Friday, February 26, 2010

The Art Material Trade Today

These are “interesting” times. Pearl Paint, the former dominant player in the distribution of art supplies is on the rocks. They are closing 11 of their 16 stores. From this man’s perspective, here’s the story.

A few years ago a parcel ripped open in a UPS conveyor belt and out spilled hundred dollar bills. So Robert Pearlmuter , a man in his late 70’s went to jail for a couple of years. He’s been depressed ever since (4-6 years of depression). His crime: tax evasion.

I have had almost no contact with the Pearlmuters or their partner Shalish Shaw, but what I know about them I don’t like. Aside from this stealing money that they don’t need, they have a history of arrogance and they do not treat their employees nicely.

Pearl will attempt to reorganize and prosper with the remaining stores. At this point I don’t believe they will survive.

Their management skills have proved inadequate and if my recent experience in Los Angeles is an indicator of the future, I see no hope of improvement.

Here’s the Los Angeles Story:

I was at a trade show in Anaheim, California a few weeks ago. Everyone was talking about Pearl’s announced 50% off everything sale in 6 stores (it later went to 12 of the 16 stores).

Steve and I consulted (Steve Kenney is my General Manager of 17 years) and we decided to look at the cities that were losing Pearl Art Supplies. Los Angeles was a 40 minute drive, so I drove north and Steve flew back east to general manage.

My first stop was Pearl. I asked to see the manager. Lamine and his assistant Doug joined me for coffee and I was very careful to be clear in my intent. I wanted to notify them both that if Pearl Los Angeles closed they could apply for a job with Artist & Craftsman. At that date Pearl Los Angeles was selling everything at 50% off and regardless of Pearl closing or not I was committed to open in Los Angeles.

So, a week ago I returned to Los Angeles to sign a lease. The 50% off sale had gone to 75% then 90%. The morning I arrived there was an 8 ½ x 11 inch sign in the Pearl window announcing that the 90% sale was over and Pearl intended to reopen with fresh inventory in a few weeks.

Lamine, a 12 year veteran with Pearl joined us for lunch. He said he had just minutes ago quit Pearl. A group of bosses from headquarters had come to Los Angeles and they were very critical of Lamine’s performance. Lamine countered that he had no inventory left to sell. I can attest to Lamine’s version. Anyway, at lunch Lamine asked for a job and he’s my new manager at Artist & Craftsman Los Angeles.

Vendors are telling me that Pearl is sending purchase orders for 5 stores (including Los Angeles) with the promise of prepayment before shipment but with no commitment to pay past overdue debt.

We are also actively pursuing two markets. We believe a store on Route 1 North of Boston would be good so as to replace out of business Charette of Woburn and Tech office in Portsmouth.

Also on the short list is Chicago. Without Pearl that sophisticated art market has one independent and corporate like suppliers Utrecht & Dick Blick. Chicago needs A&C and we need Chicago.