February 12, 2007

Levitz

And the man behind the brand is...
Ralph Levitz

Pottstown, Pennsylvania seemed an unlikely spot for a revolution. Here, for more than a quarter-century Ralph and Leon Levitz operated two furniture stores that looked pretty much like their father’s store which opened in nearby Lebanon in 1910. In fact it looked pretty much like every one of the other 25,000 furniture stores across the country.

The Levitz family netted about $60,000 in a good year and had built a net worth of maybe $500,000. Each year they advertised a year-end clearance sale from their warehouse and customers came in drove. The rest of the year they made the occasional buck waiting for the year-end bonanza. What would happen with warehouse sales all year round?

The first Levitz warehouse store opened in Allentown in 1963. Immediately inside the door the customer was dwarfed by cartons stacked 20 feet high and spread over a warehouse the size of a football field. On the other side of the warehouse was a showroom with 250 model-room vignettes.

Selling brand name furniture without delivery charges, no decorating services, and a limited choice of fabrics the Levitzs were able to slash prices by 25%.
Also, the American population was becoming increasingly mobile and didn’t want to be tied to expensive furniture. The first wave of post World War II retirees were buying second homes and not looking to plow a fortune into furnishings.
The cash register never stopped ringing.

Ralph Levitz, a quiet, genial 58-year old conventional furniture retailer,
had stood the staid, sleepy furniture industry on its ear. Levitz wasted no time in spreading his “concept” of warehouse selling. He targeted 55 major markets, opening outlets near highway interchanges where land and rental costs were below prime downtown locations and near railroad sidings to keep delivery costs down.

In ten years Levitz sales ballooned to $175 million a year. The Levitz stock became the darling of Wall Street, exploding from $4 a share to $150. The family net worth jumped past $300 million. It was all a bit much for small town furniture retailers. In 1974 a professional manager was recruited as President and Chief Executive Officer to shepherd Levitz through its era of protracted expansion.

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