Opening the Curtains to DR4 Mar, 2010 By: Thomas Haire Response
A Love for the Business
While the company has experienced great growth during the past 10 years, however, it’s Gladstone’s background in business that has created a culture at Anna’s Linens that values customers and employees equally.
“I’ve been in the linens business since I was 18,” he says. “My job in high school was as a stock boy in the linens department at a discount store. It was something I enjoyed — folding towels, lining up sheets, and I did it fairly well.”
The CEO of the store, Whitefront Stores, took a liking to Gladstone and offered him a deal to pay for his college education if Gladstone agreed to work for the company for two years after graduation. He jumped at the chance. “Every summer during college, I was in the company’s training program, learning more about the linens and domestics market,” he says. “I even went to New York with the buyers — the entire business intrigued me, and I’ve been in it ever since.”
But his background is not without disappointments. “I was at the right place at the right time, becoming a senior executive with a new company at 23 years old,” Gladstone says of Three D Bed & Bath, where he transitioned to after Whitefront. “I stayed with it for more than 10 years, and actually thought it would be longer — I was the assumed heir-apparent to the owner, who was nearing retirement.”
However, the owner stunned Gladstone. “The CEO brought me in and said, ‘Good news! I’m bringing my son into the business to work with you.’ I’d met him before, but the news left me crestfallen,” Gladstone contends. “My wife talked me into staying, but after his son started working, it became clear he wasn’t my kind of person.”
So he left the business to go to work for HomeFront, another housewares retailer. “It was a great move,” he says. “I had expanded responsibilities, became president, made a lot more money. The stores were owned by a Fortune 100 company. It was terrific.”
However, in 1986, Gladstone took note when two major discount chains that had been long-time leaders on the Southern California retail landscape went out of business. “Zody’s and Gemco going out of business got me thinking about starting my own company,” he says. “I wanted to pick up the void they left — we had leased and operated the linens department for each — and I thought it was a great opportunity to set up my own stage and try something on my own.”
One year later, with the inspiration — and name — of Gladstone’s mother, Anna’s Linens became a reality. The company’s mantra is that “our deals and values are second to none,” Gladstone says. The company has “commissioned itself to be the national leader in value-priced home retailing,” according to press materials.
“Our motto is: ‘Sell steak cheap, not cheap steak,’” Gladstone says. The discount pricing Anna’s Linens offers on branded and private label housewares products is designed to appeal to moderate income consumers, with a particular focus on African-American and Hispanic consumers. Gladstone believes this market had long been underserved by larger retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and the recently shuttered Linens-N-Things.
This focus goes all the way down to Anna’s Linens’ employees. The retailer offers employees a formalized training program, financial incentives, promotion opportunities and — because of that — encounters much lower turnover than many competitors. Further, employees often represent the demographics of customers within the store area, and bilingual employees are sought out in specific communities.
This focus on the company’s culture and its consumers has paid dividends, especially during recent tough economic times. “In today’s society, everybody is wracked by recession, job insecurity, the price of gas — all these negatives,” Gladstone says. “People are depressed, but shopping lessens depression. What everyone in retail has learned is that you, the consumer, want to receive a value when you spend money. We have consistently positioned Anna’s as the store for value. Why spend $75 on sheets at a big-box store when you can spend $24.99 at Anna’s?”