Marcus, Stanley Harold
MARCUS, STANLEY HAROLD
Stanley Marcus (1905–) 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.
Stanley Harold 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 Marcus was the eldest of four sons. He 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 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, Marcus went to work at the store. Al Neiman had just retired, and the elder Marcus needed his son's help. Stanley Marcus started work 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 he join the family business, but promised that his creative energies would not be stifled.
In November 1932, Stanley Marcus married Mary Cantrell. They had three children. After Mary Marcus' death, Stanley Marcus later married his second wife, Linda, in 1979.
During Stanley's first year at Neiman Marcus, his creativity was 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 (1929–1939). 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 gave up 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. During the Depression, Marcus noticed that many of the Southwest's wealthiest continued to travel to New York or Paris to purchase their clothes. This was a market Marcus wanted to catch. He arranged a lunch with the famed publisher Conde Nast (1837–1942). 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 (1939–1945) 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. His brothers 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 Marcus worked to present Neiman Marcus merchandise in an irresistible light. 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 brother Edward Marcus became executive vice president.
Stanley Marcus was among the most visible of those family members associated with Neiman Marcus, with a strong presence throughout the company's operations. Marcus made the Neiman Marcus catalogues famous. Designed to promote the company's mail order business, the first catalogue appeared in 1915. 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. "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, five by six 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. magazine. "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.
He continued to be active in his retirement, and served as a consultant in the retail industry. Marcus has written three books, Minding the Store (1974), Quest for the Best (1979) and His and Hers (1983). He also wrote a weekly editorial column for the Dallas Morning News, as well as numerous articles on fashion and retailing for well-known publications, including Atlantic Monthly and Fortune magazines.
Even in the mid-1990s, Marcus, in his nineties, 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. Critics still continued to view his analyses of the current market as cutting edge.
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., as well as the American Retail Federation. As American Retail Federation chairman, Marcus developed policies for an organization representing over 500,000 U.S. retail stores. He also served as an alumni advisor to Harvard University.
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.
See also: Department Store, Retail Industry
Haber, Holly. "Stanley Marcus at 90: The Great Gadfly." WWD, April 12, 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, s.v. "Marcus, Stanley."
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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.
one thing i learned very early is that a valuable salesperson is easily worth three times what you pay the average schnook.
Retailing genius Stanley Marcus (born 1905) expanded his father's specialty shop into a full-service department store. Under his management, the Neiman-Marcus Department Store became one of the most renowned retail chains in the world, and developed a reputation for both the highest quality merchandise and unflagging customer service.
Stanley Marcus was born in Dallas, Texas on April 20, 1905. He was one of four sons born to Herbert Marcus and his wife, the former Minnie Lichtenstein. Marcus's paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Germany. His maternal grandparents, also immigrants, were Russian Jews. Herbert Marcus, along with his sister Carrie Neiman and her husband Al Neiman, founded the clothing store of Neiman-Marcus in 1907. It was a new innovation for customers to walk into a store and buy clothing, because most apparel was still sewn by dressmakers and tailors. Young Stanley spent a great deal of time at the family store, where his mother brought him frequently and left him to play. He was a bright and innovative boy who made toys from empty thread boxes and spools that he found in the alteration department of the store. At home, in the Marcus family, education was of primary importance. Marcus's parents supervised his homework, and his mother sent him to private elocution lessons where he became adept at public speaking. He had few friends as a child, and experienced bouts of anti-Semitism. The first such incident happened when he was still quite young. A gang of boys chased him home from school, and called him derisively "little Jew-boy."
Although Marcus failed the college entrance examination, his father sought an eastern prep school for him to attend. Many of the schools refused to accept the 16-year-old Marcus because of his Jewish heritage, a fact that shocked and stunned Marcus. When a friend offered to arrange for Marcus's admittance to Amherst, a small college in New England, Marcus accepted. However, his year at Amherst proved disappointing. The fraternities refused to admit him, again because of his religion, and he became alienated. He left for Harvard and joined an all-Jewish fraternity. At Harvard, Marcus enjoyed his English classes in particular. He was especially intrigued by the world of rare books when he enrolled in a class called, "The History of the Printed Book." At that time, Marcus decided to go into the book business, as a printer, publisher, or dealer. He even started his own mail order book service and acquired customers through letters of solicitation. As he explained in his memoir, "My moderate success through selling by letter proved to me that a letter was a very potent selling tool, if written interestingly and with a psychological understanding of its potential readers. Later, in my retail career, I used letters to sell millions of dollars of furs, jewels, books, golf balls, and antiquities through the mail." During summer vacations, Marcus worked at the family store, selling ladies' shoes.
As college graduation approached, Marcus discussed his publishing plans with his father. Although Herbert Marcus had no doubt that his son would follow him in the family business, Stanley Marcus feared that a career in retail sales would restrict his political self-expression. His father, a political conservative, assured his son that he would be free to express his liberal views and reminded him that the retail business would prove more lucrative than the book business. The extra income could be used to acquire a personal book collection. At his father's suggestion, Marcus went on to Harvard Business School to prepare for a career in retail. There he studied accounting, statistics, advertising, and finance.
