Robert Altmeyer pulled a throw pillow from a display shelf at his Altmeyer’s Bed Bath Home store in Pleasant Hills and slowly brushed his hand across the soft, maroon-colored carved chenille. Then he pointed to the $7.95 price tag.
“Seven ninety-five,” he said.“That’s insane. That’s craziness.
“You can get a $7.95 pillow at Wal-Mart, but it won’t look like that,” he said.
Mr. Altmeyer, 54, was trying to explain how the linens and home goods chain started by his grandfather 75 years ago in New Kensington is still in business while so many others have been pushed out by the big-box stores. The 11-store chain offers customers in the region good value, he said.
But just as important is tailoring merchandise to the tastes of the Pittsburgh market. “We’re very unique. No one offers the [product] mix we have,” he said proudly.
That means, for example, having a wall half the length of the store lined with full-sized displays of ruffled tier kitchen curtains and toppers.
“We pride ourselves on those,” said Mr. Altmeyer, who took over the business when his father, Rod Altmeyer Sr., died in 2015. While more modern design favors blinds, “All of the older homes in this region have kitchen curtains. We know what people here want.”
Next to the kitchen curtains, shoppers can browse a selection of pinch-pleated draperies with metal pins that use traverse rods, allowing the drapes to be drawn open and closed. “Most retailers have walked away from those,” he said. “Here, people have the rods up and don’t want to take them down.”
An appreciation for doilies
Traditional Pittsburgh shoppers also can find matching fabric appliance covers, furniture covers and doilies.
“When’s the last time you saw doilies for sale?” Mr. Altmeyer asked, glancing at several rows of neatly stacked crocheted doilies that might seem more appropriately displayed at an antique store. “People love them,” he said.
Just ask Joan Balistreri of Pleasant Hills. The 48-year-old busy mother of four likes to stop by the store regularly to browse.
“This is my time to get away,” she explained during one recent visit. She especially enjoys the “curtains and the doilies” and often will come in when she needs to pick up a gift.
Cindy Pleska of Brookline hunts for bargains.
“They have good prices,” she said on her way to the checkout with a five-pack of padded satin hangers, a plastic cosmetics organizer and a ringed scarf holder — “all for my daughter.”
Mr. Altmeyer said the company’s staff knows how to buy. For example, he said, goods are sourced locally whenever possible to save on freight charges. The chain also buys in bulk to maximize buying power with vendors and gets deals by carrying surplus items from manufacturers, known as manufacturer overstocks.
The chain, headquartered in Delmont where it operates its distribution center, has five buyers, including Mr. Altmeyer and his semi-retired older brother, Rod Altmeyer Jr., 57. Overall, it has roughly 120 full- and part-time employees.
Even though Pittsburgh shoppers have traditional tastes, they don’t want boring, Robert Altmeyer said. “Maybe they want a traditional pattern, but in a more updated palette like aqua or chocolate,” he explained.
‘As Seen on TV’
Besides focusing on the traditional, Altmeyer’s is known for its stash of “As Seen on TV” gadgets that promise to make some of life’s annoying chores easier.
“I always look here for neat items — things that help you cook faster, like a baked potato,” Ms. Balistreri said while scanning the dozens of items in the “As Seen on TV” aisle.
Top sellers include “My Pillow” bed pillows and non-stick “Gotham Steel” pans. “Flex Seal,” a spray-on rubberized sealant for pipes, gutters and the like, has been selling well since it was introduced in 2011, Mr. Altmeyer said.
“Contractors buy it from us by the case. It’s a very good product,” he said.
“Some aren’t so good.”
At home in Murrysville, Mr. Altmeyer tried the “Clear TV Key,” a mini antenna that’s supposed to capture digital and high-definition TV signals. “I got two weird stations,” he said. “I think it depends on where you live.”
The back wall of the store is devoted to bedspreads, hung individually from end to end so that shoppers can inspect and view the entire spread. Selling a wide selection of bedspreads also is somewhat unusual, Mr. Altmeyer said.
“Bedspreads are hard to find anymore,” he said “They’re all comforters. But some people don’t like to mess with dust ruffles.”
Expanding to other markets?
Altogether, Altmeyer’s does about $12 million in sales annually at its retail stores and another $3 million through its website, Bedbathhome.com.
For now, the homegrown company — which has outlasted names such as Linens N Things and Linen Center — has no plans to expand. “We have Pittsburgh pretty well saturated,” Mr. Altmeyer said.
Still, branching outside of the Pittsburgh region could be an option later, he said, with Columbus, Ohio, and Amherst, N.Y., near Buffalo two possible expansion sites.
As Mr. Altmeyer put it: “If the model works here, it should work anywhere.”
Patricia Sabatini: PSabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.