Lorberbaum leaves long family legacy behind
Home & Textiles Today Staff -- Home Textiles Today, July 8, 2002
Robert "Bobby" Lorberbaum, a member of one of the home fashions industry's pre-eminent families and one of the earliest pioneers in the field of juvenile and novelty licensing, died on June 24.
While at Lawtex Industries, a mass market bedding and bath producer prior to its acquisition by Springs Industries in 1979, Lorberbaum was largely responsible for bringing into the United States one of the earliest and most popular of all novelty licenses, the Smurfs.
Lorberbaum, whose age and cause of death were undisclosed, had lived in Boca Raton, FL, after his retirement from Springs Industries. Funeral services were held June 26 at the Boulevard-Riverside Chapel, Hewlett, NY, and he was buried in New Montefiore Cemetery, Pinelawn, NY.
Along with his younger brother, Donald, who survives him, Lorberbaum had managed the family business, Lawtex Industries, during the 1970s, until its sale to Springs. The brothers were among the first of this industry's visionaries to sense the growing importance of the nation's mass merchants and to focus on that channel of distribution, first with bath products and later introducing a bedding line, then diversifying into juvenile products.
As the older brother, Lorberbaum, a genial, easygoing presence, had managed the family business until an illness forced him to the sidelines and he ceded the reins to the more hard-nosed, hard-charging Donald. Indeed, a more unlikely bundle of opposite personalities would be hard to find in the entire industry than the avuncular Bobby and the take-no-prisoners Donald.
After Donald took over the day-to-day management of Lawtex, Bobby and another early Lawtex pioneer, Jim Ceitlin, collaborated as a creative team that pioneered juvenile and novelty licensing in the home fashions industry, long before Barney and Scooby-Doo had even been dreamt up. Indeed, with his open, friendly manner, his infectious grin, ruddy cheeks and dapper, portly gait, Bobby could almost have been the model of a licensed character himself, the kind of indulgent, non-judgmental uncle that every child wishes he had or a beaming, cheery character out of Dickens' "Pickwick Papers."
In 1979, the Lorberbaums sold Lawtex to Springs Industries Inc., which operated the business as its own mass merchant unit, renaming it the Springs Performance division. While Donald continued to run the business with an iron fist, Bobby, true to his nature, functioned as a kind of goodwill ambassador, attending licensing shows and instinctively sniffing out hot new properties. Even after his retirement from Springs, in December 1996, Bobby remained active as a consultant to Springs until 1998.
Bobby, as he was universally known, was a member of the industry's most distinguished — and highly profitable — dynasties. Another brother, Alan Lorberbaum, founded Aladdin Rugs in 1958, which was later bought out by industry giant Mohawk Industries as the first in a long string of acquisitions in which the broadloom producer diversified into a high-margin home fashions business. After the sale of the company to Mohawk, Alan Lorberbaum continued as a Mohawk director until 1999. Jeffrey Lorberbaum, Alan's son, and the nephew of Bobby and Donald, is now president and ceo of Mohawk, a $3.4 billion company, and presides over its continued growth into a home fashions powerhouse.
In addition to his brother, Donald and nephew, Jeffrey, Bobby leaves his wife, Lynn, and children Mark, Jamie, Lisa, Andrew and Gail; and grandchildren Scott, Matt, Brandon and Tyler. He is also survived by two sisters, Leah and Helene.
"All of us at Springs were saddened to hear of Bob Lorberbaum's passing, and we extend our deepest sympathies to the entire Lorberbaum family," said Tom O'Connor, Springs executive vp. "Springs was fortunate to have been associated with Bobby through the acquisition of Latex in 1979, which he and his family owned. Bobby and his brother Donald have been wonderful supporters and representatives of Springs Industries, and Bobby's insight and knowledge of the juvenile licensing market contributed significantly to our business."
While at Springs, the open-handed and generous Lorberbaum was widely regarded for taking licensing neophytes under his wing and mentoring them, from Springs or wherever. It hardly mattered to Bobby, as long as someone was willing to learn.
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