RIDING THE “OUTLET” WAVE

We’re not always in the right place at the right time. That’s just part of life.

Being in that right place is sometimes a matter of paying attention to what’s going on around you… then taking action if the goings-on are applicable to your business.

By God’s good grace, my career unfolded in the right place at the right time. Already in the newspaper business in Hunterdon County, N.J. , a phenomenon was developing. Brother Dave, my business partner, and I had an office in Flemington.

Since 1908 there was The Flemington Cut Glass company. For years shoppers flocked there for affordable glassware. Demonstrations of in-store glass cutting were part of the shopping experience. Shoppers were entertained.

At another spot in town was located a pottery store and manufacturing facility operated for many years by the Stangl family. It was eventually sold to the Pfaltzgraff Company, pottery and cookware manufacturers themselves. That, too, was entertaining.

Then there was the Vandermark Merritt Glass Studio that elevated the glass-blowing art to a sophisticated level. More entertainment while shopping.

A shopping niche had developed In Flemington. Eventually bus loads of shoppers were the daily standard in town. This wasn’t just an also-ran shopping mall. Flemington was a destiny to an otherwise sleepy country town. Untold ladies auxiliaries and the like descended upon Flemington. It became a shopping mecca.

Then a new phenomenon was engendered in retailing. Manufacturers in America warmed to the concept of operating their own retail stores. Initially the idea was to provide a means to sell their overruns or “irregulars”, slightly blemished goods that were an adjunct to their manufacturing process. Heavily discounted, of course.

They called these stores Factory Outlets. They served their purpose. Manufacturers sought locations for these stores that would not compete in the same locations as big retailers who were already carrying their goods. The conflict here was obvious.

In the meantime, there were a lot of shoppers coming to Flemington who didn’t have a clue where anything was or a map to get them there. The need stared a local publisher right in the face. Put a hand-out publication with a map and ads into shopper’s hands right when they arrive. Simple point of purchase advertising.

Distribution costs were minimal. Shoppers just picked up a copy from our racks located in common areas around town. Content in the publication was simple , a map (2 pages) and nothing but ads, full page or half page. We published monthly.

In its heyday, SHOPPING in FLEMINGTON was , depending on time of year, between 52 and 76 pages per issue. Yes, the margins were fat, but that was just the start. For example, the outlet store that was thriving in Flemington, with our help, also had a store in Reading, PA. and multiple other locations where these stores were starting to congregate.

Holy Smokes, we realized, America is a big territory. What sense did it make to limit our gig to Flemington!?

It was sweet while it lasted. The outlet industry waned, a victim of its own success. To hell with overruns ! There wasn’t enough of them to feed their thriving outlet stores, anyway. More importantly to the manufacturers, a whole new profit niche had been born of their outlet stores.

Discounts be damned ! Regular goods in the outlet stores became the standard.

Long story short, as retirement rolled around, we sold the newspaper. We then sold all 10 outlet publications that served a scattering of locations from Maine to Florida.

Today ? Well, I’ve sorta lost touch with things, but look at Flemington’s main outlet center, Liberty Village. It’s practically a ghost town, over 60% empty. Having been sold to a distressed property developer ( talk about a discount !) , the question now is what the hell can be done with this white elephant ?

I was done 17 years ago. Finished. I never worked another day, except on the farm. In short order, Judy couldn’t stand continuing to work while I was at home. She retired, too.

Yes, my career had been in the right place at the right time. One other detail, though. The market had indicated when it was time to get in and when it was time to get out. What was the key ? PAYING ATTENTION !

This didn’t start out as a “happily ever after” story but, damn, if it didn’t turn out that way !

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