Online sales boost 127-year-old store
Marquette, Mich. (population 21,532), on the shore of Lake Superior, is seven to eight hours from Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis, and three-and-a-half from Green Bay. The 127-year-old Getz’s Clothiers, based in downtown Marquette, has been able to thrive in this remote location because of its online marketplace.
Robert “Rock” Getz, 62, grandson of founder Louis Getz, owns the business with his wife, Carol; their daughter Tina Young; and Rock’s cousin Richard Caden, 73.
The store has about 20,000 square feet of selling space, with a warehouse on the top floor. Rock describes the inventory as “outdoorsy functional clothing,” suitable for the Upper Peninsula’s active outdoor lifestyle, alongside a mix of dress and casual clothing. Men’s suits, dress shirts and ties aren’t big sellers, Rock says, “but we’re still a downtown department clothing store, so we still want to be able to have that as well.”
In 1997, Getz’s launched an online store carrying Carhartt clothing, a line popular with miners in the iron ore industry. “Between 1997 and 2001 we had a few orders here and a few orders there, and we were feeling our way,” Rock recalls. By 2001, the family had implemented search engine optimization and other ways of driving traffic to the website, and “things started taking off,” he says.
Product offerings had to be adjusted for online sales. “In order to be relatively successful with a line online, you have to carry a large breadth and scope of the line,” Rock explains. “You can’t just dabble and expect consumers to find and buy it.”
Getz’s online store grew as the Carhartt brand diversified its product mix, adding denim and thermal wear and lines for women and children. Getz’s has also experimented with online sales of other brands. “Some work and some don’t, but if you don’t put a brand on you won’t sell any of it, and if you do put it on you might sell some of it,” Rock says.
The online marketplace enabled Getz’s to double its revenues between 2004 and 2006 and double its staff, which today numbers about 45. In 2011, President Obama highlighted Getz’s investment in technology in a White House video blog.
But as Getz’s traffic increased, deficiencies in information technology became evident. “We were kind of shooting from the hip, so to speak,” says Rock. In 2005, Getz’s revamped its warehouse space to facilitate inventory tracking. An IT position was added in 2007.
“When you create a monster you have to learn how to manage it,” Rock reflects. “And that takes more work, more people and more expense. But it’s a good lesson.”
Getz’s also builds success by focusing on customer service, offering same-day shipping and keeping prices competitive.
Consumers “want to buy from established businesses,” Rock says. “Businesses like this are becoming a rarity in this country compared to the way it was 30 or 40 years ago.”
In 2011, online sales accounted for 65% of Getz’s revenues. Because of strong in-store sales, that percentage dropped slightly in 2012. While online sales have been a boon for the company, “First and foremost, we are a brick-and-mortar store,” says Rock.
Rock joined the company in 1974. His father, Theodore, worked at Getz’s Clothiers for 60 years, until 1987. Richard Caden’s mother, Lucille, worked there slightly longer. “They were here and put a lot of effort into this business for many years, and we owe a lot to them, plus our grandfather,” says Rock.
“I feel really lucky to have been able to be in this business,” Rock says. “I feel like I’ve made a difference. I’m doing what I like doing, but I’m also helping. I have a lot of workers that I think that I take good care of, and that means a lot.”
Sally M. Snell is a writer based in Lawrence, Kan.
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