Stanley Marcus was president of the Neiman Marcus retail department store chain from 1950 to 1975. Involved in the company since 1926, he continued the family tradition of providing high-quality products at reasonable prices. Marcus turned a local Dallas store into an internationally respected retailer with 30 stores nationwide.
Harold Stanley Marcus was born in Dallas, Texas, on April 20, 1905. He was the eldest son of Herbert Marcus, one of the founders of the Neiman Marcus department store, and Minnie Lichenstein Marcus. Stanley had three younger brothers: Edward, Herbert Jr., and Lawrence. Stanley was raised in Dallas and attended Forrest Avenue High School. From there he went East to prestigious Harvard University. He graduated in 1925 and received his Master's degree in business administration from Harvard's Business School in 1926.
Retailing was a Marcus family affair. In 1907, when Stanley Marcus was only two years old, Herbert Marcus, Sr., along with Stanley's aunt and uncle, Carrie Marcus Neiman and Al Neiman, founded Neiman Marcus. Young Stanley spent his childhood playing among the clothing and display cases of his family's Dallas store.
Upon returning from Harvard in 1926, Stanley went to work at the store. Al Neiman had just retired and the elder Marcus needed his son's help. Stanley started as a floor man in Neiman Marcus' apparel departments. It was not the career he had envisioned for himself; he had wanted to be a book publisher. His father and aunt insisted that he join the family business, but promised that his creative energies would not be stifled.
In November 1932, Stanley Marcus married Mary Cantrell. The two met when Mary worked as a buyer in the Neiman Marcus sports shop. They had three children: Jerry and twins Richard and Wendy. After Mary Marcus' death, Stanley Marcus married his second wife, Linda, in 1979.
Stanley Marcus was extremely active in the social scenes of New York and Dallas. He was a member of the Grolier, Harvard, and Harmonie clubs in New York and the Columbian, Lakewood Country, and Variety Clubs of Dallas.
During Stanley's first year at Neiman Marcus, his creativity was certainly put to use. He pioneered Neiman Marcus' weekly fashion shows, the first by an American department store. The store became famous for these shows and it was their first step into the world of high fashion. Stanley Marcus also introduced the Neiman Marcus Fashion Exposition. Under his guidance, Neiman Marcus became the first specialty store to advertise in national magazines. These were the first of many promotional visions that Stanley Marcus brought to life. Over time, his marketing genius became legendary.
By 1928, Stanley Marcus was an executive. He became director, secretary, and treasurer of Neiman Marcus, as well as the sportswear merchandise manager. At this time, the United States was beginning its plunge into the Great Depression. Most of the country saw poverty on previously unknown levels and countless businesses closed. Retail establishments like Neiman Marcus were particularly hard-hit, as Americans struggled to put food on their tables and eschewed fashion and decor. Amazingly, Neiman Marcus only had two years of small losses during the Depression, the only losses in the company's history.
In September 1930, oil was discovered in several large oil fields in east Texas. This created wealth for many Dallas families and increased business for Neiman Marcus. In the article, "Fashion is My Business," in the December 1948 issue of Atlantic Monthly, Stanley Marcus described how he guided these newly wealthy families in their fashion and décor choices. As a result of his direction, the Depression's nouveau riche could not be distinguished from the Southwest's older wealthy families. Still, during the Depression, Marcus noticed that many of the Southwest's wealthiest continued to travel to New York or Paris to purchase their clothes. So, Stanley Marcus arranged a lunch with the famed publisher Condé Nast. At this meeting, Marcus announced that he wanted to advertise Neiman Marcus in Nast's fashion magazines. He easily convinced Nast, who until then had only accepted advertising from New York stores, and soon Neiman Marcus advertisements were found in Vogue and other couture magazines.
In 1938, Stanley developed the Neiman Marcus awards, "the Oscars of Fashion." The awards were presented annually for distinguished service in the field of fashion. Early honorees included Christian Dior in 1947 for "The Look." The same year saw designer Norman Hartnell of London honored for designing Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown.
World War II involved the entire Marcus family. Stanley Marcus served as director on a three-state regional board of the Smaller War Plants Corporation. He was also chief of the clothing section of the textile, clothing, and leather branch of the War Production Board in early 1942. Brothers Edward, Herbert, and Lawrence joined the armed services. All of the Marcus brothers returned to work for Neiman Marcus at the conclusion of the war.
After the war, Stanley's marketing savvy, combined with Neiman Marcus' legendary quality merchandise and customer service, continued the store's growth. His national advertising campaign continued as he worked to present Neiman Marcus merchandise as irresistible. By 1949, the specialty store's charge accounts numbered about 100,000. Neiman Marcus could claim customers throughout the United States and many parts of the world. That same year, French ambassador Henri Bonnet presented Stanley with the Chevalier Award of the Order of the Legion of Honor for his contributions to French industry and commerce by influencing the sale of French fashions.
Patriarch Herbert Marcus Sr. died in 1950. At this time, Carrie Neiman was named chairman of the board, Stanley Marcus became president and chief executive officer and Edward Marcus became executive vice president.
Stanley Marcus is among the most visible of those family members associated with Neiman Marcus. His imprint is all over the operation—so much so that when a new chief executive officer came on board, one pundit told WWD that the man would no doubt attempt to emulate Marcus.
