Duit Sales ends JCPenney Express after 20 years

Posted October 16, 2013 at 1:26 pm

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PHOTO: Duit Sales continues to sell a wide variety of Watkins products at their store. They can also order anything customers need from their catalog.
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PHOTO: Agnes and Arlon Duit show off a display of Watkins collectibles inside their store. (Photos by Kim Brooks)

By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

After over 20 years in the JCPenney catalog sales business, Duit Sales Agency was forced to end its longstanding relationship with the company on Sept. 30. The JCPenney company decided to close all catalog sales businesses throughout the country.

Agnes and Arlon Duit, who own and operate Duit Sales, first started out in the Montgomery Ward catalog sales. Agnes said they bought the business from Loretta Beckman. When Montgomery Ward closed, Agnes said she called JCPenney to see if they’d be interested in having a catalog sales business in downtown Monticello.

“We were one of the last Montgomery Wards to close,” said Anges. Aside from selling from the catalog, the Duits also sold Montgomery Ward merchandise right from their store.

Several months later, the Duits were contacted by JCPenney and were one of the first 15 catalog businesses to open in small towns throughout the country.

With years of experience in the catalog business, Agnes became a sales trainer. Trainees would come to Monticello and learn the ropes behind the scenes and behind the counter. Anges said she would have the newbies work behind the counter, adding a new face to the business.

“I wanted them to run things themselves to get the hand-on experience,” she said. “Our customers helped train by coming in and shopping locally.”

As the years went by, technology changed. Aroln said they used to teletype their JCPenney orders into the company through the phone system, much like a telegraph. Near the end of their business, they were e-mailing orders in or sending them online through the company’s website.

“Computers and Internet certainly changed our business,” said Agnes. She said the closing of their catalog business was not their choosing, obviously, but that of the company. When more and more homes started getting computers and Internet themselves, Agnes and Arlon encouraged people to have their orders sent to the store for pick-up.

“The last two years of business we were taking orders online versus the catalog,” said Agnes.

For many households, receiving the massive Christmas JCPenney catalog was a treat. Kids would scour through the pages, writing down items to fill their Christmas wish lists. The Duits said grandparents would come into their store to order things for their grandkids for the holidays, with pages of the catalog ripped out.

“As time progressed, we tried to train people to call us to find what they needed online and order it,” said Arlon. “People were catching on.”

Agnes added, “That’s how we survived the last few years.”

Duit Sales still remains open for business with decreased hours after losing JCPenney sales. They still sell the reliable Watkins products. The company has been around for over 100 years, and specializes in everything from skin care to baking and natural-based remedies and supplements. The Duits have been selling Watkins’ products for 15 years. They said people still come in to buy various Watkins items because of the long-lasting brand.

They are working on rearranging their store to bring things up front to be more visible. Agnes said they’d reevaluate the Watkins products they do sell and look at ordering more as people come in and buy.

They are also continuing to sell trophies, something they’ve also done for 20-some years. You can order trophies for any occasion, not just sports-related. They do business for Jones County Conservation for their annual awards banquet, the Boy Scouts, the Monticello Fire Department and more. You can have the trophy or plaque engraved, personalized with a color scheme or stylized for your particular event.

Duit Sales is still located in downtown Monticello, at 119 E. First St. The hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

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