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Living & Working Legend: Carl Goldstein

Carl GoldsteinHome Textiles Today's new series 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, returns this week. Each interviewee is asked the same eight questions, reflecting both their experiences and their thoughts on the future ... their own and the industry's.
     His name may be spelled and pronounced otherwise, but Carl Goldstein is as close to a Lichtenberg as you can get.
     For the past 35 years, the ever-smiling, always upbeat Goldstein has been one of the cornerstones of S. Lichtenberg Co., the curtain specialist now going on its third generation of family ownership and management, with a fourth generation recently coming aboard.
     Goldstein isn't family - at least by blood - but the 69-year-old vice chairman of the company functions as the last of the second generation, following the passing of brothers Alan and Herbie Lichtenberg over the past decade.
     HTT recently sat down with Goldstein at the picture, plaque and sports memorabilia-bedecked office he shared with Herbie for the next in the series of Living - and Working - Legends profiles.

Legend: Carl Goldstein

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

Carl Goldstein: In 1960, I graduated from high school on a Tuesday and on Thursday I went to the employment agency. I was hired as a sample boy, cutting swatches, for M. Lowenstein. I was young enough that I had to get working papers. In 14 years, I went from sample boy to president of Pacific Home Fashions there.
     I never thought I would leave there, but in 1976 I joined S. Lichtenberg as senior vice president and national sales manager. I had met Herbie in 1962 at O'Neil's department store, and he had been offering me a job ever since. He and I became friends instantly. We had lived around the corner from each other in Brooklyn, but he was nine years older, so we didn't know each other.

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

CG: Any job that was offered to me. I just wanted to work. I grew up without a father; he died when I was 2. The first job that was offered to me, I took.

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

CG: I never knew I was going to be successful. When you grow up poor, you have to work for everything. I've built a successful business at S. Lichtenberg - we went from a small, family-owned business to the largest soft window Carl Goldsteincompany in the industry - but I still don't think I'm successful.

HTT: What single accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
CG: It's educating and training the next generation in the industry. There are now five Lichtenbergs and one Goldstein, besides me, in the company, and we're now on the fourth generation. I wanted my son to go into the business, though my daughter is an attorney.
     Less than 5% of all family businesses make it to the third generation.

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

CG: I wouldn't do anything differently. I love this industry. We bring good product at great values. Could we have moved sewing offshore a year earlier? Yes, but it was fast enough.

HTT: What's the single biggest change you've seen in the industry?
CG: It's offshore production and the fact that there's no sewing in the country. But also the professional buyer doesn't exist anymore. Today our biggest investment is in technology, but I've always believed it's all about the product. When you forget about that, that's when your business starts to hurt.

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

CG: I don't think we get enough advertising for windows from the big-box retailers. Windows are one of the most profitable areas for a store, but they are not promoted enough. It's up to the retailers to do that.

HTT: What's your exit strategy?

CG: In a box. I like working. I've always worked - as a delivery boy, a shoeshine boy, wrapping packages. I went to work at 17 full time.
     A lot of my success was because of Herbie (pictured above with Goldstein). He was my mentor, my friend. I owe it to him.

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