by Jeff Pederson
for The Beacon
In the business world, anniversaries are often celebrated for those companies fortunate enough to keep their doors open for 30, 40 or 50 years.
However, it is a rare occasion that a business has what it takes to mark a century in business. Such is the case for Bitter Neumann in Sheboygan in 2022, which recently marked 100 years in business on Jan. 17.
The long history of Bitter Neumann dates back to when Alfred Bitter Sr. purchased the Millersville general store and two-story, four-bedroom house behind it for $15,000 from William J. Kohl on Jan. 17, 1922, initially opening the store as Alfred Bitter Dealer in General Merchandise, which sold general merchandise such as groceries, household items, hardware and feed.
In 1927, Alfred Bitter Sr. and his wife, Edna (Schneider) Bitter, formed a partnership with Roland Neumann and Walter Mueller and became known as Bitter Neumann & Company.
Neumann ran the sheet metal and plumbing portion of the business and Mueller operated the feed mill.
When Neumann died in 1957, Bitter Sr. bought his interest in the business and sold the plumbing portion of the business to Neumann’s son-in-law Fritz Boedecker and Carl Harms.
After Mueller retired in 1965, Bitter Sr. purchased his interest and the store continued to operate under the same name.
Later, two of Bitter Sr.’s sons, Harold and Alfred Jr. (Butch), became partners in the business in 1960.
When Bitter Sr. retired in 1979, Edgar Radue and his wife, Jan, became third-generation owners of Bitter Neumann. Ed and Jan’s two sons, Tim and Dan Radue took up fourth-generation family ownership in April 2007.
Tim and Dan opened a new Manitowoc Bitter Neumann store in October 2012 with Dan taking sole ownership of the business in June 2020. He then took ownership of Hansen Furniture Appliance Mattress, an established business in Waupaca, in October 2021.
In addition to ownership changes, Bitter Neumann’s store facilities and locations have also expanded considerably over the years.
In 1928, a 2,000-foot expansion project was completed at the original Millersville store to allow for more space for groceries, dry goods, boots and shoes, hardware and paint, flour and feed, as well as sheet metal works, plumbing heating, water systems and milking machines with appliances added to the lineup of store offerings by the late 1930s.
Another remodel and expansion project in 1942 included the addition of the cheese factory building east of the original store to allow for a larger hardware building materials department and an appliance showroom.
A new 26,000 square foot building was constructed on Wisconsin Drive in Howards Grove in 1971 offering general merchandise, groceries, hardware, appliances, electronics, sporting goods and outdoor equipment, as well as appliance and TV repair shops.
With the purchase of the former D.J. Nelesen building, a new Sheboygan store was added in 1983, which carried appliances and electronics and outdoor equipment and a furniture department was added with the Broyhill Showcase Gallery in 1984.
In 1990 Harold Bitter sold the grocery side of the Howards Grove building to Bill and Mary Schleh with the appliance and hardware departments continuing to occupy the other half of the building.
An expansion of the Sheboygan store’s furniture showroom was completed in 1991, which is now known as the Butler Building. The Howards Grove store closed in 1992 upon Harold Bitter’s death.
After forging a long history of success over the past 100 years, Bitter Neumann continues to stand tall in its field.
“Today, we offer top brands of kitchen and laundry appliances, outdoor grills, furniture for every room, home accessories, and mattresses and bedding accessories,”
Bitter Neumann Marketing Manager Jackie Stenson said. “The fact that we have been in business for a century, with fourth generation ownership and continued expansion, sets us apart from our competitors, both large and small.
“Our sales specialists are knowledgeable and provide one-on-one customer service to each customer,” she said. “Our sales associates specialize in their department, so they are well versed on the features and benefits of the products to the customer. We have a team of local delivery and installation technicians as well as certified service technicians. As we always have, ‘we deliver, install and service everything we sell.’”
