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  • Warren Shoulberg

Living and Working Legends: Park B. Smith

There are very few people in the industry who are instantly recognizable by just one name. Park is one of them.
     Both his formal name and the name of the company he founded nearly 40 years ago read Park B. Smith, but over the more than half a century that he has called textiles home, Park has created a persona unlike virtually anybody else.
     Always impeccably dressed and groomed, the ex-Marine still has his legendary flair for showmanship: Nobody presents product quite the way Park does.
     That taste for developing merchandise is only matched by his taste for wine, Chateauneuf du Pape specifically, the French red wine that is the focal point of his 81,000-bottle collection, reputed to be the second-largest such private one in the country. Enough that he owns his own restaurant - the three-star Veritas in the Flatiron district of Manhattan - which tries to put a dent in the six wine cellars at his Connecticut home.
     Park recently sat down with Home Textiles Today in his showroom office adorned with plaques, photographs and more than a few empty trophies of his pursuit of the ultimate 100-point wine.

Legend: Park B. Smith

HTT: How did you get started in the home textiles business?PARK B. SMITH
Park B. Smith: I joined my father's company, Craig Creations, in 1957 following graduation from Holy Cross College and the United States Marine Corps.

HTT: If you hadn't gone into this field, what would you have done?
PBS: I would have joined General Motors, which offered me a job as a junior member of their negotiating team. My major in college was labor negotiations.

HTT: When did you know you were going to be successful in this field?
PBS: I took a job as a Fuller Brush Man for two summers when I was in college. I was assigned to Jersey City (N.J.), which I had been told was a difficult and tough area. Well, I exceeded my quota, even when Fuller ended up doubling it. I had no idea I was good at sales, but I found that I loved selling. And if you can sell door to door, which was what you did at Fuller, you can sell anything. I knew I'd be successful in this business if I were involved in selling.

HTT: What single accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
PBS: It was "Eco-ordinates," the first entire collection of bedding, curtains, rugs and table fashions all made from vegetable dyes. I had started Park B. Smith Ltd. in the early 1970s and I was one of the first people to go to India. Up until then all products coming out of India were natural, and I said: "Why can't we use color?"
     On my first trip, I had no appointments, but I met with an Indian company that liked my idea, but I told them I had no money. They said they would give me one order with 30-day terms. I bought it and then sold it and then went back and forth. I made 13 trips to India that year.
     I knew India would work because of the hardworking nature of the people and the culture. I've made over 200 trips to India in my life.
     When we did Eco-ordinates, one pattern called Eco Jewel Square did $52 million at cost in two years. It was my biggest success story ever.

HTT: If you had to do something over, what would it be and how would you do it differently?
PBS: I really can't think of anything I'd like to do over or do differently. I made my mistakes all my life, but nothing earth-shattering. In the early 1990s I was offered $80 million for the company, and I turned it down. Regrets? I don't think so.

HTT: What's the single biggest change you've seen in the industry?
PBS: Partnership with retailers, in the truest sense and meaning of the word, is gone.
     In business, one expects hard bargaining, that's a major part of a retailer's job. However, what is not fair is where they want to change the deal once made or want more than the initial agreement.
     Fortunately, there are still some whose word is their bond: With them, a deal once made is sacrosanct.

HTT: If you could do one thing to improve the industry's overall business, what would it be?
PBS: I don't give a damn what anybody says, the consumer is tired of sameness. I'd try to convince the industry that their business would flourish were it to concentrate on creating merchandise which is fun, fashion, fabulous and affordable. This is what the consumer wants, responds to and continues to buy.

HTT: What is your exit strategy?
PBS: I'd like to take more time off. I'd like to spend more time with my wine in Connecticut. I'm still in the office at 6 a.m. every day. I'll be 80 in January and intend to decide my exit strategy on that day.

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