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.
One thing I learned very early is that a valuable salesperson is easily worth three times what you pay the average schnook. -- Stanley Marcus
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.
Marcus died on January 22, 2002, in Dallas, Texas. He was 96.
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