||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (August 2008)|
- For the home electronics chain see: Best Buy, for the New York department store, see Best & Company.
|Former type||Public (NASDAQ: BESTQ)|
|Industry||Retail (Catalog merchant showroom)|
|Products||home furnishings, consumer electronics, jewelry, housewares, toys|
The company was founded by Sydney Lewis and Frances Lewis. Sydney Lewis, a lawyer educated at Washington & Lee and Harvard Business School, worked with his father managing an encyclopedia sales operation in Richmond. Lewis thought of selling additional merchandise along with the bills for encyclopedias. In 1957, the Lewises sent out their first catalog. The first showroom was at 4909 West Marshall Street in Richmond, just across the street from the new Willow Lawn Shopping Center.
The company had a strong sense of promotion and artistic sensibilities; it was legend in artistic circles that it would trade store merchandise for art. As a result, the company, as well as the Lewises, gathered a significant collection of 20th-century art. Much of the Lewis Collection can be seen at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Sculpture in the Environment
In the 1970s, Best Products contracted with James Wines’ "Sculpture in the Environment" (SITE) architecture firm to design nine highly unorthodox retail facilities, notably a tongue-in-cheek structure called the "Indeterminate Facade" in Houston, Texas with a severely distressed facade. This building purportedly “appeared in more books on 20th century architecture than photographs of any other modern structure”. In Richmond, the company built the Peeling Wall showroom that appeared to have a peeling facade (located on Midlothian Turnpike) as well as a Forest showroom that appeared to have trees growing out of it (located at 9008 Quioccasin Road). The store in Sacramento also had a unique design. In the morning, its corner entryway would slide open, and would slide back shut at night. The structure, with its breakaway entry removed, is now a Best Buy. Photographs of these storefronts appeared in several Best catalogs. One anchored the Eudowood Plaza in Towson, Maryland, featuring a tilted front. As of 2007, most of these distinctive buildings have been converted into conventional buildings by removing the architectural embellishments, or in a few cases, demolished. The only building to retain its distinctive features is the Forest building in Richmond, now home to the West End Presbyterian Church, which has stated that the forest in the entryway has been an asset to the church's environment.
Their Parham Road headquarters, built in 1981 and designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, was notable for an American Institute of Architects award and the use of Art Deco eagles rescued from a New York building. The giant BEST letters of the headquarters could be seen along Interstate 95 at Parham Road. Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer subsequently designed the West Wing of the Virginia Museum, which was funded by the Lewises.
Best employed the "catalog showroom" concept for many of its product offerings. Although some product categories (such as sporting goods and toys) were stocked in traditional self-serve aisles, the majority of products (notably consumer electronics, housewares, and appliances) were featured as unboxed display models. Customers were permitted to examine and experiment with these models, and if found to be desirable, they could be purchased by submitting orders to store personnel. Saleable versions of the merchandise (typically boxed and/or in its original packaging) would then be retrieved from storage and delivered to a customer service area for subsequent purchase.
In 1982, Best acquired catalog competitors: Basco, a chain with 19 catalog showrooms in the Northeast and Ohio; and Modern Merchandising, headquartered in Minnetonka, Minnesota with 76 showroom under the names LaBelle's, Dolgin's, Jafco, Miller Sales, Rogers and Great Western. This followed with the acquisition of Ashby's, a 9 store women's clothing chain, and the opening of four Best Jewelry stores in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Best filed twice for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The first bankruptcy period began in January 1991 and lasted through June 16, 1994. The second and final filing was made on September 24, 1996. At the time of the second filing, Best operated 169 Best stores and 11 Best Jewelry stores in 23 states, and a nation-wide mail-order service.
Best Products was traded on the NASDAQ exchange as “BESTQ.” It was de-listed on November 29, 1996. The last Best stores closed on February 9, 1997. Best did not appeal the NASDAQ decision. By May 1997, Best had liquidated most of its assets and was declared insolvent. Best vacated its corporate headquarters in Richmond in January 1998 and mailed out final checks to unsecured creditors the following December (paying 96 cents per dollar owed).
- A Guide to the Records of Best Product Co., Inc.