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Homegrown retailer still firmly rooted
PHOTO: George Goldfarb
George Goldfarb said he’s sometimes disappointed when the company he leads is profiled in print. The reason? Reporters fail to capture the importance of the “culture” of Maurices.
It’s a hometown family culture, said Goldfarb, Maurices president, and it’s central to the company’s success.
“Duluth’s a great place to do business,” he said. “There’s a great talent pool,” with the presence of several colleges and universities in the Twin Ports. And, it’s a great place to raise a family, he added.
That family and community culture stretches back to the company’s beginnings. Maurices was founded in 1931 by Maurice Labovitz. Although sold in 1978 to Dutch company Brenninkmeyers, merged with publicly traded Dress Barn in 2005 and later became part of holding company Ascena, the hometown feel has remained, said Goldfarb.
That all-in-the-family touch is reflected at the company’s Duluth headquarters. Upbeat employees sport neat but casual attire. And, there are above-average amenities for workers. An exercise room with enough workout equipment to start a small gym is available, along with a large lounge area that looks more like home than office. Here, employees can swap books with each other on an honor system.
“The people truly made this organization so innovative, special and enjoyable to work for,” said Beth Lyden, who worked for nearly 10 years as Maurices’ marketing department manager. “We all worked very hard and had a lot of fun in the process. Setting goals, supporting each other and celebrating success was the way we operated.”
Duluth Chamber President and CEO David Ross likens the community relationship with Maurices to the presence of the148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard – both have long been a part of the community, and one doesn’t have to go far to find a friend or family member with a connection.
It’s not just the familial atmosphere that’s contributed to the company’s success. A brand that’s been consistent and stood for value also has been important, Goldfarb said.
Ascena’s holdings include clothing options for older customers through brands such as Dress Barn and Lane Bryant, but Maurices maintains its niche with the 20-something woman – between the ages of 17 and 34. There are no plans to change that target market. Too much diversification, says its president, can easily dilute the brand.
“You can jeopardize losing your focus, and in this business you’ve got to stay focused,” he said.
Whatever the factors at play, it’s hard to argue with numbers – and the company’s success has been obvious in recent years. While many other retailers languished during the Great Recession, Maurices flourished – adding stores as well as bolstering its bottom line.
Goldfarb said his company took a long view during the worst of the recession – taking advantage of inexpensive commercial real estate to expand. It’s a strategy that’s paid off. Maurices has been on a steady upward trajectory.
At the end of the fiscal year in July, the company reported $853 million in sales and profits of $103 million. In 2011, sales ended at $777 million. Ascena, which also is the parent company of Dressbarn, Justice, Catherine’s and Lane Bryant, opened 39 new stores including 27 Maurices during FY 2011 and another 57 in FY 2012.
Growth has taken place with its U.S. markets, but the company also sees significant growth possibilities to the north. In Canada, said Goldfarb, there are few places that cater to both casual and dressy as does Maurices. There also are few stores there that carry sizes from one to 24.
“Our unique niche is perfect for Canada – a young 20-something customer, multi-lifestyle and our plus products really fill a void,” he said.
There currently are six stores in Canada but Goldfarb anticipates that number has the potential to grow to 150.
Rapid growth means the company has outgrown its current corporate offices on Superior Street. To accommodate its staff, currently about 400 FTEs locally, the company announced plans in September to become the anchor tenant of the planned 425 Tower building on West Superior Street.
Staff has made do and even improvised with the 100,000-square-feet at its current 105 W. Superior St. location. But with anticipated growth combined with the fact that Duluth offices also fulfill payroll and accounting functions for Ascena, new quarters are a must. Staff is expected to grow by another 100 in the next three years.
“This building (105 W Superior Street) is really discombobulated,” said Goldfarb, adding that the Tower will give the company 35,000 square feet of continuous space in which to work – about four times the continuous space currently available.
The Tower offices are being developed by AtWater, which is part of the RJS family of companies. AtWater develops properties and works in building construction, management and maintenance.
The new 15-story structure will replace the existing 425 Building, often referred to as the former KDLH building. Construction on the $80 million project is set to begin next spring with completion expected in 2015. About 300 will be employed during peak construction.
AtWater President Brian Forcier said the final square footage is yet to be determined and will depend upon securing signed leases. The project was proposed, however, as a 300,000-foot office space, with Maurices committed to occupy 180,000. AtWater will be working with Maurices to find a buyer for the existing space it will leave behind.
The project has been hailed by city officials and business leaders as not only a new development, but a demonstration of Maurices’ commitment to Duluth and the region.
“This project will anchor the west end of our Downtown, transform our skyline and symbolize the tremendous commitment of the private sector and confidence in the city of Duluth,” Mayor Don Ness said at a September press conference.
“There will be close to 1,000 people in and out of this building a day,” said Forcier, adding that the new offices will be class A space in an area currently occupied by class B and C space. “This development also solidifies Maurices in Duluth for decades to come, and that has a huge impact on surrounding cities.”
While Maurices won’t move into its new headquarters for nearly three years, there’s still plenty of optimism within the company about the more immediate future.
Although many publicly traded companies have disappointed with recent earnings reports, Maurces’ president is upbeat about the upcoming holiday season.
“Our numbers are up because of the great team we have at Maurices,” said Goldfarb, who noted that an online presence also has boosted sales in the last two years.
Commitment to Duluth also has prompted contagious optimism elsewhere.
“When you have a decision like this by a corporation the size of Maurices, it’s affirming,” said Ross. “Other corporations like to partner with winners.”Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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