Like father, like daughter

After five years at MR, I’ve finally learned the secret to getting merchants to open up: ask about their daughters.

Alicia Abdalla Mouton and Brother Abdalla: Brother’s on the Boulevard, Lafayette, La.

Alicia: I grew up in the store and going to market, but I needed to go out and do my own thing. I worked at Pitney Bowes, and then did pharmaceutical sales. I didn’t know if I was going to come back, but about a year ago everything aligned. Now I buy (mostly women’s), I’m launching our online store and heading up social media.

Brothers has been open for 35 years, so I have a ton to learn from my parents, but I also try to challenge them to think outside the box.

My dad and I are a lot alike: both strong Type-A personalities. We don’t work on many projects together. We each have our own responsibilities and there’s plenty for everyone to do to keep busy. One thing he does that he probably doesn’t think I appreciate (but I do) is he spends a lot of time looking through magazines getting ideas, and then he passes them on to me for the follow-through. We both have the competitive spirit; we want to sell the latest and greatest and make sure we’re ahead of the competition.

Brother: She’s very good at what she does and she’s a huge asset to our business. Oh, at times we butt heads. She wants to do everything yesterday, but I say Rome wasn’t built in a day. I don’t want to say she has too much passion, but when she calls me with a business idea at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night… We find ourselves having to pull the reins in on her. But you need passion in retail, and you can’t teach passion. If you have it, the rest will follow.

When you get older, you mellow out and tend to forget, but she reminds me of how excited I was at her age. She’ll kill me for saying this, but it’s like having a dog tugging at your leg that you can’t shake off. She’s helping us keep up with the times and she’s the future of our business.

Crawford Brock, Laura Chandler, Leigh Friend and Helen Brock: Stanley Korshak, Dallas

Laura: I always knew I wanted to be part of the family business. When I was younger, I was an intern at the store during holidays and summers. I attended Baylor University and received my degree in business management, then I rotated through every department in the store before being placed as the assistant buyer in our Home Shop. After that I was an assistant buyer and then co-buyer for men’s sportswear. Now I’m an analyst, and also one of the assistants to Rose Clark, our EVP and general merchandising manager.

I was fired once… I suggested that we needed a POS system (back when we were handwriting customer purchases), but unfortunately I chose the wrong time to bring this up (on the men’s floor in front of sales staff). My dad did not appreciate the timing and fired me on the spot. It was a Donald Trump, Apprentice-style “You are fired!” I laugh about it now because he ended up getting a new POS system not too long after that, and there was even an article in the paper about us getting it. Luckily I was hired back a couple of years later.

I love coming to work and seeing my sisters and my dad. I eat lunch with at least one sister every day, and our family lunch day is Wednesday. My sisters and I are VERY different, but we balance each other out. Leigh is “the face” with a bubbly personality. Helen is the fashionista, and I’m the numbers person.

My dad has taught me that if you want something, go get it. I am very proud of all he has accomplished and hope to carry on the tradition.

Leigh: I’ve always had an interest in the business, but my dad encouraged me to study something I enjoyed. I majored in health and exercise science at Furman University and was planning to take a year off before going to grad school. My dad offered me the opportunity to work in the family business that year and I jumped at it. Five years later I’m still here, as the director of public relations.

What I value the most is my dad’s charm and sincerity. Simply by watching him I’ve learned how to accomplish goals. He also has a great sense of humor and loves to have a good time. Most of my memories center on something funny he did, like playing Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours on his iPhone and breaking out his dance moves during a Wednesday morning all-store meeting. I have the privilege to work for one of the most knowledgeable, passionate retail gurus in the business, and he happens to be my dad.

Helen: When I was little, I remember sitting in the cosmetic chair counting all the bags that left the store filled with purchases. My father has always been so passionate that it just rubbed off on me. His mottos are: “If you are on time you are late, but if you are early you are on time. Hard work pays off. Always give 110%.”

I received a degree in finance from SMU. Once I graduated I moved to NYC for six months, working for a few of our vendors to learn the wholesale side of the business. I also spent time working for another family-owned store in Connecticut. Now I’m the assistant buyer for The Shak at Stanley Korshak.

There are no negative aspects to working with my family. I LOVE coming to work every day. (And I enjoy getting a ride to work in the morning when I don’t feel like walking!)

Crawford: I started talking to my daughters about the possibility of joining the business when they were young. After they graduated college, each one did a rotation through the different departments to find where they fit. They’re all tech-savvy and have helped open my eyes to social media and e-commerce opportunities.

They feel like they need to work twice as hard to prove themselves. One day a very pushy customer called and told my daughter Leigh she was “disappointed” with the service she had received—and Leigh couldn’t stop beating herself up over it. They’re tougher on themselves than I am on them. As they get more confident in their own abilities, it’s exciting for me. It’s a special pleasure to come to work every day and know they’re here.

Craig DeLongy and Blair DeLongy: John Craig, four locations in Florida

Craig: She got her first job as a hostess when she was 16. While she was in college, I asked her to come work for me and make more money! I saw she had an interest, so I started taking her to New York; she was so personable and really got along with everyone. She had a great eye.

