Profile: All in the Family
BACKGROUND: Howard Flax, CEO of FLAX art & design, comes from a long line of art supplies dealers, stretching all the way back to 1938. The first Flax art supplies business was a store in San Francisco founded by Herman Flax, Howard’s grandfather. Other family members followed suit, with stores popping up from New York to Phoenix to Los Angeles. After Herman passed away, his sons Philip and Jerry ran the business. Now, Philip is the chairman, and his sons Howard and Craig, vice president of marketing, run the only Flax store that boasts a catalog.
Here, third-generation Flax businessman, Howard Flax, offers his thoughts on the business.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Finding that balance between the product offerings and markets into which we mailed,” says Flax. “We’re always trying to have consistent and strong metrics to put forth the merchandise that the customers are looking for.”
HOW HE HANDLES THAT CHALLENGE: “We’ve always put a product or two in the catalog to test a new category,” Flax says. “Otherwise, you become predictable. You need to break out of the mold and test the waters.”
KEYS TO SUCCESS: “It’s critical to remain receptive to everyone,” says Flax, regarding merchandise assortment as well as customer attention. “We genuinely try to be different. The mailbox is a crowded place, and we like to think that things like the contest on our catalog cover help set us apart … [as well as] build loyalty.” (The cataloger annually runs a design contest in which the winner receives a featured cover on a print-run of the catalog as well as a gift certificate for $1,000 of FLAX art & design merchandise.)
WHAT ABOUT THE BUSINESS APPEALS: “The creative process of putting a catalog together and managing the various initiatives that push the company forward.”