For over 35 years, C-Mart has been a retail anomaly, a family-run shop that has developed a cult following to rival NASCAR. So when word spread that this venerable institution, famed for deeply discounted designer goods, had been sold, it no doubt sent a chill down the spine of C-Mart addicts everywhere.
But Keith Silberg, a member of the family that began C-Mart—and who'll become chief merchandise buyer for the new owners, The Asset Store—says not to worry.
"There's no store in the country that one week offers games for your Xbox and the next week is selling a $7,000 Christian Lacroix couture gown for 70 percent off," says Silberg, 34. "All the elements that helped to give us our genuine family atmosphere will stay, it will just be bigger and run more efficiently."
The origin of C-Mart begins with Silberg's great grandparents and grandparents, who were "jobbers"—dealers in odd lots of merchandise. From that family tradition, Silberg's uncle (in partnership with Silberg's father) began C-Mart in 1972, buying high-end goods at fire-sale prices from liquidation sales and insurance salvage lots.
When Silberg joined the company 11 years ago, he began expanding, first with a home store, then with a new location in Landover. And he says he welcomes the new blood to the venture.
"Now that we've proven we can be a regional success, we want to take it further, and the only way to do that is bring in infrastructure and capital," says Silberg.
He didn't need to look far. Dan Shuman and Brad Bondroff, both 30 and partners in the hotel liquidation business The Asset Store, knew Silberg from growing up. And they're financially backed by John Ferber, co-founder of Internet marketing leader Advertising.com, who, in 2004, with his brother Scott, sold a 38 percent interest in Advertising.com for $435 million to AOL Time Warner.
Under the agreement—The Asset Store bought a 70 percent interest in C-Mart for an undisclosed amount—Shuman will become CEO of C-Mart, and Bondroff will be president, Silberg will become the merchandise buyer, and Ferber will be chairman of the board. Shuman says most of the 200 employees, many of whom have been with C-Mart for decades, will remain. The real change will be in customer convenience, he says: No longer will sales be recorded by pen and pencil. New inventory-management practices and barcoded items will make buying a breeze. Most importantly, C-Mart will have a new website, Cmart.com, where customers will be able to buy online, a first for the store.
"Our goal at C-Mart is to aggressively grow it to a $100 million revenue company pretty quickly," says Shuman, who foresees expansions into Miami and Las Vegas, where summer goods can be marketed year-round, and perhaps New York.
And the fate of those wacky handwritten newspaper ads? Says Silberg, "The
ads help define our past, and the character we want to carry into the future, and they will remain."