In spring 2007 I opened a store at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., so I asked her to run it and see how she liked it—she just blossomed. It’s a difficult job because they have such a high level of expectation, but we just renewed our lease for another five years.

She also had a lot of interest in Current, our new contemporary store, and she thought I was buying it all wrong. I have to say, I think she was right. She changed the look and the business is up 50 percent from last year. I trust everyone who works for me, but there’s something special about having family around.

I’ve been in retail for the most part of my life, and you get into a rut about the way things are “supposed to be.” She has youth and innocence. She’s made me reopen my eyes to lines that I’ve passed on. She’s more diplomatic than I am. Where I might say “that looks like shit” she’d say “that’s just not my taste.”

Here’s the thing about daughters: there’s something special about every age. You find yourself saying, “I don’t want this to change; this is the best.” And at the next age, your relationship is different, but it’s still the very best. I’m so very proud of her.

Blair: I worked in the stores part time during college, so I knew I liked it and I was good at it. When I graduated with my degree in international business, we had just opened up two stores in Naples, so I got the opportunity to manage one of them.

Now I do 50 percent of the buying for John Craig, and 100 percent of the buying for Current. I manage John Craig at the Ritz-Carlton, and I just got promoted to vice president of retail operation (in addition to my other duties!).

My dad and I are in different stores, but we talk everyday. We see things pretty similarly, but every once in awhile we might butt heads just because we’re both stubborn.

The biggest thing my dad has taught me is that the assistant buyer is like the Vice President: just there to sit and listen! No, in all seriousness, he’s taught me that it’s the little things that make the biggest impact. Whether it’s offering customers coffee, water or a glass of wine, or sending a handwritten thank you note, those are the things that help us create relationships. He is a great example.

David Rubenstein and Allison Marshall: Rubensteins, New Orleans

David: It was always a good business, so I had hoped my daughters would consider it. Young women need to learn to make a living. But they didn’t want to work for me, so they started their own women’s store.

When they were getting ready to go into business, we had a meeting with our family consultant. When they told him their business plan was to “buy stuff and sell it,” he told me they weren’t going to make it. Years later, after they had become successful, they teased him about it saying, “What do you think our daddy has been talking about all these years at the breakfast table? Business!”

Now Allison also works with us half the week, and she’s in charge of display and advertising. We may have different opinions, but as long as she stands behind an idea and carries it through, it’s all hers. The internet is free reign for the new generation—I don’t even want to hear about it! It’s their area of expertise and it builds their confidence.

My wife works here full-time too, and I like being around family. I was brought up in the family business with my own father. It helped to have my education start so early. We talk business when we take Allison’s children to and from school, so we’re starting their education, too.

Our relationship is, of course, different than my relationship with the other employees. Other than Allison and my wife, I don’t kiss any of the employees. And my daughter may argue a point further with me than someone else would…she doesn’t mind pushing the buttons!

Allison: I always knew for certain I never wanted to go into the family business, or retail, or men’s fashion. I graduated with a business degree and wanted to stay in New Orleans. Dad told me I needed to get a job, so I went to work at an antiques store, then I later opened a women’s store called ah-ha with my sister Hillary.

We also lived together and couldn’t be together every second, so we took turns working in the store. I needed something else to do when it wasn’t my turn, so I asked my dad if he had an opening at Rubensteins. Thirteen years later I’m still here.

My dad picks me up every day, we bring my kids to daycare and nursery school, then we go to work. At the end of the day we pick up the kids and he drops us all off. I truly appreciate my time with him, because outside of work things get so hectic.

He works six days a week and loves every aspect of it. He has a real passion for what he does. He has so much great advice to offer, but I think the greatest thing my father has given me is his unconditional love. It gave me the confidence to try new things that I may not have otherwise. I may succeed or I may fail, but I know he is right there behind me no matter what—usually with a little bit of unsolicited advice. It has shaped how I raise my two daughters and hopefully they will grow up just as confident and happy as I am.

Hal Lansky and Julie Lansky: Lansky Bros., Memphis

Hal: Julie graduated from the University of Colorado in 2002, and I wanted her to go out and find a job, do her own thing. But there was a recession and no one was doing any hiring. She hadn’t worked too much in the store before that, but she was good at it immediately. She studied communications and marketing, so she’s in charge of our internet site, social media and PR. We don’t have titles around here… She also runs the contemporary Lansky’s 126 store.

I really don’t get on her case too much; I let her make mistakes so she can learn from them. We don’t butt heads because I really listen to her opinion. She’s a great backup and sounding board. Plus she gets so excited when a new order comes in: “Dad, look at this!” I’m thinking that my dad and I saw the same thing 20 years ago—there’s truly nothing new in this business! But it’s nice to see a new level of excitement.

I tell everybody that now I know how my dad felt; her being here is a great relief and she takes a lot of pressure off me. Julie knows that because she’s here 24/7, this is truly her business. All her hard work is going to come back to her.

Julie: The plan was not to go into the family business, but as an advertising and marketing major in a recession, the jobs were scarce. My dad was opening a denim shop, so I decided to work there for the summer and then move to Chicago.

