Marty's Biography Cliff Notes Version

About an hour west of Philadelphia, before you get to the Amish country, there’s a small town called Coatesville, known as the Pittsburgh of the East and home to the former Lukens Steel, manufacturer of the largest rolled flat plate steel in the world. This is where Marty grew up. It was rural enough that he could come home after school and go hunting with his black lab in tow, and yet, it offered all of the sophistication that comes from being close to a major city.

Early Years
Even in his early years, Marty’s entrepreneurial skills were apparent when he ran a concession stand at the local country club. He expanded the assortment, lowered costs by preparing the sandwiches at home each morning, and raised prices. He soon had a booming business, and all by the age of 15.

After high school, Marty headed to college in New England, attending Nichols College, just outside of Boston. A small, private college that specialized in business, Nichols gave Marty a chance to develop his love for business. While there, he excelled in many extra curricular activities, where his strong leadership skills were apparent.

Senior Class President
During his junior year, he took over as the editor of the college yearbook, a position generally reserved for a senior class member. He held the same position again in his senior year. Marty was also the president of his senior class, as well as the president of the photography club. Photography was his passion, and he studied with one of the top photographers in New England.

Marty with camera ready, as editor of the Nichols College yearbook.
Marty With Camera

These activities and others helped to get him inducted into the Who’s Who of American Colleges and Universities.

It was during his time in college that Marty fell in love with New England. He spent many weekends backpacking all over Vermont and New Hampshire, and spent his summers sailing.

Following college, Marty’s combined business, photography and design skills landed him a job at Josten’s, the nation’s largest producer of high school and college yearbooks, and class rings. Accepting a field sales position in Connecticut, Marty was the youngest person ever hired by the company. The position was one hundred percent commission based, so if you were not good, you didn’t eat. Marty made some of the highest commission percentages in the company. During his four years there he set sales records and produced some of the best looking yearbooks in the country. He was also in-demand throughout the industry, speaking at seminars and workshops across the country.

His success did not go unnoticed by Josten’s competitors, and he was soon hired away by Hunter Publishing Company, a direct competitor of the giant Josten’s. Hunter Publishing was considered the Rolls Royce of the industry and Marty brought his magic to that company. Marty not only became Hunter’s top sales representative, but he soon managed and trained the entire sales force. As Hunter continued to grow by signing most of the countries top colleges and universities, Josten’s was watching.

After four years with Hunter, Josten’s convinced Marty to rejoin them at their corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, by offering him the position of Director of college sales and marketing. This was another ‘first’, as no employee had ever quit and been rehired by Josten’s. But Marty and Hunter had learned to beat Josten’s at their own game, so the quickest way for Josten’s to win was to hire Marty back. Within two years, Marty was running all of marketing and product development for the company. After a seven-year stay at corporate, and reporting directly to the president, Marty decided it was time to do something on his own.

He started his own company, Scholastic Video, with several other former Josten’s executives. Scholastic Video became the first national company to begin producing video yearbooks for high schools. Although the industry was still in the early stages, Marty gained a huge leg up on every competitor by striking an exclusive deal with Sony Corporation and creating the first video curriculum for high schools. Scholastic Video soon became the industry leader and set the standard for the industry. After two years, Marty sold out to this partners after philosophical differences.

Howard Lester, the CEO and Chairman of Williams-Sonoma was looking for a president to run his newly purchased California Closet Company. He offered the job to Marty who agreed to take the position if the company was moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which was where Williams-Sonoma was headquartered. Lester agreed and Marty headed to the west coast.

Williams-Sonoma did not know that California Closets was nearly insolvent. Not only did Marty have to move the entire corporation north, but he also found himself in the middle of a major turnaround. Marty dug in and began by opening more company owned stores, increasing the franchise base, developing new countries and increasing the product line.

Soon, Marty had the company achieving record sales while returning it to profitability. Once the five-year run was completed, Marty felt it was time to move on to a new challenge. At the time, Williams-Sonoma felt that they would sell the company rather than go through an entire management change again. Marty helped execute that process.

Party America
Marty elected to stay in the Bay Area and became the CEO of Party America, a chain of party supply stores, based in California and Colorado. Today, Marty jokes about his due diligence of the company prior to his accepting the position. The board of directors told Marty that the company was making money, but not nearly to its potential, and they wanted to expand the concept nationwide. What Marty and the board didn’t know was that the company was just a few months away from posting a record loss of several million dollars.

This began another turnaround for Marty. Only this time, it was quite different than the last one. One morning, his bank froze all the accounts, pushing the company into bankruptcy, leaving Marty with the challenge of making payroll the following week. Details of this can be found in the Party America section.

Marty led Party America through a Chapter 11 restructuring, and did it in record time; six months from start to finish. He found new financing from an unlikely group at the time, Gordon Brothers, the nation’s largest retail liquidator. They believed in Marty and his plans for Party America. Marty successfully executed on his plan and lead Party America through eleven consecutive years of increased sales and profit. He also lead the company through two mergers, buying companies twice Party America’s size each time. One of the mergers was quite hostile, but he prevailed each time, turning Party America into a very profitable 300-store nationwide chain, and number two in the industry.

And as with many good stories, it too comes with a happy ending. Marty and Gordon Brothers were able to sell out to their number one competitor, providing a financial home run for everyone.

Marty is now enjoying his time by catching up on the many activities he missed while doing non-stop turnarounds, acquisitions and mergers. He can be found sailing his 38′ sailboat on the San Francisco Bay, or driving his 1966 Austin Healey, (which he completely restored) on the backroads of the wine country. When not doing that, he’s woodworking or doing photography, both lifelong hobbies. He’s also writing a book called “Retail Simplified”, for those who make running a retail company too complicated.

Marty currently sits on several boards, and consults with many companies while he decides which company to run next.

“Before we invest in a company, we have to have an awful lot of confidence in the CEO of the company.

Marty is one of the very best retail operators that I have ever run across.”

Michael Frieze – Chairman
Gordon Brothers Group

“Marty has worked with Gordon Brothers for ten years, very successfully running one of our portfolio companies. Marty has an excellent understanding of how to work with private equity firms. He understands the key drivers and metrics that create long-term shareholder value.

He had 9 straight years of positive comp sales – that should be in the retailing Hall of Fame.

Marty has very strong leadership skills and high energy. He works as hard as humanly possible.”

Matt Kahn – Principal
Gordon Brothers Merchant Partners