You'd have to go a long way to find a local business war with as much color and pizzazz as the one being waged between South Florida's two gay superstores, GayMart and CatalogX. None of the cool corporate positioning of Target versus Kmart here. Think more along the lines of the legendary feud between Krystle Jennings-Carrington (Linda Evans) and Alexis Carrington-Colby (Joan Collins) on the '80s TV show Dynasty, a catfight which culminated, as you may recall, with a savage clawfest in a swimming pool.
Not that the two superstores are anywhere near taking the plunge yet. The war is alluded to more often than it's openly discussed. But talking to Barry Teeters, vice president of CatalogX, and Tim Adams, general manager of GayMart's two South Florida stores, gives you an idea of the implacably different yet parallel universes occupied by the two stores.
Adams will remind you that GayMart is a national company and not, primarily, an "adult" store; it doesn't sell items such as CatalogX's "Kong, the Realistic Dildo." Because of CatalogX's resources and size, Teeters claims, the competition can't stay in the game. Adams declares GayMart tops in customer service; Teeters counters that, among CatalogX's thousands of items, "you've simply got a better choice."
With emphatic underlining, the GayMart chain bills itself as "America's Favorite Gay Super Store." With an equally unrelenting reference to its size -- a combined 18,000 square feet at its Fort Lauderdale and South Beach stores -- CatalogX declares itself to be "The Largest Gay & Lesbian Department Store."
The two stores have been going at it since the early '90s. Mark Possien, president and owner of National Marketing & Entertainment Group, Inc., started CatalogX in his Fort Lauderdale bedroom in 1992. It quickly grew into a warehouse on Dixie Highway, then into the existing store on 13th Street, and eventually the South Beach store was added. Founded in 1993 in Palm Springs, California, GayMart now has seven outlets around the country, from San Diego to Miami. The Wilton Manors location opened in 1998.
Visits to the feuding stores reveal that, much like two combative signature perfumes, each has its unique personality. Continuing the Dynastymetaphor, GayMart is definitely the Krystle Carrington of the two: more refined, aware of its allure yet determined not to flash.
"We gear our products toward the athletic person -- clubgoers, bikers, swimmers," says Adams, referring to gay-owned name brands such as Jocko, Roar, and Sauvage. "The owners wanted to have a discounted clothing store, but without cheap merchandise. For example, a $55 shirt in another store would sell for $35 here."
A tour through the store provides a thumbnail sketch of the fashion aspirations of many gay men (and, occasionally, women). Just the right amount of product is spread across the approximately 8000 square feet of store: Rack upon rack of swimwear and sportswear, including $32 T-shirts, as well as plasma lamps, stationery and greeting cards, Brazen tanning products, Speedo sandals, and Pride towels in vivid, tropical colors.
The sales staff, helpful yet unobtrusive, encourages long-term browsing. "We get a lot of return business and a lot of good feedback," Adams declares, "probably because we pay our employees a good salary -- not a commission, as elsewhere."
For "elsewhere," read "CatalogX." Compared to the relative elegance of Krystle Carrington, the place has the bitch-slapping boldness of Alexis Colby. Sets of Magic Stretch Rings ($15.95), for example, are prominently displayed. And the 8000-square-foot layout of the harshly lit warehouse-style space is as complex as an English-garden maze.
The variety of selections, however, is undeniable, as is Teeters' claim that CatalogX's prices are lower. The Damron's Men's Travel Guide, at $16.95, is a dollar less here than at GayMart. The clothing is, on average, also $1 to $5 cheaper.
In order to compete with CatalogX's Web presence (www.catalogx.com), GayMart opened its own Website (www.gaymartusa.com) three months ago. CatalogX, in turn, is attempting to invade GayMart's territory by franchising.
Check. And checkmate. The war seems to have reached a stalemate. Will it be a fight to the finish, claws slashing all the way to the bottom of the pool?