When in doubt, blame the economy! That seems to be the lesson to be learned to the announcement of legendary local retailer C-Mart closing it’s doors for good this morning.
Discount stores benefit when the economy slows down and 2008 has been no different. Surely C-Mart, the 33-year-old mecca for bargain hunters, has weathered worse than the recent downturn. So what’s the real story?
From the Baltimore Sun article:
But during the past year, facing higher gasoline and food prices along with tighter credit, shoppers stopped coming, the retailer’s owners said yesterday. As home sales declined, so did the need for shoppers to buy furniture, which made up more than 50 percent of C-Mart’s revenue.
Soon, sales at the 33-year-old retailer declined and it was forced to lay off some employees. New owners, who recently came on board with visions of aggressively expanding the retail operation, put on hold a plan to start an e-commerce division of the store. And with no sign of a reprieve in the economy anytime soon, the owners decided shutting down was the only answer.
They plan to close for good Oct. 14.
As a dedicated C-Mart shopper, I followed the store from its Forest Hill location to Joppa. The new C-Mart had the same or even better bargains. Shuman said the store failed because shoppers cut back on purchases of designer clothing, but as Shuman should know, the brands were not all high end – you could find no-name merchandise as easily as those Manolo Blahniks (those are shoes, in case you’ve never seen “Sex in the City”).
What changed was the addition of furniture; lots and lots of furniture. More like they attached the old C-Mart to a furniture store. And while national furniture sales have been flat so far this year, a lot of the stuff at C-Mart was odd in more ways than one. Pieces were unmatched (who shops for one night table?) and some of it was just plain weird. I don’t care how much it’s discounted, a hot pink sofa shaped like a lima bean is no bargain. And how many people have room for a canopy bed the size of a studio apartment? I wouldn’t have taken some of that stuff off their hands if they paid me.
In some extremely rarified circles, cutting edge furniture at discount prices might work, I’m thinking about the Bel Air in California maybe, not so much Bel Air, Maryland. And while lots of people will grab a designer handbag at a reasonable price, few people buy odd pieces furniture. Fewer still want furniture that’s just odd. The folks who tried to take C-Mart in a new direction didn’t understand that. I’m truly sorry to see C-Mart go. But I don’t think it was “the economy, stupid”. I think it was just stupid.
What are your memories of C-Mart? I can remember the long drive (for us) up to Forest Hill before every school year to check on the shoe selection, as well as every winter looking for snow boots. I also remember all the ugly clothes that no one in their right mind would pay full price for, but at 70-percent off, why not?
So what do you think went wrong? Was it truly the economy, or more the decision to move to Joppa and bring it high-priced furniture and semi-discounted prices? Maybe it was growing to0 fast without modernizing? The opening of the Landover store?