May 04, 2007

Business 141 And The ACMA

I grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. This picturesque town of 33,000 folks rests on the west side of Lake Michigan, about forty minutes southeast of Green Bay.

In the first half of the 1900s, Manitowoc was served by US-141, a two-lane highway that ran from Milwaukee, through Green Bay, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (a place that we called the "U.P."). US-141 cut right through Manitowoc, down Calumet Avenue, eastbound on Washington St., across the Manitowoc River on 8th Street, then westbound on Waldo Boulevard, exiting on the northwest side of town. At least that is how it is pictured on my 1953 map of the State of Wisconsin.

Somewhere between 1953 and the 1970s, a bypass was built around Manitowoc. US-141 was re-routed to the west side of town. An interchange diverted traffic from the old route. New signs were posted --- the old route was re-named "Business 141".

Of course, businesses didn't benefit from "Business 141". Traffic flew around the west side of Manitowoc. Time-pressured travelers saved ten minutes on their trip to Green Bay by taking the new US-141, avoiding "Business 141". Like in so many towns across America, downtown businesses began to fail. The core of the city began to die.

America is all about progress. In 1980, a new highway was built, maybe a football field west of US-141. This was called "Interstate 43", or "I-43". This new freeway had a handful of on-ramps and off-ramps. US-141 was eliminated, renamed as a county highway. "Business 141" was renamed "Business 42", in honor of the state highway that also bypassed the city.

Naturally, businesses didn't benefit from "Business 42". Well, that's not entirely true. Any business built close to the interchange between I-43 and "Business 42" did well. Wal-Mart, Applebees, Holiday Inn, and a veritable plethora of "brands" were very successful. Mom & Pop stores struggled, as the core of the city transitioned from a commerce hub to a tourist destination.

Today, Manitowoc is the city you stop at for a potty break at on the way from Milwaukee to Green Bay, or the city you bypass on your way to Door County for a much-needed vacation. Fifty years from now, when we replace the automobile with bio-fuel air transportation, will we lament the death of the "brands" along I-43?

You might wonder what Manitowoc and "Business 141" have to do with this blog? Today, I read this post on F. Curtis Berry's Blog, about the ACMA, the "American Catalog Mailers Association".

Of course, I know almost nothing about this organization, but I find the concept refreshing. To me, this isn't about "rebranding" US-141 as "Business 141", when we all know that I-43 is coming. Instead, I perceive it as a group of industry leaders and catalogers, taking a stand against everything that is conspiring against it. These folks are not "rebranding" themselves as "multichannel merchants". These folks are "catalogers", fighting for the very survival of the craft they love.

These folks may succeed, they may fail. They should be applauded for defending themselves during a time of palpable industry crisis.

I'm not part of this club. I spent the past twelve years honing catalog, online and database marketing skills on the West Coast, where things are done very differently than they are in the Midwest and New-England based catalog world. But I am rooting for them. Where was this group when the State of Wisconsin rebranded US-141 as "Business 141"?

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