to fill them. I
took down some figures from them so I could investigate.

A few minutes later a call came from Corning Ware with a similar,
but larger, claim. According to their customer service department
the Kmart orders were a two-to-three year supply. They had called
the person placing the order and been told the orders were correct
because of a policy change. Corning Ware said to fill the orders
they would have to take all the reserve they had for Target and
Wal-Mart and ship it to us. They were afraid we would find our
mistake and expect them to take back the shipments, paying freight
charges in both directions.

An unfortunate command
I found out an order had been given by then company president
Andy Giancamelli. Wall Street had been criticizing Kmart for having
an appearance that stores were out of stock. A research study
found that customers had a negative impression because some
shelves and peg hooks only had 1 item which could easily be seen
as a false front to an empty shelf.

Andy had told his next in commands to make sure there were two
items in every position so the shelves did not look empty.

I went to Andy’s office to verify this was his order.

Fortunately he was in and saw me right away.

“Several vendors have called today concerned with the size of the
orders they received in our weekend transmission,” I told him.

“We’re trying to increase the in-stock appearance of the stores by
building inventories,” he replied.

“Well one company told me their order was ten times the norm,
another said we were ordering a two to three year supply,” I
informed him.

“Who,” he demanded.

I told him it was Corning and that I had verified their numbers were

“Wait a minute,” he interrupted. “Are we talking about the gift sets?”

“Among other items, yes we are.”

“Can’t anyone think for themselves?” he yelled in a totally
frustrated voice. “I don’t need a bunch of robots.”

There was a short pause while Andy was cooling down.

After what seemed like a few hours, (okay, it may have been five
seconds at the most, but it seemed like hours) Andy continued.

“They were supposed to increase facings to two so the shelves
looked fuller. With the gift sets you can’t see behind the first one
anyway. I told them to increase facings, but I thought they would do
it more analytically,” he lamented.

Click here to see “5 ways to think for yourself”.

This is an excerpt from my book “Life’s Leadership Lessons” a
collection of 53 anecdotal leadership lessons, each with an
anecdote and the application of the topic in your everyday life. It is
designed for use in weekly staff meetings or for personal
More business by the numbers here,
Thinking: 5 tips for
great decisions