Bitter Neumann, which employs a total of 40 staff members between its Sheboygan and Manitowoc stores and 12 employees at the Hansen Furniture Appliance Mattress store in Waupaca, offers a extend blend of appliance and grill brands, including Whirlpool Corp. – Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Electrolux Corp. – Frigidaire, Electrolux and Vintec, GE, GE Profile, Hotpoint and Café, Speed Queen, LG, Samsung, Galanz, Danby, Sharp, Suz-zero/Wolf, Perlick, U-line, Zephyr, Vent-a-Hood, Fulgor Milano, Smeg, Falmec, Big Green Egg and Broil King.
In conjunction with its 100th year in business, Bitter Neumann has a few special things in store for is large base of customers.
“We share a birthday with Betty White, who also would have both turned 100 this past Monday, January 17th,” Stenson said. “We celebrated on that day with a toast to Dan and the business. We also had a lunch featuring hot dogs and potato chips, two of Betty’s favorite foods.
“We also kicked off a monthly Facebook giveaway contest,” she said. “Each month, we post a trivia question related to Bitter Neumann, including it’s history, owners, family, and ask followers to answer the question to qualify for that month’s prize.
All correct answers throughout the year will be entered to win the grand prize at the end of the year. We have more than $16,000 in prizes to give away, with the grand prize being an Electrolux front load laundry pair with pedestals.
As of February 1st, our customers will be able to enter monthly to win a Tempurpedic pillow. Each of the month’s winners will be entered to win the grand prize of a Tempurpedic mattress at the end of the year.”
In addition, Bitter Neumann has some in-store sales slated to celebrate the century mark.
“We also have planned sales promotions throughout the year, the first being our 100th Anniversary sale on February 11th and 12th. We will have storewide savings to celebrate a century.”
According to Stenson, Bitter Neumann has had to be a bit creative in maintaining its success through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Beginning in March of 2020 and throughout that year, we adapted to different ways of working with customers,” Stenson said. “As an essential business, we remained open throughout the duration and worked with customers more over phone, e-mail, live chat, our website and social media.
“We drove the message home that we are here for you when you need us even if that means meeting in person isn’t always an option,” she said. “Now that things have calmed a bit, we continue to provide our customers with numerous ways to connect with us. We see a lot more interactions and purchases from our website than ever before and continue to work with customers in the ways they prefer.
We continue to see an increase in in-store traffic. Just like many industries, the appliance and furniture industries have seen challenges with supply chain, production and labor shortages. While special order items may take longer to get since the pandemic began, our warehouses are full and we encourage people to purchase off the showroom floor. If you see find what you’re looking for on the floor, purchase and take it home today, or we will set it up for delivery and installation.”
Looking back on the 100-year history of Bitter Neumann, Stenson says one sales promotion stands out as being truly memorable.
“The most unique sales promotion in Bitter Neumann’s history was in July 1964 when we had the ‘Pony Sale,’” Stenson said. “Customers got a free pony with the purchase of a Kelvinator refrigerator.
“The story goes that Harold and Alfred Jr.’s uncle sold ponies and they weren’t selling well, so they made a deal with him,” she said. “Bitter Neumann Co. sold 20 refrigerators that weekend, and people spent more time in the corral picking out their ponies than they did their refrigerators.”
A strong sense of pride in its history, is currently showcased at Bitter Neumann’s Sheboygan store.
“We have a dedicated area at the back of the store on the first floor to the left of the desk that features memorabilia and pictures from our history,” Stenson said. “We invite people to come in and take a look. We’re also looking to borrow any Bitter Neumann memorabilia someone might have.”
In honor of Betty White’s affection for animals, Bitter Neumann will be supporting a cause that was close to the heart of its 100th birthday buddy.
“We are doing a year-long #bettywhiteandbitterneumannchallenge,” Stenson said. “We are working with both the Humane Society of Sheboygan County and Lakeshore Humane Society (Manitowoc/Two Rivers) to gather donations, either directly to the barrels located at each of the two stores or by making a monetary donation online.
“Each month, we promote a different ‘theme’ for giving/donating,” he said. “This first month, it’s donating from both societies’ Amazon wish lists. More details can be found at https://www.bitterneumann.com/betty-white.html.”