Louis L. Glickfield leaned back in a chair in his office last week, joining a reporter in listening to a tape-recorded speech.
"Listen to this," he said, as the voice from the tape recorder noted: "Today, however, the furniture business has become, maybe necessarily so, institutionalized, computerized, programmed and mechanized."
At another point, the tape recorder voice said: ". . . For the consumer, furniture was a purchase of pride, so they understood that theirs was a business to be conducted with pride."
And Glickfield cut in, again, voice over voice. "Right . . . that's the key. Pride," he said.
Obviously, it was a speech that Glickfield appreciated and one he had listened to on previous occasions.
That's only natural because the speech was a tribute to Glickfield and the company he founded here in 1955, Marlo Furniture Co. Morris M. Gordon, chairman of the Maryland-D.C. Home Furnishings Representative Association, delivered the testimonial last November when the group presented for the first time an "innovator" award, in honor of Marlo's spectacular success in recent years.
In one of the nation's most competitive major retail furniture market-places, Marlo has been growing during an era when Levitz brought its huge showroom concept here and the recession put many big names in furniture out of business - notably Curtis Brothers in the Washington area.
Glickfield's achievement is pure Horatio Alger, as Gordon noted in his speech of tribute.
Originally from New York, like many heroes of an Alger novel, Glickfield came to Washington when he was 16. He attended Central High and was captain of basketball and football teams that won city championships in 1948 and 1949. Later he was a championship handball player and a semi-professional football player from 1951 to 1957.
In 1955, he opened a small store on 17th Street NW called Ali Baba. As Glickfield explained it last week, he bought and sold almost anything but most of his business was in secondhand furniture.
He moved to a larger store on 14th Street several years later and took the name Marlo - for the first three letters of his wife's name (Marilyn) and the first two letters from his own name. At that location, he guaranteed success by discovering a new method of advertising - in the classified columns of newspapers. Marlo became the largest furniture classified advertiser in the country and it brought him customers.
Today, advertising remains a key element in the Marlo operation, with annual outlays of more than $1 million - about 80 per cent for newspapers and the balance in television spots (which Glickfield also displays with pride through a tape recorder attached to an office TV set) or direct mail.
What the advertising promotes, primarily is the largest single furniture store in this region of the United States - a 175,000-square-foot combination warehouse and showroom, equal to four football fields, at the Forestville exit of the Capital Beltway in Prince George's County.
Because Marlo draws a significant amount of business from the Baltimore area, the company has to emphasize in its ads that it's located on the Washington Beltway and not the Baltimore Beltway.
Marlo also operates two smaller store - a seven-story location at 991 7th St. NW. and an Alexandria store on Richmond Highway.
Sales volume of Marlo has tripled over the past three years, mostly because of the Prince George's County store, opened at the end of 1973. As a private company (all stock is owned by Glickfield), Marlo doesn't make revenue and profit figures public, but Glickfield agreed with industry estimates that his annual volume now exceeds $10 million. Every year since 1955 has been profitable, and employment has grown from 2 to 225 in 20 years, he added.
Most of the Marlo volume comes from the warehouse-showroom location adjacent to the Beltway, helping to make the independent company the third-largest furniture retailer in metropolitan Washington - behind the national Levitz chain, with 3 major stores, and the 12-store Hub chain, owned by the Reliable Stores Corp. of Baltimore.
"If we match our growth of the last three years, we could be No. 1 before long," said Glickfield.
Being the leader doesn't mean a very large share of an unusually complex furniture marketplace, where there are more than 1,000 furniture retail outlets. The competition includes fine departments at Woodward & Lothrop and the Hecht Co.; Sears, Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, P.J. Nee and hundreds of smaller firms - and now Bloomingdale's.
Metropolitan Washington furniture and home furnishings sales were estimated at $343 million in 1975, according to sales Management magazine. The only urban areas where that figure was exceeded were New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit.
Reflecting, in part, the existence of Marlo's big store, Prince George's County tops area jurisdictions in furniture sales at $91 million, followed by Montgomery County ($79 million), the District ($57 million) and Fairfax County ($55 million).
Marlo was at a crossroads as the 1960s ended. Glickfield saw downtown Washington sales declining in the wake of the 1968 riots. He could have sold out and retired but decided to gamble with a $6 million investment in the new store - which, in effect, sought to outdo Levitz at the furniture showroom game. Curtis Brothers also moved toward the large-showroom business but that firm failed during the recession.
Glickfield cited many factors that he believed helped Marlo grow during recession where others floundered.For one thing, he works every day and the store is open seven days a week; last Monday night, for example, the store was jammed and 25 sales people were on duty. Often, 40 sales people are on the job to handle thousands of daily customers.
Consumers are attrached by Marlo's low prices on a broad range of fashion-oriented and standard furniture. Glickfield often travels, and he specializes in buying out entire lots of discontinued lines of furniture at deep discounts.
"As a young boy, I tried to emulate by Dad by going to work very young. By the time I was 18, I had worked many different jobs, shoeshine boy, delivered groceries, baker's helper, porter in restaurant, waiter, elevator operator, bell hop, and salesman of jewelry, diamonds and watches," Glickfield recalled.
He credits sports competition with helping to mold his personality, determination and enthusiasm.
Even when he was in the Army, Glickfield was in business on the side - selling jewelry, dolls and watches "while my friends went out partying. My belief was that to sacrifice at a young age was the only way to invest in the success of your future."
It was with $5,000 saved during this period that Glickfield opened his first store. his wife contributed another $3,000. From the beginning, he sought out discontinued lines, visiting factories in High Point, N.C.
Today, Marlo's big store is considered a model. Visitors have come from a number of countries to see the computerized inventory system, the smooth system under which furniture is unloaded from trucks at one end of a giant warehouse, placed on tall stacks with specific locations for different items, moved to showrooms or into customers' cars.
"The furniture business is a business of dreams," said Glickfield, showing a visitor through aisle after aisle of 300 separate room setups.
There is a separate room where children can watch television or play while their parents shop; Marlo provides a babysitter. There also is a cafe, where Marlo provides hot tea and red or white wine for the parents.
Prices for the bedroom suites on display last week ranged from $300 to $2,000. Marlo sold 20 suites of dining room furniture (table, chairs, china closet for $1,099) in a week. About half the merchandise sold is picked up immediately by customers and the rest is delivered.
Marlo conducts an extensive training program for its sales personnel, and Glickfield has established a profitsharing plan for all workers.
Glickfield said Marlo is considering sites in Northern Virginia for another massive showroom-warehouse outlet but won't expand unless the land costs are kept reasonable.