Marcus made the Neiman Marcus catalogues famous. Designed to promote the company's mail order business, the first catalogue appeared in 1915. The company's sophistication was exemplified in the amazing offerings of its catalogues. Stanley Marcus' most famous marketing strategy was his 1960 creation: his and hers gifts in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue. The response was tremendous, stimulating sales and strengthening Neiman Marcus' place as an internationally known retailer. In "His and Hers, the Fantasy World of the Neiman Marcus Catalogue," Marcus said, "did more to establish our catalogue than any other idea. We had His and Hers submarines for $18,700 each. Hot air balloons at $6,850 each. We had His and Hers camels. His and Her airplanes. Matching Chinese junks that we headlined, 'Junk for Christmas, $11,500.' We sold eight." This was quite a difference from Neiman Marcus' first Christmas catalogue in 1915, a six-page, 5 by 6 inch list of Christmas gift ideas!
Marcus' philosophy was that a successful retailer stays ahead by fighting standardization, "by selling what he believes in, not just what he thinks can make him money." From that point, success becomes a question of high-quality salesmanship. "One thing I learned very early is that a valuable salesperson is easily worth three times what you pay the average schnook," he told Inc. "Because you never know what that schnook is costing you in lost sales. Why do you think that you have to have so many department stores in a mall these days? It's not because their merchandise is so different. It's because each of them does such a poor selling job that they survive just taking up each other's unsatisfied customers. A store with good sales people wouldn't let that happen."
Despite the store's purchase by Carter Hawley Hale Stores, Inc. in 1969, Stanley Marcus stayed involved with the day-to-day-operations of Neiman Marcus and remained visible as a business leader in the Dallas community. Marcus was named as executive vice president of the company's specialty store division. He retired in 1974 with the title chairman emeritus.
Chronology: Stanley Marcus
1907: Neiman Marcus department store in Dallas is founded by his father, aunt, and uncle.
1926: Graduated from Harvard Business School.
1928: Became director, secretary, and treasurer of Neiman Marcus.
1935: Began national advertising campaign in Condè Nast fashion publications.
1938: Originated Neiman Marcus Awards, the Oscars of Fashion.
1950: Became president of Neiman Marcus.
1960: Created Neiman Marcus His and Hers gifts.
1974: Retired from Neiman Marcus and started a consulting business.
1995: Celebrated his 90th birthday.
He continues to be active, and acts as a consultant in the retail industry. His company takes on everything from redesigning corporate logos to schooling executives in art history so they can make appropriate purchases for their corporate offices. He has written three books, Minding the Store (1974), Quest for the Best (1979) and Hisand Hers (1983). He also writes a weekly editorial column for the Dallas Morning News. He has written numerous articles on fashion and retailing for well-known publications, including Atlantic Monthly and Fortune.
Even in the mid-1990s, the nonagenarian business consultant continued to give public lectures around the country. Narrowcasting, the business he co-founded, is a marketing service which gathers information on the shopping habits of America's wealthy. During this time critics still continued to view his analysis of the current market as cutting edge.
"In the 21st century, I think the department store will have to be redefined and reinvented," Marcus told WWD. "It serves a very important place in the American distribution economy, but it's out of date. Across the country, with few exceptions like Macy's and Bloom-ingdale's, department stores are dismal places to be in. They're overcrowded with fixtures and merchandise, offer no service to speak of, no ambience or anything exciting. They don't even have the charm of a warehouse."
Social and Economic Impact
Marcus managed to give his local Dallas store a reputation for quality that spanned the globe. In a move that was unprecedented for fashion retailers outside of New York City, Marcus started placing ads in national magazines in the 1930s. Since his primary customers were oil-rich Dallas residents who traveled extensively, Marcus realized that his competition included retailers in the Big Apple. Moreover, he deduced that extensive advertising would give these travelling Texans a sense of security, knowing that their provincial shopping outlet was recognized as a source of quality.
"The fact that we dared to advertise in a national magazine made news itself, and as a result Time and Life magazine came to see me to find out what kind of store it was," Marcus recalled.
Despite his work responsibilities, Stanley Marcus stayed busy in Dallas' civic and cultural communities. He was a member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board, the American Council for Judaism, the Civic Federation of Dallas, the Greater Dallas Planning Council, the Dallas Health Museum, and the Dallas Historical Society. National organizations to which he belonged included the American Heritage Foundation, the National Commission of Public Schools, and the American Trade Association for British Woollen, Inc. He also served as an alumni advisor to Harvard University.
Through his membership in the American Retail Federation, Marcus worked to correct the "economic illiteracy" of American retailers. He was elected chairman of the board of trustees of the federation in 1949. He urged the federation to become a "powerful force to protect consumer interests" and declared that businessmen should have a better understanding of national interests. As American Retail Federation chairman, he developed policies for an organization representing over 500,000 U.S. retail stores.
Stanley Marcus is a retailing legend; he lived by the credo "the customer is always right." Customer service and quality were his passion and through that passion, he turned a local Dallas specialty store into an international giant whose name is synonymous with distinction.
Sources of Information
Contact at: Neiman Marcus
300 Crescent Cir., Ste. 375
Dallas, TX 75201
Business Phone: (617)232-0760
Haber, Holly. "Stanley Marcus at 90: The Great Gadfly." WWD, 12 April 1995.
Raphel, Murray. "An Interview With Stanley Marcus." Direct Marketing, October 1995.
Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography Who's News and Why 1949. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1949.
Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, Directors and Executives. New York: Standard & Poor's Corp., 1997.
Tapert, Annette. "Arbiter of Elegance: Stanley Marcus, at 92, has Observed and Critiqued..." Town & Country Monthly, September 1997.
The Writers Directory, Detroit: St. James Press, 1996.