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|Electronics & Appliance retailer|
|Oliver Fretter, founder|
Fretter's first store was located on Telegraph Road just north of Interstate 96 in the city of Redford, Michigan, and the main warehouse, warehouse store and company headquarters, was on Schoolcraft Road (I-96 service drive) in Livonia. Fretter expanded his operations throughout the midwest and New England by the 1970s.
The company's founder and spokesman, Ollie Fretter, became known in the Detroit area in the 1970s and 1980s by humorous TV commercials in which he promised, "I’ll give you five pounds of coffee if I can't beat your best deal. The competition knows me. You should too!" (When occasionally he had to make good on the whimsical offer, Fretter gave away one-pound cans of coffee that had been relabeled "net weight — 5 pounds".)
The company paid its salespeople on a draw against commissions program, although they were paid spiffs instead of pure commission. Spiffs were calculated based on profit margin and other incentives, not based on the price of the product. Salespeople were not encouraged to sell the more expensive unit, but a model not carried by the competition which couldn't be directly price compared and therefore had a higher mark-up. Salespeople learned that the coin endings of the products directed them to which item to sell. Products with a .97 ending were high margin items and paid well; while .86 were not as profitable, and .75 were advertised items that paid very little. Clearance items were priced with repeating numbers like .66, .55, and .33 depending on how old the item was. Special order and hard to find items were priced with .71 endings and while they paid comparable to a .97 item a salesperson may get burned when the item was not in stock and/or delays in new stock arriving.
Fretter maintained its marketing strategy as a low-cost retailer, even hiring outside research companies to compare prices with competitors and making that information available to sales people at their point-of-sale terminals. The move did little to sway public opinion since the chain sold higher end goods than its competitors but did not make that point clear in its advertising. Consumers were also deceived by SKU# used by competitors instead of Model# which made it difficult for a consumer to properly compare models between retailers. While Fretter and its competitors both sold a brand, they rarely sold the same models within the brand.
Fretter owned a small chain of mobile electronics retailers, DASH Concepts, that installed car audio, security, and other similar products. Serving Detroit and Cleveland areas it had its main warehouse in Dearborn, Michigan, in the same building as one of the Fretter stores.
The electronics retailing world was upended when the largest company, Highland, went out of business. Best Buy saw this as an opportunity to move into new territory, areas it previously felt were oversaturated by Highland and other major competitors like Fretter. Fretter management had been working to compete with the superstore model by becoming one of its own. It bought employee-owned Fred Schmid stores, giving the chain hold of markets in the mountain states. Fretter moved its corporate offices to Colorado and oversaw the merger from there. In 1993, Fretter also acquired their biggest competition of the time Silo Electronics, a company that had previously not turned a profit since the 1980s. This was an attempt by Fretter to compete with its new major competition, electronic superstores Circuit City and Best Buy, which were larger than Fretter's stores. The merger temporarily made Fretter the second largest retailer in this category, after Circuit City and larger than Best Buy, based on previous store sales, but Fretter immediately began closing redundant locations; where the company now had two or more stores in the same neighborhood. Fretter returned its main office to the Detroit area, to Brighton, Michigan. The company wanted to rebrand itself as YES! (Your Electronics Superstore) but this move did not make it to any of the stores, they all retained their original designations of Silo, Fretter, Fred Schmid, DASH Concepts, and other.
The acquisition, assumption of Silo debt and lack of liquid assets, would lead the company into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, forcing the chain to close many locations. All Silo Electronics stores were closed by 1995, with all Fretter locations closing by May 1996.
Oliver Fretter died on June 29, 2014 at the age of 91.
- Reindl, J.C. (July 1, 2014). "Ollie Fretter, colorful founder of Fretter Appliances, dead at 91". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
- Lisa Holton (December 17, 1991). "Not always better to shop at Fretter's: Ward's suit". Chicago Sun-Times.
Montgomery Ward slapped Fretter Inc. with a federal lawsuit Monday, alleging that the Detroit-based electronics superstore made false claims in a recent TV ad saying Fretter's prices were better than Ward's.
- Jerry Ackerman (November 10, 1995). "Fretter closes all NE stores, retail promises to honor warranties, refund deposits". The Boston Globe.
With its brand appeal apparently waning and new competition on the horizon, Fretter Superstores yesterday quit New England, closing its 15 electronics outlets in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and directing queries to a toll-free 800 number. Although doors were locked and telephones went unanswered at local stores, Fretter Inc., based in Livonia, Michigan, told state officials that consumers have made deposits on merchandise or have warranty claims would be protected.
- Matt Roush (December 2, 1996). "How Fretter fell.". Crain's Detroit Business.
'Whole bunch of things' led to demise of appliance icon. Don't feel sorry for Ollie. It is true that the collapse of Fretter Inc. cost founder Oliver Fretter millions of dollars in paper profits, as he watched his remaining 3.5 million-share, 33 percent stake in the company decline to virtual worthlessness. But between the company's 1986 initial public offering and its 1993 combination with the Silo chain, owned by British electronics giant Dixons plc, Ollie Fretter already had cashed out of the company twice, putting about $35 million in his pockets.
- "Home Electronics, Appliance Chain Fretter Inc. Considers Bankruptcy". AP News, September 27, 1995.