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Living and Working Legends: Arthur Tauber

Baseball, Bamboo and BeyondArthur Tauber founded and is the persona of Avanti Linens, the embellished towel resource that has carved out a unique niche in the home textiles industry.
     Begun in 1969, Avanti has endured as that most unusual species, a resource focused on just one product classification, serving the middle and better portions of the marketplace.
     Tauber, 75, is as legendary for his handson management style as he is for his voracious letter writing and admitted hoarding of virtually every piece of paper he has ever come into contact with.
     HTT sat down with him recently at the company's Moonachie, N.J., headquarters and after a quick tour of the warehouse and factory - yes, Avanti still does manufacturing - we began the interview.
This week, Home Textiles Today begins a new series called Living - & Working - Legends, interviews with executives who have spent their careers in the home textiles industry and continue to manage the companies they own or help run. Each interviewee is asked the same eight questions, reflecting both their experiences and their thoughts on the future ... their own and the industry's. The articles will appear from time to time in upcoming issues.

     HTT: How did you get started in the home textiles business?

     AT: When I graduated from college in 1959, my Uncle Milton offered me a job in his monogramming business. I was clueless on what I was prepared to do and I had no idea what he did for a living. I worked for him until we had a dumb argument in 1968 and he fi red me. Thank god.
     So I was out of work and I went up to see Henry Laskin, the buyer at Lord & Taylor. He talked to me for about three hours about life. I told him I had a towel with a bamboo design I wanted to sell him, but I really didn't have any kind of a plan whatsoever.
     He said to me, "What's the name of the towel?" I said "Bamboo." He asked the cost and I quoted him the same cost my uncle would have. He asked who the supplier was. I knew his big supplier was Springs, so I said Springs. "When can you deliver?" he asked. I said to myself, wow, he thinks I'm in business and I'm not. All I had were sketches on a piece of paper, so I told him 16 to 18 weeks.
     Then he yelled at me that he couldn't wait that long. He ended up giving me towels from his stock to embellish and told me to order the same amount from Springs and when they came in in eight or ten or 12 weeks I would pay him back the towels. "Do you understand?" he asked. "Yes I do," I said. And that's how I got into business.

     HTT: If you hadn't gone into this field, what would you have done?

     AT: I was going to be a baseball player. I grew up playing lots of baseball and had a college baseball career at the University of Vermont. In 1956 I was asked to try out with several major league teams, but I knew I wasn't good enough. That's when I got in touch with Uncle Milton. If I hadn't started Avanti, I would have been a dumb salesperson.

     HTT: When did you know you were going to be successful in this business?

     AT: When the product started to appear in catalogs. That first order from Laskin was for $20,000 and by the first year, Avanti was making some money. I think I knew then that if I kept working hard and Sandy [his wife, who did all the designing for the company at the time and came up with the Avanti name] could keep designing great patterns, we were going to succeed long term.

     HTT: What single accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

     AT: I created an industry. Back at the start there was no embellished towel classification in the stores. We have survived for 42 years in an industry that has seen massive changes. I think I'm proudest of the fact that I was able to employ so many people over the years, many of whom were with Avanti long enough to receive large pension checks along with bonuses and pay increases.

     HTT: If you had to do something over, what would it be and how would you have done it differently?

     AT: I wouldn't change anything. Maybe that's crazy and egotistical, but I've stayed with my own philosophy and principles over the years and I would do it exactly the same. I do wish I never had to put in such crazy hours. I would have liked to have spent more time with my children. Also, remember I had no money when I started. It was many years before a vacation came. I remember on many days driving to Michael's [one of his two sons; the other is Jeff] school 60 miles away, watching his soccer or tennis match and then driving back to the factory to finish the day at 10 p.m. Luckily, my wife understood.

     HTT: What's the single biggest change you've seen in the industry?

     AT: I have first-hand been a witness and participant to the winds of change that have blown across the industry over the years. The single biggest change is the depletion of all the retailers over the years along with the growth and expansion of Bed Bath & Beyond and the explosion of the off-pricers.

     HTT: If you could do one thing to improve the industry's overall business, what would it be?

     AT: This is a cinch for me: I think that buyers should be more involved and easier to reach. Also, I guess I wish everything wasn't financial, financial, financial.

     HTT: What's your exit strategy?

    AT: I love the Broadway show "Jersey Boys" and as Frankie Valli says in it, "I'm like that battery, I keep going and going and going." Hopefully I'll stay healthy enough to enjoy continuing my role at Avanti and to spend more time with Sandy and in Florida. I'm very fortunate to have the Jeff Kaufman and Michael Tauber team who can run Avanti with or without me. There's no plan for me to throw in the towel anytime soon.

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