It was a magical time,
when two people brought together a group of
people to change the world of retail.
CONTEMPO CASUALS was an icon for many young women. A place to discover the best fashion and trends that no one else had.
It was a place where being a CONTEMPO GIRL was a coveted position.
We are proud to bring you this website to memorialize the first 16 years when Dottie and Wil Friedman owned CONTEMPO CASUALS.
It is here that we hope you will spark memories, tell your stories and reconnect with people whom you knew at a time when
the world and fashion was magic.
DEDICATED TO THE HUNDREDS OF LADIES
WHO WERE AFFECTIONATELY CALLED....
Dottie and Wil moved from Salt Lake City, in December 1960 with their two children Elisabeth, Tracey and their Collie Rex. In Salt Lake, Wil liquidated small businesses that went bankrupt.
When they moved to Los Angeles, they continued liquidations. After each liquidation, the merchandise that didn’t sell was put into storage. They liquidated a small variety store. All of the stuff in storage came to this store…. items from drug stores, grocery stores, fabric stores, ladies stores and more….it was a real mix! The intention was to rent the store for a few months until it was all gone.
A paper sign was made for the window: “BARGAIN TOWN”.
In a short time the ladies clothing sold fast and since he was going to be there for a while they decided to buy some clothing to add to the inventory. Not knowing anything about the clothing business, they looked up manufacturers in the yellow pages. With no credit, they took whatever cash they had from the days till and went downtown to buy clothing items…and did it again and again until all they were selling were women’s clothing. A decision was made! Down went the paper sign and up went a new one … October 1962, a new business was born!
The store was located between a bicycle shop and a launderette. The store was not in a good location. It gave time to form what they wanted a store to be. It’s important to know they had no formal retail or clothing experience, just a desire to create a unique retail experience and be successful.
That was the challenge…
The first thing to do was find a great name. After a lot of thought, they came up with two ideas, Contemporary Fashions or Contemporary Casuals. Both good, but not quite. Out of the blue, they shortened Contemporary to Contempo, and put together with Casuals, and that was it:
It clicked immediately with both of them. It’s in the dictionary. The meaning: “Following or showing the latest style or fad” and “informal contemporary” If you Google Contempo, you will see it’s used in hundreds of businesses, but its origins came from the Friedman’s
The first Contempo was in Granada Hills, in a strip center between a Thrifty Drug and a grocery store. It was very small. Short on money, they painted the walls pink and used a bright red carpet on the floors. They couldn’t afford mannequins so they came up with their own way of displaying with wires.
It was different and it looked great! They did this for the entire 16 years.
They worked hard to open that store, every detail was attended to, including sewing on special labels into the clothing. They made their own rules; they did it the way they wanted, together, and then… Opening Day!
The first day was rough, the only sale being a pair of $13 pants…. that was it!
Obviously, not a great start. It was never great there, a new community with little expendable cash. It was there they began to learn the business, developed systems to figure out what sold and what didn’t. They developed methods of merchandising.
For example, blouses weren’t selling, so they put 100% of them on sale, and turned that money into a new item called “poor boys”. Cotton knit tops of all shapes and colors. They bought a huge quantity and they started selling. It didn’t make sense to have blouses if they didn’t sell.
Also, mini-skirts started showing up. There was a problem with them. They were short and the girls at that time were wearing hose and garter belts, and it didn’t look great. Panty hose was not in common use, so they got a New York phone book and called Hosiery wholesalers, and found some.
He bought all he could get, and the mini-skirts started selling.
Then a major mall, Topanga plaza opened many miles away. Seeing the writing on the wall,
Friedman’s knew they had to make a move.
They searched and found a small open-air mall in the Crenshaw area. There was a clothing store that had a great location but was doing badly. They contacted the owner and took over the remaining lease for $5000…. all the money they had in the world, but they had to do something.
The Watts Riots started August 1965 just as they took possession of the store…In spite of the rioting, Wil had no choice but to go and remodel the store every night under threat. The National Guard, tanks, police and fire trucks were everywhere. It was scary but it had to be done. Crenshaw opened soon after.
The store had a lot of windows and a great loft space allowing for creative and fun displays. The dresses and suits went upstairs and downstairs was loaded with great sellers like the Poor boys, Low Riders and Minis as well as loads of accessories. The store was an instant hit! The customers were young and single and they wanted to look hot…Loads of stewardesses came in from the airport!
What a different experience! They had a happy, prosperous business doing what today would be the equivalent of two million dollars in the first year. While the Friedman’s would go on to open many more stores each more exciting than the last. The Crenshaw store held a special place in their hearts.
