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BUTLER, Pa.-"In business, you must grow or die," said George Altmeyer, founder of Altmeyer's Bed, Bath & Home Things, one of the few regional specialty store chains that have survived the onslaught of big-box competition.

Last month, Altmeyer's opened its 14th store here, a living testament to the fact that its late founder discovered the right formula to slug it out in retail. That formula is now a family heirloom. Rod Altmeyer Sr., George's son, now runs the business with his wife, Judy, and two sons, Rod Jr. and Robert.

The Altmeyers gave HFN a tour of their newest store as the elder Altmeyer talked about how his family operates a small retail chain. "We are very hands-on," said Rod Altmeyer Sr. "This is the only business we know as a family."

That business, among the many family-owned retail specialty stores that were common at one time, is now in its 61st year and growing, albeit slowly, with a store opening every four to five years.

In the years it has been in business, Altmeyer's has witnessed a changing retail landscape. In 1994, Altmeyer's ranked 24th on HFN's list of the top home textiles specialty retailers. Among those that ranked above it were Linen Supermarket, Pacific Linen, Home Express, Three-D and Waccamaw, and all of them are gone.

Howard Israel's specialty store, Leejay Bed & Bath -- which at one time was a chain of more than 50 stores spanning the Northeast and had revenues exceeding $100 million -- also closed shop, in 1998.

"We had very good stores, but they were smaller stores in older locations," said Israel. "Then the big boxes came into the shopping centers, and because they were better financed, they were able to put twice as much inventory per square foot," he said, referring to Bed Bath & Beyond and Linens 'n Things.

Unlike the national chains, the Altmeyer's stores are concentrated in the Pittsburgh area, but two stores are in Ohio. The stores are typically 10,000 square feet, versus Bed Bath & Beyond's 35,000 square feet. The new store that opened here is the biggest, with 18,000 square feet. There is no noticeable big box in sight.

But the smaller stores have had their share of Bed Bath & Beyond and Linens 'n Things competition, and the store in New Kensington, Pa., is right near a Kmart. So far, the stores have been doing well, said Altmeyer.

"Altmeyer is fairly well known in the Pittsburgh area. There is very little competition in the suburbs of Pittsburgh,"said Kurt Hamburger, president of Lintex Linens,who has dealings with the Altmeyers. "They have a good name. They offer good service, their products are competitively priced and they advertise."

"We know this market," said Rod Altmeyer Sr., citing that Allegheny County has the second oldest population in the country. "We have a lot more elderly here. We are the only store in Pittsburgh that sells a lot of bedspreads."

"Any competition is a concern, but we have to learn how to live with them," he said. "We sometimes sell the same items found in Wal-Mart and Costco. If the cost allows us to get the markup we need, we'll buy any home item that fits our mix."

The odd mix is definitely not that of Bed Bath & Beyond. The front store display shows made-up beds, and an assortment of metal furniture and home decor accessories, such as chests and frames. On the left side of the store is bath. Further back are sheets, greeting cards and about three rows of bedspreads, not piled high where shoppers cannot touch them, but on large hangers as in apparel merchandising.

The right side of the store has table linens and window furnishings. Near center are home accessories, such as lamps, clocks, mirrors, frames and furniture, mostly imports.

Between the bath and home accessories are fixtures that offer TV merchandise items, such as a food chopper, sliders and grip wrench. The next fixture shows goat's milk soap, body wash and lotion.

Imports, as well as branded goods such as Croscill, Fieldcrest, Creative Bath, Bardwil Linens, Cannon, Kirsch, Hunter Douglas and Wamsutta, are featured in the store.

"We work on a `win-win' philosophy," said Altmeyer. He said about 75 percent of the company's business is the regular reorderable merchandise and the balance is in "opportunistic buys."

"Our open-to-buy is nearly always open and our credit rating is excellent," said Altmeyer. "We do our best not to ask for unjustified allowances from our manufacturers. Once the merchandise has been received and paid for, that's it."

But being a small retail chain has its drawbacks, he admitted. For one, the family has to attend more trade shows because there are fewer vendors knocking on their door.

"Many of the big manufacturers make no secret of their desire to concentrate their efforts on the big retail chains. We understand this and work within their philosophy. Naturally, we try to find vendors who value us for what we are," Altmeyer said.
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Article Details
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Author:Leizens, Leticia
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 29, 2002
Previous Article:HANG UP ON YOUR EGO*.

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