Bargain hunters boost sales at Maine’s discount store chains

Posted March 22, 2009, at 8:14 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11 a.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — Renys Department Stores, the Marden’s chain of salvage stores and a newcomer to Maine — Ocean State Job Lot — are finding profit in the downturned economy.

Cash-strapped customers are seeking bargains, and the three chains are the leaders in Maine when it comes to finding a deal on brand-name items.

“Renys is not participating in the recession,” said John Reny, son of R.H. Reny, who founded the Renys chain of Maine department stores 60 years ago. Reny said sales at his 14 stores are up 6 percent over last year and show no signs of slowing.

today’s poll

Have you shopped at Renys, Marden’s or Ocean State Job Lot in the last month?

Yes

No

It’s all about attitude, Reny maintained.

“We hear about 8 percent unemployment, but that means that 92 percent are employed,” he said. “We have to get back consumers’ confidence. People are being cautious, but they are going to work, they are buying things.”

Reny said the secret to building sales in a recession is “to offer stuff that people need every day to live their lives. My dad always said that if you found a deal, pass it on. It’s not about the cheapest thing on the rack. It’s about the best deal.”

Renys employs between 375 and 475 employees at its 14 stores. Several of the stores are undergoing renovation or expansion.

Ocean State Job Lot, based in Rhode Island, is the new kid on the block, with two stores in Maine — in Belfast and Bangor — and a third planned for Sanford later this year.

President Marc Perlman said Friday that Ocean State’s sales “are extremely strong. I feel confident that we will have a record year.”

Perlman said a combination of forces is pushing the sales spike. “We started our company 30 years ago with the understanding that people work hard for their money and we want to give them the best value we can,” he said. “Now, economic forces are pushing people and they are more motivated than ever to find a bargain.

“For example, if you are going to plant a garden and you can pay full price for Burpee’s seeds or half price, why wouldn’t you pay half price? Why not go for the bargain?”

Marden’s Surplus and Salvage, a leader in Maine’s salvage industry, is also experiencing an uptick in revenue, but on a smaller scale than its two competitors.

General Manager Paul LePage said Friday that the increase was “not big numbers.”

Marden’s, which has 14 stores from Madawaska to Sanford, has been in business for 45 years. Buyers for Marden’s search the country for deals that come from insurance losses, closeouts, overstocks, discontinued items, factory seconds and salvage items from natural disasters. They bid on each stock in a sealed-bid process similar to a silent auction. If the bid is successful, the merchandise is shipped to the Maine warehouses, processed and then distributed to the stores.

“Our customer count is up, but our average customer sale is dropping,” LePage said. “This tells me — and the numbers bear it out — that big-ticket items, such as flooring and furniture, are down. People are buying everyday items, sticking to the basics.”

LePage looked at the sales figures from the 14 stores as he was talking. “Here, we’re up. Here, we’re slack. Here, we’re up a little,” he said. “You can say we are holding our own and sales are up a little, but it’s definitely not big numbers.”

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