Saturday, July 12, 2014

What was Witmark?


This building has sat abandoned down on North Plainfield forever, next to Kmart (of course) What was Witmark anyway? My only memory of it was me and a friend walking into one in the early 90s, looking around a minute then walking out. Anyway, I like taking pictures of abandoned buildings for some reason.

What does wikipedia have to say?
Witmark was a catalog showroom and jewelry/electronics chain that operated in West Michigan from 1969 to 1997. The chain was founded by Paul Leven.Over its nearly 30-year history, Witmark dominated the jewelry market with an average of a 34% market share. The organization made it a point to develop and keep close ties with the communities the stores served.
By the early 1990s, Witmark's earnings began to decrease due to continued involvement in unprofitable categories outside of jewelry. Big box stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City, Toys "R" Us, Dick's Sporting Goods, and MC Sports captured the electronics, toy, and sports markets respectively and more effectively than Witmark could. 
In 1996, Witmark experienced its fourth consecutive year of declining sales and earnings, and the company announced changes to its operating strategy. Unfortunately, vast barriers—such as long-term leases on real estate—limited the company's ability to adapt to the changing business climate. The following year, Witmark liquidated its assets and laid off its 700+ employees. Like the larger national chains of catalog showrooms (such as Best Products), the retail concept collapsed in the late 1990s due to overwhelming competition from big box stores and Internet shopping.

22 comments:

  1. Catalog showrooms were a bit of an odd type of store that was designed to sidestep minimum pricing policies imposed by manufacturers:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalog_showroom

    "By operating as an in-store catalog sales center, it could be exempt from the 'Resale price maintenance' policy of the manufacturers, which can force conventional retailers to charge a minimum sales price to prevent price-cutting competition;"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resale_price_maintenance

    "Resale price maintenance (RPM) is the practice whereby a manufacturer and its distributors agree that the distributors will sell the manufacturer's product at certain prices (resale price maintenance), at or above a price floor (minimum resale price maintenance) or at or below a price ceiling (maximum resale price maintenance). If a reseller refuses to maintain prices, either openly or covertly (see grey market), the manufacturer may stop doing business with it."

    The repeal of these types of policies is what really killed all of the catalog showrooms:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalog_showroom

    "The repeal of the resale price maintenance sanctioning law in 1980 meant that chain discounters such as Wal-Mart, KMart could set and change prices at will, in a more consumer- friendly environment where the customer can examine the goods and confirm availability before approaching sales staff. As a result, this retail sector went into decline in the 1980s. As big box stores and internet shopping became increasingly popular in the 1990s, the decline of the catalog merchant business accelerated."




    "The repeal of the resale price maintenance sanctioning law in 1980 meant that chain discounters such as Wal-Mart, KMart could set and change prices at will, in a more consumer- friendly environment where the customer can examine the goods and confirm availability before approaching sales staff. As a result, this retail sector went into decline in the 1980s. As big box stores and internet shopping became increasingly popular in the 1990s, the decline of the catalog merchant business accelerated."

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think there was an earlier version of Witmark, called Rogers. It was located on 28th street near where Norman Camera is now. Same concept. Can't find anything on the web about it, so having doubts about my name recall...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was Roger's Distributing Company which later became Best Products.

      Delete
    2. It was Roger's Distributing Company which later became Best Products.

      Delete
  3. Yes, Rogers was another local catalog showroom chain. I think they had a couple of stores on 28th Street (one near the Woodland Mall and one in Rogers Plaza, of course). They were acquired by the national chain Best Products back in the mid-1980s.

    ReplyDelete
  4. As a kid I always hated when my parents bought things from Witmark or Best because you had to look shit up in a catalog, put in your order and then waaaiiittt for it to get hauled out from the back room. Very boring shopping for a little kid.

    I took back all my wedding presents and bought a 19" Sony TV from that very same Witmark...

    I can't believe NOBODY ever did ANYTHING with that building after they closed!

    ReplyDelete
  5. If you remember Service Merchandise, Witmark was similar.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was going to say the same thing.

      Delete
  6. There WAS a similar store to Witmark called Rogers Distributing, later Best.

    As a child, I would look through the Witmark catalog and long for all the toys in there. My mother would take us there, and it was indeed kind of boring. They would have one item out on display - for example, coffeemakers. Then you would fill out a form, give it to an employee, and then they would retrieve it from the back.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nope. Rogers was a local, family-oriented clothing store. No relation or similarity to Witmark. They closed in the 90s, IIRC, not long after their founder passed away.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Different Rogers. There was Rogers Dept Store (the clothing store) and right next to it to the east was Rogers Distributing latter Rogers Catalog Showroom later purchased by Modern Merchandising then finally mergers and name changed to BEST Products. They also moveed across the street to anchor the east end of Rogers Plaza. Best was a 300 store national chain. Witmark was a local chain of around 12 stores in West Michigan only.

      Delete
  8. I worked at Witmark and wrote that Wikipedia entry. The last few years of Witmark's existence it was no longer a catalog store. We had a catalog but you could just go and get items off the shelf like any other store. We still used catalog numbers for larger items such as patio furniture and mattresses. It was an upscale version of Service Merchandise (aka we had silver coffee makers for our customers at the front). After Witmark closed I was involved in an effort to relaunch the company as a jewelry and gifts store. One out of every three jewelry purchase in West Michigan was at Witmark so the customers were there, however it was the start of the dot com boom and nobody was investing in retail stores anymore. So nothing ever happened. I loved working there and I hope we are fondly remembered.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great write up! I worked there in the early 90's and it was a great store!

      Delete
    2. I thought Witmark lasted a few years after 97. I know BEST closed in 97 (my father was a district manager there) and for some reason I thought Witmark lasted a few year longer than BEST. Like till 99 or 2000?

      Delete
  9. My ex bought my engagement ring from there and I hocked it at a pawn shop close to Meijer's but on the other side of Plainfield years later) and I couldn't even fill up my gas tank with the $$$...I still have a bookcase from there!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I used to circle what I wanted for Christmas in the Witmark and Best catalogs. Particularly those new CD players and anything Sony Sports

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did that too! I couldn't wait for the Christmas catalogs to come out!

      Delete
  11. I remember buying MC Hammer's "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em" on cassette at this Witmark.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I fondly remember the Witmark's store off Plainfield. I was 12 when it opened and enjoyed being taken there by my mother and going there throughout my teen aged years. I thought it closed much earlier than '97, but I got married in '79 and moved out of town for quite a few years and didn't drive by it when I did get back into town. Others here found it "boring" but for me it was unique... and a little nerve-racking, not knowing right away if the item I wanted was in stock or not. I too, cannot believe that the store, with signs intact, still stands to this day. I would have thought somebody would have done something with the building or the lot.

    ReplyDelete
  13. We bought a record player and our first VCR from Whitmark. I still remember looking for hot girls in their catalog. I also remember Roger's department store because they had a very small skate shop in the boys section that sold Vans, Vision Street Wear, & Bones Brigade Powell decks... so weird.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Our first VCR came from Witmark, the Sunday before the space shuttle Challenger blew up in 1985. I also got my first electric guitar from there, still have it and I can't pick it up without thinking about that store. I have only been to one other catalog store, a chain in the UK called Argo's, which functioned in the same way, you write down what you want and they bring it to you.

    I haven't driven by there in a couple of years, but it sounds as if that store front is STILL there?!? Someone should buy it and keep the company name and storefront, out of principle!

    ReplyDelete
  15. My older brother had a job there selling electronics - not exactly high-end stuff, closer to Fretter's in quality.

    ReplyDelete