A Family Affair
Cecile Corral -- Home Textiles Today, July 11, 2014
Altmeyer's Bed Bath Home is a chain of 11 stores across Pennsylvania and an e-commerce site that hasgrown into a "critical" component of the overall business.
Working alongside each other on a daily basis, two generations of the Altmeyer family — father Rod and sons Bob and Rod Jr. — effortlessly combine business and pleasure, Monday through Friday. On weekends, 12-yearold Joshua, son of Bob, joins the bunch, creating an even more appealing atmosphere for this family that has since 1941 operated their eponymous bedding and bath linens chain — Altmeyer’s.
“My father taught me that the retail business takes a lot of work if you want any success at all,” said president Rod Altmeyer, whose father founded the business.
At an age when many of his peers are retired and putting on the green, he underscored: “I still don’t play golf. And I don’t want to. As long as I am able, and I certainly am able, I plan to continue to work in the business with my sons, come to work every day and do what I can do to help.”
He remembers when he worked alongside his father.
“We worked all day to serve customers in the store, then we’d go home to have dinner for an hour with our families, and then we’d go back to the store to trim the windows, write the ads, do everything else we had to do that we couldn’t when the store was open because we were taking care of the customers.”
He paused for a moment, then added: “It was hard, very hard. But that is what it took to run our business successfully, and it is how we built our business over the years.”
It was in 1941 that the late George Altmeyer first opened his store in the basement of a bar in Pittsburgh’s New Kensington neighborhood.
Rod Altmeyer Sr., president, and his son Bob and grandson Joshua are pictured here by the portrait of hisfather and company founder, George Altmeyer.
Bob Altmeyer, who serves as the company’s secretary treasurer as well as textiles buyer and helps head operations, proudly tells the story that his grandfather had to drop out of school in the sixth grade to support his family upon the sudden death of his father.
“He was working in the mailroom of an aluminum company when the country passed laws that kept children under 16 from working,” he said. Once he was of age, “my grandfather went to work for Hart’s Department Store, a local store, and he proved to be very creative. He did a lot of great work with their displays.”
He worked there until he managed to save $6,000, even while supporting his mother and siblings, and decided to start his own home textiles business.
“He noticed Hart’s didn’t have linens,” Bob Altmeyer said. “But he always believed in bringing great linens at discount prices to the marketplace. It was a formula that worked then and still works today.”
Fast-forward 73 years, and Altmeyer’s Bed Bath Home, as it is called today, is now an 11-unit regional chain of linens stores in Pennsylvania — the newest site recently opened in the Pittsburgh airport area. The retailer also operates an e-commerce site at www.bedbathhome. com.
The average store size is about 12,500 square feet, and accommodates a broad range of home textiles and furnishings products, including bedding, soft bath and hardware, window treatments, table linens and kitchen textiles, rugs, and an assortment of soft and hard home accessories and gifts.
The ratio leans heavily on the textiles, which constitute about 70% of the business. The remainder consists of giftware, wall art, and other hard accessories.
The linens supplier list is long and includes a variety of players: Achim, Saturday Knight Ltd., Lorraine Home Fashions, Commonwealth Home Fashions, Mohawk Home, Bardwil Linens, Carnation Home Fashions, Lintex Linens/Esphalma by Cobra, and many others.
Price points on the selling floor are by and large moderate,Bob Altmeyer noted, and they center in the mid-tier in line with Pittsburgh’s economy and lifestyle. Altmeyers’ shopper is a family-oriented woman, between the ages of 40 to 60 who is "always seeking value but quality," he added.
The mix of soft window treatments includes standard curtains as well as kitchen café curtain sets in solid and patterned looks.
Price points hit a higher mark is online, he added, as “we are able to sell a lot of high-end products from our website.”
Such items largely center on recognized brands, including Tommy Bahama, Lenox, and Croscill, among others, which “legitimize our mix, so we add brands whenever we feel we should and can.”
“We are niche players, and we like to identify what the bigbox stores are not doing and then go after it, like my grandfather did,” Bob Altmeyer said. “We are about one of the last ones standing in our channel, and it is because we offer a merchandise mix that is quite tailored to our market. Our customers know us and are loyal to us. We are in a very competitive space, but we believe we present our goods in a unique way.”
Altmeyer’s internet business, under the leadership of Bob Altmeyer, has become instrumental in the company’s growth.
Before joining the family business after college, he went to work for Macy’s, where he spent several years climbing the ranks. His last position there was as a buyer for the Southeast region based in the Atlanta buying offices.
"I got a good retail background working for Macy's," he noted.
He left to join insurance company Safeco working on the technical side “because I’ve always had good computer skills.”
A few years later, he was ready to make the move to Altmeyers. It was 1990, and he turned his focus to updating and modernizing the company’s backend operations.
In the fashion bath department, collections are displayed in free-standing shelves and fixtures. Shower curtains are hung alongside matching bath accessories and towel ensembles.
“I combined the mini mainframe with our PCs to create a slick inventory control system,” he explained.
In 1996, when the internet was just taking off, Bob Altmeyer made another major imprint on the family business by establishing an e-commerce segment for Altmeyers at a time when few of its competitors had the same foresight.
“Our site is very easy to shop,” he said. “We have very good technology behind it, and we have smart features on it to make shopping quick and easy for our customers.”
Run daily by a team of 12 staffers, the company’s internet business accounts for about 20% of total sales. But more importantly, he added, “it represents an important part of our annual profit. It has become a critical part of our operation and I would say further that both ends — store and website — complement each other well.”
More recently, the company has layered in a Facebook page, a blog that is updated at least twice weekly, a Twitter presence and a Pinterest page.
Now his middle school-aged son, Joshua, is taking an increasing interest in the family business, working this summer in packaging and shipping. Bob Altmeyer hopes to inspire and nurture his own love of working at the store just as he does with his own dad and brother, Rod Jr., and a staff of many longtime employees and friends.
“What we have here is a very special situation, and it makes our jobs a pleasure,” Bob Altmeyer said. “We work hard here, but we enjoy ourselves, too, and it’s a terrific opportunity.”
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