Hurwitz Mintz expands, invests in future of New Orleans retail market
Nearly five years ago during the dark, uncertain days following Hurricane Katrina, Mitchell Mintz, the president of Hurwitz Mintz Furniture company, was, understandably, skittish and apprehensive. It was a period that should have threatened the survival of his now 85-year-old furniture company.
Ensconsed in the safety of a Dallas suburb, where he, his wife Christie and daughter Cheryl had evacuated, Mintz received reports from employees and friends that confirmed his worst fears. The Royal Street store founded by his grandfather Morris Mintz and Joseph Hurwitz, had suffered severe roof damage and the resulting water damage and mold had rendered the building uninhabitable. Worst, though, the centerpiece Airline Drive store in Metairie was severely flooded from the breach at the 17thStreet Canal and millions of dollars in damages had been lost. But even in those perilous times, there was little doubt in his mind that the store would not only survive, but would rebound in a big way.
“Our organization is a great organization,” he explained. “We have managers that cared and took responsibilities to go ahead and help reopen the store. Also, with the reputation of the store we had in the city and the demand after Katrina we had for replacement furniture, I felt the immediate future looked promising.”
Mintz and his staff regrouped via telephone conferences and the Internet. Together they made some tough choices. In order to consolidate priorities, the decision to close the historic Royal Street store was made. Then came the big decisions about what to do with the Airline location.
“There was so much demand we couldn’t supply a lot of people,” explained Mintz. I decided to go ahead and rent another warehouse and contract with an outside delivery service so we could take care of and handle our customers.”
Remarkably, the store boasting one of the largest showrooms in the south, reopened in October of 2005, a mere two months after the flooding, and, just as he predicted, began to ring up impressive sales in the wake of the tragedy.
But the guttsiest decision by Mintz concerned his desire to expand his store by another 100,000 square feet of display space.
“What happened was I felt we were doing very well in the market and the position we held,” he continued. “Since we had closed the Royal Street location, we needed space to exhibit more of the decorative items that were shown downtown and also to expand and support other departments that were at our Airline location.”
In addition to giving the go-ahead for the Airline Store expansion project, Mintz began to encourage daughter Cheryl, who was finishing law school about the same time, to ramp up her management level with the company. Still, he wanted her to be comfortable with whatever tasks she took over. He didn’t intend merely to hand the reins of management over to her without her interest in or her knowledge of the business.
As a non-practicing attorney, Cheryl Mintz considers her position with the firm as its first line of defense . “The family business and the dynamics of it have changed throughout the years,” she pointed out. “In order to change with the times, you have to more aware of the legal issues that come from the law.”
She also works with the advertising department as well as a buyer for the company purchasing curios, mirrors and entertainment centers as well as related items. Perhaps the most difficult work is to assess the needs of the market and order by price point what will sell. “I purchased things that were a deal but didn’t sell,” she admitted. “Sometimes it may be hot, but it doesn’t sell here. In the end it’s still a guess.”
Mintz says she is comfortable with her father making the final decisions, because she feels she can learn a great deal from him. “He’s doing things that make him comfortable and he’s comfortable with,” she continued. “That is the best way to handle a family business – where there is one person in charge. His vision has worked and he’s expanded the business.”
Where his daughter has proven invaluable to her father is her expertise in new technology. She has shown the need to enhance the company’s website, for example, pointing out that 80% of the market will go to the online store and do research before physically coming into the showroom floor.
“Our world is very less personal,” Mintz suggested. “It’s texting instead of talking. It’s e-mailing instead of picking up the phone. Technology nowadays is very much like learning a new language. I help. He’s got to be comfortable with it and so he gets to listen to me.”
Wife Christie, a strinkingly-beautiful woman who had done professional modeling in the past, had served as a company spokesperson for many years. Throughout much of the past decade she has concentrated on promoting much of the family’s work with a select number of charities. She works with her daughter, whom she calls a “pro,” on all but a handful of these charities, pointing out that Cheryl began her charity work as a six-year-old selling raffle ticket to New Orleans Ballet Association members.
Mother and daughter also work with the New Orleans Opera Association, the Humane Society, and the March of Dimes. Cheryl Mintz also works with Le Petit Theatre, Sean Payton’s Foundation and is an officer with the Young Professionals Society.
“I like the goal of completing something and there’s no charity with which I’m involved that I’m not interested in,” the wife and mother confessed. “New Orleans is, after all, a small city and so many of my friends are involved.”
The longtime commitment to all of these charities and more has established the Mintz family as leading civic benefactors in addition to their importance as well as being recognized as an important retailer, Christie Mintz stated. “I find that a lot of people will buy their furniture from us simply because they know we give back.”
As Cheryl has increased in her responsibilities as a buyer and attorney for the company, she has become more self-assured. She expects to take over from her mother and act as a new company spokesperson in future TV spots for the company.
“I think it’s exciting,” the youngest Mintz beamed. “I expect for her to be in my corner coaching me and critiquing me. Hopefully, she’ll be kind.” As a young professional, she hopes to promote the image of the company, appealing to her generation of the value received in purchasing furniture from Hurwitz Mintz.
“Hurwitz Mintz has always stood for quality and service throughout the years,” she said. “My presence there (on TV) will ensure the continuation of that.”
New company strategies also include using Facebook and other social networking sites to reach out to younger generations. “We’re in tenuous times right now with this economy and what we’re trying to do our best at this time is adjust and persevere with these conditions,” Mitchell Mintz said.
So, after this impressive expansion and commitment to the New Orleans community, what does the future hold in store? “You just don’t know in today’s environment, that’s as rapidly changing as it is, but for the immediate future our position is very strong,” he said.