Learned the Ropes
In the summer of 1928, Herbert and Minnie Marcus went to Europe; they left their son in Texas to work at the store with his uncle, Al Neiman. Upon their return Neiman sold his interest in the family business back to his brother-in-law. Only Stanley Marcus and his father remained to manage the store. Marcus assumed control of merchandising and had financial control over two buyers, Carrie Neiman and Moira Cullen. Marcus' brother Edward joined the store in 1928, after leaving Harvard. That same year, the store introduced its personalized gift-wrapping service, which became a hallmark of the Neiman-Marcus retail chain. Marcus also introduced weekly in-store fashion shows, bridal fashion shows, and Man's Night. The two brothers came up with the idea of promoting the store through national advertising in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. In one of his earliest promotions Marcus coordinated his effort with the State Fair of Texas. He developed a line of clothes and accessories based on the colors and motifs of the southwest. The store introduced the clothes at the first ever Neiman-Marcus evening fashion show, to which Marcus invited Edna Woolman Chase, editor of Vogue. Chase accepted the invitation and was very impressed.
In 1937, the store received major publicity in an article published in Fortune. Articles in Collier's, Life, and other magazines followed. Soon Marcus hired the store's first public relations director, Marihelen McDuff. In 1938, the store established the Neiman-Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion, a totally new sales promotion device. The following year, Marcus published his first article in Fortune. After the article appeared, he received solicitation for a number of speaking engagements and interviews. During World War II he worked for the federal government in Washington on a project to develop fabric conservation programs.
By 1944, all four Marcus brothers worked at the store. To distinguish the four siblings they were called Mr. Stanley, Mr. Herbert, Mr. Edward, and Mr. Lawrence. After the death of Herbert Marcus, Sr., the store board of directors elected Carrie Neiman to be chairman of the board. Stanley Marcus was named president and CEO, and his brother, Edward, was named executive vice-president. Marcus carried on the business philosophy he learned from his father. He encouraged his sales staff to be honest with customers and let them know if merchandise was not appropriate for their requirements.
"Junk for Christmas"
Marcus was ever on the lookout for publicity opportunities for the store. He knew that if he listed unusual and exotic gifts in the Christmas catalogue, then radio, television, newspapers, and magazines would report the catalogue as news. With this in mind he devised such gifts as "his and her" airplanes, miniature submarines, parasols, camels, Chinese junks, and authentic Egyptian mummy cases. These "stunt" pages attracted significant publicity and generated increases in the store's mail order sales. Not every exotic item was a success. One memorable failure was an inventory of custom-designed watches with Chinese characters on the faces instead of numerals. As ordered, the Chinese characters on the watches would have referenced an ancient Chinese legend. Instead the characters on the watch read, "We shall take over America by force."
Marcus liked to be recognized for his progressive political viewpoints. In 1966, he defended three teenage boys who were expelled from a Dallas high school for wearing their hair too long. Marcus believed that the boys' constitutional rights were violated and offered them financial aid to fight the decision in court. Also in the 1960s, Marcus conscientiously retrained his staff to insure that African American customers would receive equal treatment alongside white customers.
Life Outside the Store
Marcus and his wife, Mary "Billie" Cantrell had two daughters and a son. The couple entertained many celebrities, including the late Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Prince Rainier and the late Princess Grace of Monaco, Christian Dior, Lord Mountbatten, and the late Coco Chanel, in their 12,000-square-foot-home filled with their collections of art, books, masks, pre-Columbian pottery, Middle Eastern ceramics, and architect-designed furniture.
In 1968, the 27 Neiman-Marcus stores were bought by a conglomerate called Carter Hawley Hale. Marcus remained actively involved in the business for another ten years, retiring at the age of 72. He kept active by consulting with local business and international clients, such as Harrod's Department Store in London-charging $200,000 for 24-hour access to his wisdom. He also kept occupied in speechmaking, and writing. He wrote several books and, for over a decade, contributed a weekly column for the Dallas Morning News. In celebration of his 80th birthday, Marcus fulfilled a lifelong dream-to perform in the circus as a clown. He celebrated his 90th birthday at a lavish party attended by 1,200 guests, who joined him from as far away as Italy, Denmark, and Japan.
Marcus, Stanley, Minding the Store: A Memoir, Boston, Little Brown, 1974.
Marcus, Stanley, The Viewpoints of Stanley Marcus: A Ten-Year Perspective, University of North Texas, 1995.
Advertising Age, May 15, 1995.
Boston, February 1998.
Fortune, March 22, 1993.
Inc., June 1987.
Texas Monthly, December 1992.
People, May 13, 1985. □
American retail store
Opened: in Dallas in 1907. Company History: Ready-to-wear retailer was established by Herbert Marcus, Carrie Marcus Neiman, and Abraham Lincoln (Al) Neiman. Through Herbert, his son Stanley, and grandson Richard, management remained in the Marcus family over 80 years. Over the years many events and activities were established and became part of the fabric of contemporary fashion. Originally known for excellent service and unique merchandise, the company struggled to redefine itself under new ownership. Company Address: 1618 Main Street, Dallas, TX 75201. Company Website: www.neimanmarcus.com.