It was so exciting!
One day, they went past the May Co. dept store. They were building a small mall adjacent to the May Co. A sign said, for leasing information contact Fred Jamison. They said, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a store there. We aren’t big enough for them but, nothing to lose in trying”.
They met with Fred and discovered that he was the vice president in charge of leasing malls for May Co. all over the country. Fred never heard of CONTEMPO CASUALS. He asked for a financial statement so Wil went home and typed one up.
Fred checked out the store in Crenshaw before they met again. He said he liked the operation, but the financial wasn’t strong enough for him to get approval. So, Wil went home and made up a better one for him. This time it was approved. They closed Granada and moved the merchandise to No. Hollywood.
When stores open, they have big sales. They decided they wouldn’t do that. Instead, hired a 4 piece band to play in the store for 4 or 5 days, and gave out flowers to everyone. It was very exciting.
The people loved it. They did the same thing for every store they opened from then on.
This store was a huge success from the first day it opened.
The first full year, they did over $600,000 (today that would be over 4 million dollars).
A new opportunity opened next to May Co. in West L.A. and the next thing they knew, they had store number 3, with space for an office in the back and a long hallway where they processed merchandise.
First a bookkeeper was hired. The other key person was Rick Steen. He was in charge of receiving and marking the merchandise. A hard working and loyal guy, he remained a part of the company for as long as the Friedman’s were there. Rick delivered the merchandise to Crenshaw every night.
The Friedman’s delivered the merchandise to North Hollywood.
It was at this store where they honed their selling philosophy. The most important thing that a CONTEMPO GIRL learned was to sell the customer a complete outfit - A top and a bottom along with all the important accessories. When a girl walked down the street, everyone knew she shopped at Contempo and wanted to look cool. It was important to sell a coordinated outfit, not random items. This selling technique brought the girls back several times a month for new outfits. They were right!
There were only 2 sales a year, and everything was marked down to half price. People lined up to get in. They knew the merchandise was from the regular stock, not brought in. The sale lasted two weeks.
Then, suddenly CONTEMPO CASUALS became hot! The Mall developers across the country all wanted a Contempo in their malls. With Montclair opening in 5 months and another in Carlsbad in 8 months, they scrambled to get a warehouse and office.
New headquarters…. a building in Van Nuys! New employees, New positions to be filled. The Contempo family was growing along with its stores. Rick became Warehouse Manager. A controller, Frank Ferraro (uncle frank) was hired along with bookkeepers, a receptionist, secretary, truck driver and janitor. Each position had specific duties. Wil created systems to keep things running smoothly.
Up until then, the Friedman’s did everything together, but with this many stores, they had to split duties. Dottie was a fantastic buyer, becoming well known in the industry as one of the best. Many manufacturers based their collections on what she picked. Wil’s expertise was the business end as well as advertising. Together, they shared the merchandising duties.
They were partners in every aspect of the business even sharing the same office.
Two to three stores were built each year, they used an in-house construction crew, Syd Pine became General Manager. It was a great collaboration with Syd carrying out the Friedman’s vision.
For the next few years more stores were added and they had to keep moving to larger offices and warehousing. The first move was to 810 South Springs St. in Downtown L.A.,
Then a few years after that, they moved to the final location on Jefferson Blvd.
All information for the week was updated, and ready for reaction every Monday morning.
In order to accomplish this, every item had to be marked with significant information. Cash registers were bought that accepted the information, and printed it on a paper roll. It was only about 75% accurate, but better than no information. Wil took the rolls to a computer service bureau every Sunday. They processed the information. So, they had all the latest sales info Monday morning.
Later that was improved as you will see.
The buying department underwent a huge expansion. The new team consisted of:
1 dress buyer 2 top buyers 1 bottom buyer, 1 accessories buyer and assistants.
Dottie chose people who had little experience so she could train them her way.
They turned over merchandise so quickly the buyers constantly shopped for new items. This was in stark contrast to the traditional buy that companies did. They mainly bought all of the season’s merchandise in one big buy. Rooms were built in the office for Vendors to come in and show new items.
The Contempo buyers went to the Merchandise Mart in Los Angeles constantly, as well as New York four times a year. This made the job two or three times harder. But, the idea was that the customer would always see new items every time they came in.
So, it became known that CONTEMPO CASUALS was the place to go when you wanted something new. The customers would come in every week or so instead of every few months.
From the beginning the mind set was the same. Be honest with the customer. Present the newest fashions at affordable prices, and make sure they look great in their choices.
As they honed their merchandising skills, they figured out who their customer was. She wasn’t a particular age but a “state of mind” She wanted to always look hip and have a new outfit.
