Marvin Burstein retiring after 40+ seasons
Industry veteran's experience helped HOM Furniture expand outside
Cinde W Ingram -- Casual Living, 5/7/2012 6:18:00 AM
COON RAPIDS, Minn. — As he prepares for his May 8 retirement date, Marvin Burstein hasn't had a chance to reflect on his more than 40-year career in the casual furniture industry.
When his career started with Seasonal Concepts in 1969, the outdoor home furnishings specialty retailer "carried California redwood, a little bit of Lyon-Shaw and some California umbrellas - and that was all," Burstein recalled. "When I was in Saint Louis with Seasonal Concepts back in the early '70s, it was really a big effort to convince people that they needed stuff for their outside."
At that time, outdoor home furnishings stores faced tough competition with department stores. "Consumers didn't understand what specialty stores had to offer them," Burstein said.
Burstein supervised Seasonal Concepts' stores in Saint Louis and Kansas City for many years before moving to Minneapolis in 1998 following the death of a partner in the business.
"I've come across a lot of very nice people and I've had some good times and some difficult times along with it, but it's been an awful lot of fun," Burstein said. Outdoor home furnishings were "always something that people never really needed and they were buying for fun occasions, so that part of it made it enjoyable. They still seem to be excited about the outdoors."
Among the memorable friendships Burstein made along the way was his connection with manufacturer Jim Erwin of Erwin & Sons Direct Imports. He recalled when Erwin first called and asked him to consider a new outdoor product line. At first, Burstein questioned why Erwin would call and what he really wanted, but they reached common ground after Erwin mentioned he was from Fargo, N.D. and Burstein said that's where his wife was from. "We got into outdoor wicker after that point, and that was really exciting," Burstein said. "That has been an incredible part of the growth that I've seen come about in the industry."
In addition to expanded product development, Burstein watched the Casual Market fill a larger footprint at Chicago's Merchandise Mart. "It's kind of fun when I think back about Chicago and how it's grown," he said. "It was very small but now that people have accessorized it and broadened it, it's come leaps and bounds from what it used to be and in terms of what is offered. I think the industry has done a nice job of promoting itself in terms of what options are available and what new things are out there."
When asked to recall some of the highlights of his career, Burstein remembered how his comments were once interpreted while he was a buyer with Seasonal Concepts, at the time at the peak of its retail size with 15 stores in six states.
"I remember that I went to a premarket and I looked around and wasn't impressed," Burstein said. "Somebody had called me from one of the news magazines and said, ‘What did you think about the new offerings?' I said, ‘You know this year didn't excite me. I didn't see a lot of new things and there wasn't a lot going on.' Well, I got a subsequent phone call from one of the vendors I used to do a lot of business with and he really chewed me out. He said, ‘How can you say such a thing? You're doing so much business in the industry. You really should avoid saying those kinds of things.' So I thought that over. I got together with these fellows at the fall market and I apologized to them. I said, ‘You know you're right, maybe I misspoke and I shouldn't have done that.' I think I might have hurt their feelings. They said, ‘Let's not worry about that. Let's just put that in the rearview mirror. The most important thing we have to think about is: How do we grow this industry -- instead of walking down the golf course and seeing all those inexpensive plastic chairs on the patios?'"
Looking back, Burstein says he learned a big lesson from that experience. His observation two decades later is there were remarkable changes underway in the industry and in products made for outdoor use.
"Since then, as I look back, I think the industry has really grown so much in terms of the offerings, what's fresh and what's new," Burstein said. "Sunbrella got more colorful. And the offerings have gotten so much better and so much more exciting for outside."
After Seasonal Concept's original owners filed for bankruptcy at the end of 2007, some of its stores were closed or sold to investors.
HOM Furniture, a Top 100 home furnishings retailer, purchased the assets of Seasonal Concepts in Minneapolis and retained Burstein and others from the outdoor home furnishings retailer's key design and buying staff.
Burstein said the staff at HOM made a real commitment to understand the outdoor furnishings industry, the pricing differences and to dedicate floor space to the products. "They really grasped it, got into it and took a specialty store approach," he said. "The last three years have been just terrific."
Kyle Johansen, HOM furniture merchandise manager, described Burstein as being "famous in the outdoor category with not just manufacturers but also retailers across the country. When we would go to market, he would literally have to stop every 10 feet in the hallways to talk to someone and get a hug and kiss. Everyone knows ‘Uncle Marvin' from Seasonal Concepts. It's not too often a company is fortunate enough to have a veteran that has 40 years of experience in a category working for you. We will truly miss Marvin at HOM; he is an irreplaceable asset in terms of his knowledge of the industry and just as importantly his friendship to our team."
Starting with the Preview Show in July, Burstein will miss his first market in decades and the casual furniture industry will miss seeing him in the hallways.