On NEIMAN MARCUS:
Marcus, Stanley, Minding the Store, Boston, 1974; reissued, 2001.
——, Quest for the Best, New York, 1979, reissued 2001.
Marcus, Stanley, The Viewpoints of Stanley Marcus: A Ten-Year Perspective, 1995.
Wilson, Robert A. and Stanley Marcus, eds., American Greats, 2000.
Marcus, Stanley, "My Biggest Mistake," in Inc., July 1999.
"Not Nearly Shelved at 94 (Stanley Marcus)," in the New York Times, 22 August 1999.
"Who's News: Neiman Marcus Group Inc.," in the Wall Street Journal, 26 June 2001.
A&E Biography Series (Arts and Entertainment Channel television series), Neiman Marcus: Last of the Merchant Kings.
Pacer, Eric, "Stanley Marcus, the Retailer, is Dead at 96," in the New York Times, 23 January 2002.*
There is never a good sale for Neiman Marcus unless it's a good buy for the customer.
As one of only a handful of luxury retailers in the United States, Neiman Marcus is perhaps best known for their extravagant Christmas catalogue. Featuring annual his and her gifts of great imagination, several of these improbable items have actually sold. Since the first Christmas catalogue in 1939, Neiman Marcus has offered his and her Beechcraft planes (selling hers to a Texas rancher for his wife; he already had one), Chinese junks, eight of which were delivered to five different bodies of water, matching buffalo, and a female camel.
Herbert Marcus was a buyer of boys' clothing for Sanger Brothers in Dallas, while his sister, Carrie Marcus Neiman, was a blouse buyer and saleswoman for A. Harris and Company. Carrie's husband, Abraham Lincoln (Al) Neiman, persuaded the pair to accompany him to Atlanta to set up a special events business. After two years of success, the trio had a couple of offers to buy their business, one for $25,000 cash and another for a franchise in a new company. American retail would have been very different had they chosen the Coca Cola franchise.
They returned to Dallas and on 10 September 1907 opened the doors of Neiman Marcus. Though all were under 30, with not a high school diploma among them, they set out to offer ready-to-wear clothing of quality and value in an era when most clothing was still custom made. The apparel industry had not yet evolved into any sort of organized mass production, and issues of sizing, quality control, and style kept most fashionable women returning to their private dressmakers.
The young owners recognized that the world was changing and were determined to establish a unique business in the new era. They worked closely with manufacturers, demanding excellence, and offered to pay more for improved and finer garments. Customer satisfaction was paramount, and the sales staff was trained to accommodate clientéle and gently guide them toward good taste. Dallas was a thriving city of 84,000 people, many of whom possessed wealth from cotton. Oil money would come later, and Neiman Marcus was positioning itself to be the most fashionable store in the Southwest.
Herbert's son Stanley joined the store in 1926, after a Harvard education. His three younger brothers eventually followed him into the business. Two years later, Carrie and Al Neiman divorced, leaving the store owned by the Marcus family. Stanley Marcus instituted many events and practices that became standard for department stores, such as the first luncheon fashion show, personalized gift wrapping, bridal shows, and national advertising in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. His immaculate taste and genius for merchandising are legendary, and stories about his sales ability abound. He has been asked to select gifts for royalty and heads of state as well as the difficult to please; he once sold an electric blanket for a pet lion and had a toupee made for a mounted lion's head whose mane had been ravaged by moths.
Stanley Marcus assumed the rank of CEO and president in 1950 and stayed with the store until 1979, retiring as chairman of the board (he died in January 2002 at the age of 96). His son Richard, who served as CEO and chairman until 1988, succeeded him.
Neiman Marcus opened a suburban store in 1948, beginning a slow expansion in the U.S. that would eventually spread across nearly half the nation. The first public sale of common stock occurred in 1959, the same year Neiman Marcus by Mail was launched. Carter Hawley Hale of Broadway Hale bought the stores in 1969. A difference in philosophy created poor sales and damaged Neiman Marcus' reputation as unique.
In 1987 Carter Hawley Hale traded controlling interest in the Neiman Marcus Group to General Cinema (renamed Harcourt General in 1993). The Group included the prestigious Bergdorf Goodman stores (two) in New York and the mass-market chain Contempo Casuals. The Group purchased Horchow Mail Order of Dallas, a high-end home items retailer in 1988. Contempo Casuals was sold to Wet Seal in 1995, and the Group bought Chef's Catalogue, a purveyor of fine cookware in 1998. The Group also opened three Galleries of Neiman Marcus, smaller stores specializing in gifts and fine jewelry.
In 1998 the Group acquired controlling interest in the company that makes Laura Mercier cosmetics. The next year, they purchased more than 50 percent of Kate Spade, manufacturer of luxury shoes and handbags. Harcourt General spun off most of its stake in the Neiman Marcus Group to its own shareholders in 1999, with Richard Smith, his son Robert, and his son-in-law, Brian Knez, controlling about 23 percent of Neiman Marcus.
It remains to be seen whether the Neiman Marcus Group can continue to provide the superb special events, exotic one-of-a-kind items, and the personal attention that made the store one of the great retailers in America.