That summer, I had the idea to redo the website, which was especially important because we’re a tourist destination, where we might have a great sale but never see that customer again. By the end of the summer I had launched the website for all four of our stores; it was my baby and I didn’t want to leave it. Then one of his buyers quit, so he said, “You’re coming with me to market!” It’s now my 10th year.

I learned how to sell from my grandfather and how to buy from my dad. He’s great to work with. He let me just dive in, and I learn as I go. He taught me that I get out of the business what I put into it, and that I control my own destiny. He’s also introduced me to everyone in the industry; he did a great job integrating me and teaching me how to build positive relationships.

I feel lucky that I get to spend more time with my dad than my sisters are able to. But they have nights and weekends off, so they just look at us and laugh. We’re on the floor six or seven days a week. Sometimes we have friendly competitions about who did better for the day or who had the biggest sale. But at the end of the day we’re one team.

Dave Morton and Lindsay Morton Gaiser: Andrisen Morton, Denver

Dave: It took us a long time to hammer out our family employment policy, determining the standards for bringing on a second generation. Craig [Andrisen] and I believe that G2s need to come equipped with their own experiences and valuable skill sets the original owners might not have. A sense of entitlement is the kiss of death.

Lindsay performed at the top level in her other positions and would have been an attractive candidate for any retail company, so it was a pretty easy decision to hire her. She’s always had great taste, and now it’s validated by the performance of her division. Her direct report is to Craig on the product side; I handle accounting and finance, so we work together on some marketing projects.

The biggest joy for me as a father comes when Craig and I bump into each other in the hall because we’re both running down to ask for Lindsay’s opinion on something. And when a vendor or one of my friends from the Forum Group tells me, unsolicited, how well she’s doing and how much they like her, I couldn’t be prouder.

Just a year after she started, we were going through a tough time and closing our women’s store, and I was really impressed with the way she stood up and handled the pressure. Every business reaches a point where it has to evolve or it’s going to devolve. The idea of succession, perpetuating our brand, has been on our minds recently. I now believe Lindsay could do it all by herself and probably be even more successful than the first generation.

Lindsay: I knew I had to work for five years outside the business, but after starting out in finance and hating it, I decided to move to New York and pursue my passion. I worked for Hugo Boss, then I went to Stanley Korshak in Dallas, and eventually to Nordstrom. Now at Andrisen Morton, I’m the sportswear buyer and marketing director.

I’m so grateful to have those experiences, so I actually had tools to bring to the business. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had without my dad and Craig providing the platform and actually requiring that I go out and be successful.

The beauty of a small business is that I get to collaborate with my dad a lot. This is a great business with a bright future and, knock on wood, we don’t have any issues working together.

I could go on and on about what he has taught me… I guess the biggest things would be hard work and humility. When I was 14, he made me get a job at Safeway, our local grocery store. There was a strike and they were offering $9 an hour. I hated it at the time, but it was the best thing for me.

Carl Slesinger and Lisa Slesinger: Larrimor’s, Pittsburgh

Lisa: I wasn’t allowed to work in the store. My parents told us growing up, “The people who work here are educated professionals, and just being a family member does not qualify you to interact with the clientele.”

My first career path was ideally suited to coming back at some point, but that was not my intent at the time. After school in St. Louis, I moved to New York City and did the Macy’s management training program; I later worked on branded programs for May Company, and then for Talbots.

The timing was right to move back to Pittsburgh when my business partner [Tom Michael] sold his share in another company. We decided that both of our business backgrounds could bring my father a different set of experiences and skills. He really is one of the smartest merchants around, and we knew we had a lot to offer him, too. I’m now responsible for buying men’s sportswear and furnishings, and women’s RTW and accessories.

I’ve been with my dad in market and seen him ask questions about product that no one else has asked, things that if he hadn’t thought of, we would have ended up with product we didn’t want. When I’m out without him, I’m always thinking, “What would Carl be asking?” He has an interesting approach and an eye for detail that has really helped me. We’re both very analytical, wanting to look at the reports and not make decisions based on hunches. We’re also both dry and sarcastic; if people get one of us, they get the other.

Carl: Through high school and college, Lisa always had jobs, but not in our business. In fact, I was surprised when she told us she had applied for the Macy’s training program. My wife (who was also involved in the business) and I never wanted our children to feel obligated to come into it; they should join because they wanted to, and because both parties felt there was a value added. When she finally wanted to come back to Pittsburgh, it was a win-win because of the experience she had gotten in New York. I’ll never forget: our first real conversation as retailers was about whether she should buy FOB factory or FOB store.

From the time she started working here, she was to call me Carl, not Dad. (I tried for Mr. Slesinger, but she wasn’t too happy with that.) I think about when I worked with my father and try to keep in mind what he did that drove me nuts. I hope I’m doing a good job at not driving Lisa crazy.

There’s a lot of personal satisfaction in working with an equal partner that happens to also be your daughter. We’ve always operated on the philosophy that whoever has the best reason for a decision gets the call. I don’t think we’re ever at conflict because we’re always open to discussing different perspectives.

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