She set the fashion tone…she didn’t follow.
From the beginning, CONTEMPO CASUALS built trust and loyalty with the customer
presenting the newest fashions at affordable prices.
All merchandise was priced so the customer never had to look at the price tag, just find her size.
New stores required new staff. New systems were set up to hire managers, assistant managers, sales staff and stock people. After the first few stores, a policy was made to hire management only from within. That way there would be staff who understood the procedures that the Friedman’s set up. A supervisor system was set up with Jean Noel at the helm. Each supervisor was in charge of 5 stores.
CONTEMPO CASUALS truly was a family organization. With over 800 employees the Friedman’s strived to do what was best for their staff. Their greatest joy was to see them grow, within the company and after when they moved on in their life.
Every store was successful immediately. Changes were done constantly to stay ahead of competitors.
Packaging was extremely important. It was the best form of advertising. From the shopping bags to the gift boxes, using unique colors and shapes. Wil changed the packaging every two years. One can imagine the customers delight when receiving a gift that was bought at CONTEMPO CASUALS! People “recycled” Contempo bags using them everywhere, some having been spied in Europe and Asia.
The packaging was ahead of its time, it won several awards and is displayed at the Smithsonian.
(Check out shoppingbags.com/museum) It has famous bags, including ours.
While their main advertising was packaging, the Friedman’s also put artwork ads drawn by a wonderful artist named Ingrid, in the newspapers and magazines as well as billboards, radio spots and a bit of TV. All of the ads were “soft sell” ads and fun to look at. They were exaggerated drawings of the clothing.
Thinking outside of the box, they also did unique things like renting out theaters for new movie premieres like Tommy and The Great Gatsby and filling the seats with local customers. When 18 yr. olds were given the right to vote, each store helped them register to vote.
In the early 1970’s there was no Microsoft, Apple, Internet, software, or bar codes.
The only computers were large ones used by governments and huge corporations.
In the beginning, the information system was manual and tedious. Every item had a tag with a special code. At first, they purchased cash registers that printed these codes which were then read by a company who printed out the info.
Antiquated at best but there was no retail system or even computers back then.
In 1972 Wil visited a company that was creating a “compact Computer” which was the size of a freezer. He talked them into selling the prototype which was only a shell with no software….it did nothing. Wil hired two programmers and for a year they went to work creating a retail program that Wil had always envisioned. Not only was there no programming, but there was no register to handle it. So Wil created in each store, a monitor, keyboard and manual cash till. That along with a dedicated phone line in each location that transferred directly to the main computer at the office. A crew was hired to spend Sundays printing the reports so that on Mondays Dottie and Wil would have the selling information.
This gave them a huge advantage over competition, as they knew instantly what items were great, good, or bad. They could then instantly re-order the hot items,
thereby beating the competition in many cases by a month or so.
A QUOTE FROM A TECHNICAL CASE STUDY:
“IT IS THE OPINION OF RETAIL AUTOMATION REPORT THAT THE ON-LINE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM INSTALLED AT CONTEMPO IS ONE OF
THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE INSTALLED ANYWHERE TODAY”.
The Friedman’s were truly pioneers in the retail field. They changed an industry.
Dottie and Wil divorced some time later, but remain great friends, spending many happy times at family
get-togethers. Both have remarried happily.
Dottie opened Ice Accessories with their daughters and built it into a 6-store chain in LA and Las Vegas.
After 20 years, she retired and became a Canasta Hustler.
Wil did a few ventures in LA and then moved to Las Vegas where he brought Gold’s Gym to Vegas and changed the Gym world with his innovations. Later, he too decided to take it easy.
(He makes a mean chocolate chip cookie).
AND…CONTEMPO CASUALS…It was sold in 1978 to a national Corporation with Department stores all over the country. It was agreed that the Friedman’s would remain for one year in transition. They brought in a woman who was a merchandiser. That was the beginning of the downfall of CONTEMPO CASUALS.
After the Friedman’s left, the company never made a profit again, losing millions until it was finally sold to another company, who grew it into over 200 stores around the country continuing to lose millions of dollars. They then sold it to Wet Seal for an amazing low amount of one million dollars. The CONTEMPO CASUALS stores were converted to Wet Seal's which eventually went out of business.
No one will ever know the heart and soul of CONTEMPO CASUALS,
the fun, hard work and the breaking of the boring retail rules …
except all of you and the Friedman’s and the collective effort put into it to make it and keep it alive.
TELL STORIES, POST PICTURES & RECONNECT WITH OLD FRIENDS AND MEMORIES