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Cinde W. Ingram

In Memory of Merv

Mallin dealers recall industry visionary, honest man

Merv ConnMerv Conn
Direct, driven and visionary are some of the descriptions long-time Mallin Casual Furniture dealers gave as they remembered Merv Conn, vice president of sales, who worked for five decades building the company into a successful manufacturer of stylish high-end outdoor furniture before his unexpected death Feb. 14.
     "Merv was blunt, honest and pleasant, with a great sense of humor," said Tony Schindler, president of Paddy O'Furniture, based in Phoenix, Ariz. "He consistently exuded an array of inspiring traits, including dedication, class and integrity."
     David Schweig, president of Dallas-based Sunnyland Furniture, drew on the Yiddish word mensch meaning a person of integrity that other people look up to when describing Conn. "That was Merv: A gentleman's gentleman," Schweig said.
     "Merv was always a gem to work with - never raising his voice, never getting angry and always with a vision for the direction of Mallin," said David Barish, president and CEO of The Chair King Backyard Store, based in Houston. "He never deviated from his goals because he had the confidence in his vision."
     Today's Patio CEO Chad Scheinerman said, "Working with Merv was always a pleasure. He always told you the truth - whether it was good or bad, you always knew you were getting the truth. He was extremely ethical and honest."
Conn came out of the Canadian Navy and went to work for Mallin in August 1963. His connection was through his wife's cousin, the wife of then owner Sam Mallin.
     A month later, Buzz Homsy started working for his uncle at Paddock Pools. Now managing director of Casual Classics Furniture Group with more than 275 outdoor furniture stores throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, Homsy described the business relationship he and Conn developed as a mental battle and a cat fight, but added, "It was a special relationship to me because it was his career and my career running in parallel."
     Homsy spoke highly of Conn as "just a unique character that you quietly admired because he was a quiet guy."
     Such comments exactly fit the way Mallin's Assistant VP of Sales Brenda Pereyda hopes the casual industry will remember the man she worked alongside since 1975. By that time, Conn had worked his way up the ladder and "was the general manager, vice president of Mallin and in charge of basically running everything," Pereyda said. "He put me in charge of credit. As I learned to do that then we moved on to production and purchasing and costing, anything that had to do with running of the facility."
     Dramatic change took place after Minson Corporation bought the then-bankrupt company in September 1991.
     "I think the casual furniture industry will remember Merv for convincing Minson to continue in this industry," Homsy said. "That was tough for Merv because (before that) he never was on the sales floor. So Merv learned on the job for sales. I don't think he really enjoyed it, ever, but when Minson took over, he became a complete guy. He continued his snapshot of what the industry needed in designing and building Mallin Furniture just like he was doing for Sam, but he had to market it and he had never done that."
     Pereyda also vividly recalled the radical changes that occurred after Mallin was purchased by Minson. "Merv took on the responsibilities of sales and marketing," she said.
     "That's where our jobs came in as far as developing new product, fabrics, finishes, the showroom - anything to do with the catalogs, the price lists and all of that. As the years progressed, it changed because he was my boss but it was as a partnership. Everything that he did I was a part of and he knew everything that I did."
     Their symbiotic professional relationship became an integral part of Mallin's culture.
     Schindler said he thinks the casual industry will remember Conn "as the patriarch of Mallin's transformation from its original rudimentary offering of the late '80s and '90s into the high perceived value, design-oriented line of luxury outdoor furnishings of today's Mallin."
     Barish also credited Conn with revamping Mallin from a promotional midprice producer to a high-end design company. "Merv knew everything about designing and producing quality outdoor furniture because he had done everything himself. He was one of us who grew up in the business. He could look at a design on paper and envision it being on a retail floor.
     "I remember coming into his showroom and seeing Sunset Terrace for the first time," Barish added. "I said to my group, ‘We have to have this.' And we did. And it sold and changed Mallin forever. In fact, it changed the industry because buyers began to see a higher-end vision of the future - through Merv's eyes."
     Pereyda agreed Mallin strived to differentiate its product. "We knew there was competition out there, and we knew our strengths were our designs, our comfort and the costing of where we marketed our goods. We knew what arena we could survive in. I would say our strengths were definitely the products that we brought out and the people we had around us to do it with - the sales staff and the customers we had."
     From Schindler's perspective, "Merv's biggest strength was his commitment to making the dealer an integral part of Mallin's product development process. He also had a unique ability to creatively craft a program that would satisfy each dealer's individual distribution needs and desires."
     Schweig said, "Merv was a visionary and honorable man who told you exactly what he was thinking. He recognized the changes that were taking place in our industry which enabled both Mallin and his dealers to thrive in a challenging economy. He had the respect from his manufacturing competitors, his reps and his extensive dealer base." Scheinerman gave Conn credit for listening and responding. "He didn't just do his own thing; he carefully listened to his customers and executed what we were looking for. He created great-looking furniture (in the right scale) that was extremely comfortable. In my opinion, he set the bar for comfort for outdoor seating in our industry. Merv's vision is a big part of the reason Mallin is where it is today."
     Mallin's introductions for the 2014 season will reflect that vision. "For the last year or so he had been thinking it was time for us to make a major change in our collections and to revamp our group - so he had been developing about eight new collections for this coming season," Pereyda said. "We're doing a nice revamp, and it's different from what we have done before - different shapes, different materials as far as extrusions and we're not using the same oval or round. For the collections that we have coming up, Merv picked all the names the week before he went for surgery. So everything we have on the drawing board was his. In fact, he basically scheduled his procedure so he could work with the designer we have here."
     So while Conn had shared his ideas with Pereyda as he developed the collections, she and Mallin President Kenneth Chang were left to review the pieces that were on the water at the time of his death. She said they made at least one change: "We named one of the collections after him."

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