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Class acts

Gary Evans, Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, May 17, 2004

It's almost a flashback, but hopefully one with a happier ending. Looking over the stories we've run on this retailer that does things in the old-fashioned way with today's twists — but gentler — tells a lot about what can be.

The on-going success of Anna's Linens and Alan Gladstone reminds one of another specialty retailer — Strouds — some 25 years ago. They both were founded by men with heart, people passion, a love of the product they were involved with, and an awareness of who they were and who their customers were.

Bill Stroud not only had a passion for the product and for the business, but also for his customers. And there were epic times when he had to remind his calmly aggressive and knowledgeable team about dealing appropriately with others.

Among the many challenges that Bill had to face was the rising tide of the big boxes — aka Bed Bath & Beyond and Linens 'n Things. The reasons for the company's demise can long be debated, but it was a major player for years.

It seems that a decade or two later, this kinder and gentler modus operandi has been bequeathed to Alan Gladstone. And he seems to be handling it quite well, thank you.

Anna's is sticking to its format with merchandise for the lower to middle income groups of ethnic makeup, and a message directed specifically to them. It's been management's bellwether for years, and they don't seem to be taking their eye off that target.

It is more customer friendly than most of its competition — no matter what the price point — and when suppliers start talking that way about how they are focused and succeeding, it has to have a large degree of truth to it.

As important — or even more important in this day and age — Anna's Linens is supplier friendly. This is a rare situation. If you look among the vendor roster, it's not overcrowded with the majors. Some are there, but the company has developed a supplier base that is effective and loyal to it, and it to them.

How unique in these times when key retail players openly discuss how they need to fine tune their abilities to get not just the better deal, but the best deal.

Alan is moving his stores across the country — with specific demographics programmed and specific marketing as part of the equation. It looks like this atypical approach to today's retailing is continuing to prosper.

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