Their business started out in a Southwest Washington basement that was once a trolley terminal, and still looked it.There was no heat and no air conditioning, as one of the proprietors, then 19, remembered.
"We sold used furniture," he said. "We were evicted from there because they were going to tear it down."
During the next 14 years, the two former used-furniture and junk salesman expanded their business, Desks and Furnishings, to become one of Washington's largest retail office furniture firms. This month D&L opened a store in Richmond, its fourth outside the Washington area. The 11-store firm is now considering going national.
If (the Richmond store) works, then it means rapid expansion." said D&L Vice President Marvin Weiner, 33, "Norfolk will be next. We're going to go the southern route."
Richmond "was close enough to control, but far enough away to test the market, " Weiner said. "It was our type of people: small to medium-sized businesses."
'during our first three days in Richmond, we already surpassed our entire month's goal" of $25,000 in sales, Weiner said.
D&L, which specialized in black wooden and metal desks in its early history, has mounted a campaign during the last five years to dissolve its image as a retailer of cheap, plain office furniture.
"Every item we sell is discount," Weiner said. "But we sell all types of items. We don't claim to be the cheapest place in town."
"In order for us to grow, we couldn't just sell black metal and wood desks." Weiner said. "We had to upgrade not only our firm but our entire company. We completely remodeled stores, bought better fabrics, became style-conscious. We had manufacturers copy designer desks."
Then came the offbeat advertisements that run 35 weeks a year in newspapers, in regional magazines and on television. "in all our headlines, we try to be a little lighthearted," Weiner said.
The business was started in 1962 by Arnold Cornblatt, now 46, a junk dealer, Weiner said.
Weiner, who worked one summer as a salesman at a suburban Washington furniture store, joined Cornblatt in 1965. "We were at 29 Canal St. SW in a basement that used to be a trolley terminal," Weiner said. At that time, Cornblatt had gone from junk to used furniture.
On Jan. 1. 1966, the firm moved to 513 Rhode Island Ave. NE and became known as Desks and Furnishings, Weiner said.
Cornblatt and Weiner would buy government surplus office furniture and purchase desks and chairs from office buildings that closed. Students, fledgling business people and government subcontractors would buy from them, Weiner said.
"we just kept growing; we kept advertising," he added.
During the 1968 presidential campaigns, the small company rented office furniture to the campaign staffs of Hubert H. Humphrey, Eugene Mccarthy, Robert F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller. "that was thousand and thousands of desks," Weiner said.
The firm's employes would collect the desks of campaigns that had folded, cover up the campaign stickers pasted on them and rent them to another campaign that came along, Weiner said.
The next year, The Macke Co. bought them out.
"We were doing about a $1 million volume," Weiner said.
According to Macke's 1978 annual report, D&F sales increased last year by 23 percent over the previous year to $9.6 million. Five years ago, sales were $5.1 million, according to the annual report.Since its acquisition by Macke, D&F has hired four designers who consult clients on decor and fabrics, and it opened a wholesale operation, whose sales are included in the 1978 annual report figures.
With an office construction boom coverging on Washington, Weiner said D&F does not plan any new stores in Washington, but will continue its aggressive advertising which he said consumes 7 percent of their budget.
"I think people will come to us," Weiner said. "We're not going to get our share of it." CAPTION: Picture, Desks and Furnishings' Marvin Weiner: "We're going to go the southern route." By Joe Heiberger-The Washington Post