Do you ever remember the store called Consumers Distributing Canada? OMG I sure do! I can still remember the joy I would feel every time it would be getting close to Christmas and I would wait for their catalogue to come in the mail. The anticipation was exciting!
Once the catalogue would finally arrive, I just remember how exciting it was to go page by page through their new catalogue. It was one of those catalogues where you didn’t miss a page. Even if you weren’t shopping for something in that section, it didn’t matter. It was just so much fun to check it all out, but what was it that made Consumers Distributing so special? Why do I still think about that store? Well, I have always enjoyed remembering things from when I was a kid and now getting to share it with all of us, brings me total joy.
OK so let’s hop on that retro store train!
Table of Contents
The Canadian store
Did you know that Consumers Distributing was a Canadian company? I know I sure didn’t know that, and I live in Canada!
Consumers Distributing originated in 1957 in Toronto, Canada. After that first store, they quickly grew through all of Canada and into the United States. At their peak Canada had a store in every single province totalling 243 stores. In the US they racked up over 200 stores throughout 10 different states.
The company set out to create a unique type of store that would offer merchandise in a warehouse setting to help consumers purchase items at a lower cost. They quickly succeeded.
In their heyday, the store was a staple in every Canadian market. It didn’t matter what you were looking to buy, you were sure likely to find it at Consumers. People really loved the store.
The company was in business for 39 years, from 1957-1996. Sadly in 1996, they would declare bankruptcy and just like that all the stores were gone. It was truly the end of an era.
So many memories!!!
Unfortunately, they just couldn’t compete with stores like Zellers and of course Walmart!
Unique store idea
When I think of Consumers Distributing, I still remember exactly where the store was in my city. The store itself was nothing to sneeze at IF YOU KNOW WHAT A MEAN! … Magic really happened when you walked inside to the counter.
The concept of the store was different in the sense that it was called a “catalogue shopping” store. Instead of a regular store where you have all the merchandise on shelves that you could touch and see, their store had a small front store area with minimal items for viewing behind glass cabinets. The store was designed so when you walked in there were catalogues everywhere that you could browse through. Once you picked the item that you want, you grab the little order form and fill it out with the item # and description, then take it to the counter to order it.
This is what I meant when I called it “catalogue shopping”! You really never saw the item before you ordered it. The main store was actually all warehouse with a front counter area. If the item was not stocked in the warehouse or unavailable, they would order it from another location and contact you when you could come to pick it up at the store.
They had it all
What I find funny about my love of Consumers Distributing is in many ways their concept of a warehouse, catalogue shopping store was a genius idea. The motto of buying in bulk, would allow the store to pass the lower cost onto the customer. This groundbreaking concept really was successful for a long time.
Customers proved to the shopping world that they didn’t need to see, touch or feel the item before they were willing to purchase it. It just makes sense then that having high overhead with a fancy decorated and staffed store would be a profit killer while clearly not being necessary to be successful.
Consumers Distributing sold a huge variety of products to choose from. They had everything from :
- Discount furniture
- Seasonal items
- Automotive accessories
The catalogue shopping store would release 2 main catalogues per year. They also had such a focus on holidays that they would also release mini catalogues that could focus on things like Xmas, Father’s, Mother’s Day and Easter etc. This would make sure that no matter what special occasion was coming, they had you “catalogue covered”. LOL!
Their catalogues were separated in categories so that you could search each one separately. Within each section, you could find your item like say a “Walkman” ha-ha and you would have many models to choose from. They would range in price from cheap models to higher end models. Making it affordable to almost any budget.
With the huge range of products and a massive selection, Consumers offered such a one stop shopping experience without physically spending hours walking through huge department stores to find what you wanted.
You’re shopping was done from your living room and once you knew what you wanted you would just head to the store and it would literally take minutes to complete the form to order the item. LIGHTENING FAST!!
This shopping model really changed the way we shopped. For the era, I think that was a pretty amazing innovative store. Way ahead of it’s time.
Consumer Distributing Canada was truly one of the great things I loved growing up in the 80s. I still believe that the concept of this store and its unique input really changed the way we shop even today.
I mean just look at a store like Amazon and the similarities to Consumers. Instead of shopping with a catalogue sent to your house, you just use an app catalogue to shop. You don’t get to see or feel your item before you buy it. The scope of the selection of products between the store were similar in the sense that they spanned a huge variety of categories. Obviously Amazon is in the stratosphere of selection, but for its time, Consumers had an impressive selection.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some major differences between the two, but at the heart of both, I think they managed to push the boundaries of consumers and our shopping experience.
When Consumers Distributing closed down, it was that feeling of nostalgia that OH just another part of my growing up is gone. It is certainly hard to see the things that we relate to our childhood memories disappear, it can be hard to let go of.
I hope that you enjoyed my little trip down shopping lane. Share your own memories of Consumers Distributing and drop me a comment below. I will be waiting to hear from you.