Larry Schur’s career in the juvenile industry began in 1973 at the age of 21 while completing a master’s degree in marketing by night. By day, he landed a full-time buyer position at Goldblatt Brother’s Department store, a 45-store chain located in the Midwest, where he worked for eight years. “I had to make a decision at that point of whether I wanted to be a buyer in the yard goods department or baby department,” he says. “I didn’t know anything about yard goods or babies back then, so I obviously chose babies, which I thought might be more interesting.” Schur spent the next eight years working as director of marketing for Gerber and then Simmons Juvenile. After 11 more years with NINFRA as executive director, he stepped down to assume the role of president and COO of All Baby & Child, the parent company of the ABC Kids Expo. After more than four decades in the baby business, Schur shared his industry wisdom with Baby & Kids magazine.
Baby & Kids: How do you reflect on four decades in the industry?
Larry Schur: I learned the challenges and opportunities facing the industry’s independent retailer and attempted to help them compete on a more level playing field. Out of NINFRA came trade shows; and now, 14 years later with ABC, the rest is history. There are still sales representatives in the industry whom I call my friends and who called on me when I was a buyer at Goldblatt Brothers. We may consider this a small industry, but it has deep roots, a colorful history, and it has developed into life-long friendships for many people.
B&K: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry?
LS: When I started, there were only a handful of manufacturers, and there was not a lot of selection; you didn’t see a lot of frill back then. Now, there’s an explosion of products and manufacturers. Plus, most parents that have children nowadays have an idea for a new product, and a lot of them are in use today and have exploded. So every year, there are 250-300 first-time exhibitors at our show, and most of them are new parents.
B&K: What are the challenges of today’s independent retailer?
LS: Over the past two to three years, the economy and the recession have taken its toll, and stores were closing in record pace and no stores were opening. Now, in the last six to nine months or maybe even a year, we’re starting to see more activity in smaller-store or boutique formats that are opening under 5,000 or even 2,500 square feet of space with more mid- and upper-range products. They’re finding that they can compete better by carrying these unique products and that they don’t need to carry a full line or assortment. And the main focus seems to be on gift-type products, maybe some apparel and toys. We’ve seen that at the ABC Expo as well, with an increase in the gift, toy and apparel categories.
B&K: In your opinion, what are the traits of a successful retailer?
LS: I think one of the biggest traits is follow-up. They have a customer and they are in constant communication with that customer, whether it’s by phone or personalized email about upcoming events and how they can make their life easier. I think the customer wants to be catered to, and I think follow-up is the biggest thing. Just don’t make the sale and then that’s the end of it.
B&K: What does the future of the industry look like?
LS: I am optimistic that the worst is behind us and that sustained growth can be achieved by suppliers and retailers diligently working together by communicating their needs with each other in order to meet common goals, find new resources, attract new customers and, ultimately, provide the consumer with needed products and services. Judging the results from recent trade events, the turnaround is or has mostly taken place in the electronics, construction, apparel, gift and toy industries, just to name a few. I have to believe that the overall juvenile products industry has to be next.