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Merv Conn & Brenda Pereyda: Mallin's Dream Team

Merv Conn and Brenda Pereyda have been working together for more than 30 years, and in that time, they led Mallin's transformation from a low- to-moderate outdoor furniture manufacturer into an industry leader — and still manage to enjoy playing golf together.

Both started at the bottom and worked their way up.

Now vice president of sales and marketing, Conn started with Mallin back in 1962 in the shipping department. He would go on to work in every department on the marketing side of the business. Pereyda, assistant vice president of sales and marketing, started in 1963, first doing production scheduling and then moving into purchasing.

The turning point for the two came 18 years ago when the Minson Corporation bought the floundering Mallin.

"I was finally able to do the things I'd always wanted to do," Conn said. "Until then, we hadn't had proper research and development or methods of getting new products to the marketplace. With Minson and its offshore opportunities, I was able to get better designs, much better quality and quicker turnaround time on some of the new products, and that really helped us."

It was a rapid transition. Conn remembers going to the Chicago Market in 1989 wondering if the company was going to keep its doors open. The next year he was able to go to market with new designs and a totally new program to offer specialty dealers.

Conn is understandably proud of that transition and appreciative of the dealers who supported the company and trusted in his vision. In fact, the accessibility of those in the industry and their willingness to support one another is what he likes most about his job.

"Everybody is friendly in our industry," he said. "We pass ideas around very freely among our dealer base and even with some of the manufacturers. We are restricted with some things, of course, but it you have an idea, you can bounce it off of people and they often come back with good ideas of their own. It isn't a cut-throat industry."

That dialogue often begins between Conn and Pereyda. While Conn picks the furniture designers and heads up marketing, Pereyda handles most of the fabric selection. As a result, the two work closely on most Mallin projects.

Pereyda is quick to give Conn his due as her mentor.

"He is the one who has brought me along and taught me the industry from the inside out," she said.

Pereyda, a single mom who transforms into "Soccer Mom" on the weekends, also credits Conn with teaching her how to be a leader. Conn's guiding principles are being fair and honest.

"I've always felt that there is no reason to keep secrets," said Conn, who is past president of the Summer and Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association and now chairs its board of directors. "If we are having a problem, the dealers should be notified, and if we come up with new designs, they should be notified. I've also always listened to what they have to say as far as what they are looking for and how they think we should improve on something. This is a team effort between manufacturer and dealer. I've always believe that and it hasn't changed over the years."

Pereyda admits she's become smarter over time.

"In my younger days, I don't think I was as forthcoming in passing along my knowledge," she said. "Now I try to give the people around me as much knowledge as I can give them — the better the people are around you, the better you are."

Both Conn and Pereyda believe the biggest challenge for Mallin is keeping up with the industry and staying at least a step ahead of the mass merchants. Initially, Minson's offshore relationships gave Mallin an edge. But that changed as other manufacturers established contacts and facilities overseas. And now, with offshore costs rising, the price point advantage is diminishing for everyone.

Despite the challenges, the team has full confidence in their, and Mallin's, ability to continue to grow.

"We've had pretty constant growth for awhile now, and I don't envision that will change," Conn said.



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