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The Man Behind KmartGamer

When you think of Kmart, video games aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. But one man is working to change that. He wants to make Kmart the only place consumers go for their favorite games.

Josh Deane, 30, is the director of merchandise strategy – entertainment for Sears Holdings Corporation, of which Kmart is a part. Deane focuses on interactions with customers and engaging the gaming and consumer community. His job is much more than that, though. He also creates sale offers and marketing strategies, calculates the number of units needed for each game, works closely with publishers like Electronic Arts and Activision to create special deals and has continual dialogue with the gaming community. In just the past year and a half, Kmart’s gaming department has skyrocketed in popularity and sales.

Growing Up

Deane comes from a huge family. His family’s background is Maltese. Malta is a European island near Italy. His parents were very different; his dad laid back, his mom strict, more religious and conservative. Deane describes his parents as “two worlds” coming together. He has a close relationship with his parents and three siblings. Deane said his dad was his best friend. His dad was his football coach from eight-years-old throughout high school. He described his dad as the “classic football coach” and his role model.

Deane’s family moved many times while he was growing up. “I think I moved like 20 times in my life,” Deane said. His father’s marketing job required it. As a toddler Deane lived in Michigan. His family then moved to Indianapolis, Ind. and he spend his early childhood there. They briefly went back to Michigan before moving to Naples, Fla. when Deane was 6. They lived in Naples until Deane was 11.  As a teenager Deane moved between Naples, Fla. and Troy, Mich. a few times before settling in Troy at 16.

After the second grade, the family decided to home school Deane because of the constant moving. He was homeschooled all through high school. Because of this, he struggled his first year at Michigan’s Oakland University, but ultimately adapted. He graduated in 2004 with a degree in communication.

Home school showed him how to self-educate and manage time, as well as how to learn things quickly. The constant moving also taught Deane valuable life lessons. “My life now moves pretty fast, so being able to be flexible, not necessarily adverse to change, has definitely helped me out a lot,” said Deane.

Deane is married with a young child. His wife is “not a gamer but definitely helps the cause!” he said jokingly. They dated throughout college and have been married for three years.

Working for Kmart

During college he worked as a security guard at Kmart’s former world headquarters in Troy, Mich. The Kmart and Sears merger in March 2005 created Sears Holdings, which made its headquarters in the former Sears headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Ill. In April that same year he was hired as a merchant shrink analyst for loss prevention. Three months after the merger Deane moved to Chicago to continue working with the company in the same position at its new headquarters.

One of his first big jobs took place in November 2005. Deane worked the system launch of the Xbox 360, assisting the entertainment team as an analyzer from a “logistics side.” He studied waste and merchandise protection for the Microsoft game system.

In February 2006 Deane was promoted to the position of associate buyer for movies, which he worked for more than two years. While still in that position he started working in the music department as its associate buyer in February 2007. Deane eventually started an inventory role in Kmart’s gaming department in July 2008 and stopped working in movies and music. He became the senior buyer of video games for Sears Holdings in July 2009. The senior buyer handles various financial and business aspects for Kmart’s video game department. The buyer works with game publishers to determine the stock they send to Kmart stores around the country.

He became the director of merchandise strategy-entertainment earlier this April. With the position Deane still has the role of senior buyer as the company looks to fill that position. In his new role Deane will have more focus on the community aspects of Kmart gaming as some of the responsibilities of the senior buyer are handled by someone else.

Deane is also the man behind KmartGamer, the store’s Web site for deals and engagement of the gaming community. The site is separate from Kmart’s weekly store advertisements. The Web site was his idea and creation. It began as a blog as part of Kmart’s Web site in March 2010 and evolved to a full site earlier this June. The site is currently in beta but an update is coming later this summer. Deane works with a small team of six dedicated workers who make KmartGamer possible. The company leadership gives him lots of support, allowing him “a lot of freedom to create this world and direct it the way I want to,” Deane said.

Gaming

A gamer for most of his life, it’s the perfect job for Deane. His first game system was the NES in the 1980s. His game of choice? “Techmo Super Bowl,” Deane said.  “I still rock at that game!” His favorite systems are the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2. Nowadays he constantly plays online games with his friends on the Xbox 360.

His work desk is filled corner to corner with gaming memorabilia, from a Fallout: New Vegas sign to an Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood poster. Gaming memorabilia is also all around the office, like the life-size Master Chief statue from the Halo series.

Deane’s work desk

When asked about the game that had the biggest impact on him, he immediately answered Metal Gear Solid. “The first time I was really shocked by a game was Metal Gear Solid. That was the first story driven game where you could get a sense of where the industry was going to go,” Deane said. “When you look at the games now in comparison to those blocked faces…with that game you could see the future with it, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

The narrative involvement of the game attracted Deane to Konami’s Metal Gear Solid. “I know it was kind of absurd, but at the same time it was the first one that really cinematically immersed me into the experience through its story and the way the gameplay impacted me,” said Deane.

“I think gaming provides essential life skills, whether it’s problem solving, how you react to the world in general, being able to absorb it and read against the grain,” said Deane. He believes that games allow a person to critically analyze and immersive themselves in problems in a new way, while also not distancing themselves from the world and others.

A Special Bond

Video games have always been an expensive medium for early adopters. New release games for home consoles currently cost between $50 and $60. Kmart’s game deals tend to knock off some of the price or include special offers like $10-20 promotional credit for use on future purchases. To get this promotional credit customers must be a Shop Your Way Rewards (SYWR) member, which is free to sign up. Kmart also incorporates SYWR into other aspects of its stores. Customers can earn SYWR points that can be used to get discounts on items around Kmart. Almost every new game release comes with some type of deal. Customers can link their coupons on new releases from one deal to another, so they’ll never have to pay the full $60. Some shoppers call this the “coupon train.”

Smart and savvy shoppers are usually not the target group for corporations. Deane searched on Google for discussion about Kmart’s $44.99 deal for the release of Square Enix’s Just Cause 2 in March 2010 and stumbled upon Cheap Ass Gamer. Cheap Ass Gamer is a video game shopping Web site focused on getting people the best deals. The site is commonly referred to as “CAG” among the community. He signed up for Cheap Ass Gamer’s message board as “SHC-Gamer” and began to talk to the community about Just Cause 2’s sale. David “CheapyD” Abrams, the founder of Cheap Ass Gamer, contacted Deane and thanked him for connecting with the community. Over time they have developed just a personal friendship, and Deane is a regular contributor to the message board.

Deane is actively involved in CAG’s community. The members fill the dedicated Kmart deal thread with their problems, what went wrong, what went right and their praise and complaints for Deane and the deals.  He takes suggestions from its members and incorporates their voices into Kmart’s deals. “It allows me not to fly at 30,000 feet. I’m constantly right at the ground level where people can give me the appropriate feedback to allow it to work,” Deane said.

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