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Shapiro Travel Goods: refined and quirky.

SHAPIRO TRAVEL GOODS

Refined and Quirky

The atmosphere is subdued, refined. Fine leather luggage is neatly displayed. Expensive gifts are discretely distributed about the store. The large staff is attentive.

By the cash register sits an inexpensive toy helicopter, launched by holding down a button (the longer you hold the button down, the farther the helicopter flies). As the little gizmo goes haywire in pursuit of some elusive demon, your body's tension is supposed to let go.

Welcome to the classy, slightly offbeat world of Shapiro Travel Goods and Gift Shops, one of Salt Lake City's legendary retailers. From fine gifts, including desk sets and cut crystal, to the vaguely lunatic, such as a device for cleaning one's golf shoes, Shapiro is definitely a reflection of its owners, the second and third generations of the founding Shapiro family. It's a family well in touch with local refined tastes and funny bones, as generations of Salt Lakers can attest.

Simon Shapiro, a Lithuanian immigrant born in 1879, came to Salt Lake early in the century. His first business, begun in 1915, was the manufacture of leather trunks in a building located where the Salt Palace now stands. These trunks were strapped to the back of cars because enclosed car trunks, as

In Need of a New Market

When car makers saw the advantage of building trunks into their cars, Shapiro pater familias had to quickly adapt. So he went into the retail luggage business. In 1923, he set up shop at 152 S. Main, in downtown Salt Lake City, a location that still houses the firm's downtown store, as well as its offices and warehouse.

In 1946, after a stint in the military, Simon's only child, Joel, entered the business. It was a portent of things to come. Joel Shapiro remains the company's head. He and his wife Vivian have three sons. In a reprise of their father's career moves, all the offspring are now with the company. "I don't know what happened," admits Joel, with a sly, slightly bemused look. "That all three desired to come into the business was a great and gratifying surprise. I never romanced the business to them."

Watching father and sons--Alex, 31, Eric, 29, and Daniel, 28--interact is like watching Karl Malone and John Stockton. They communicate in ways not possible between strangers or even good friends. Words are not always used, thoughts not always spelled out. Just as Malone goes to the basket knowing the ball will be there without having to ask for it, the Shapiros anticipate one another and provide the support each needs without any prompting.

Daniel, the last to join the firm, in July 1990, spent five years in New York in Macy's executive training program. When this is mentioned, Alex and Eric immediately bring up Daniel's fast-paced rise up Macy's corporate ladder.

Family Atmosphere

This telltale caring and support of each other is reflected in the business. Family-owned businesses frequently have trouble attracting and keeping employees, since family members typically have the inside track to the top jobs. Yet Shapiro has been able to keep employees onboard for decades. Loring Hampton, who the sons admiringly call "godfather" and "mentor," has been with the firm 37 years. Admits Joel, "You can't talk about this business in the postwar years without acknowledging his contributions."

The Shapiros attribute their success with employees to their creating a family atmosphere for all 50 full-time employees (and another 50 during the Christmas season). "I learned at Macy's," says Daniel, "that success depends on having good people and letting them grow with the business." Store managers, for example, are employees promoted from within the firm.

The Shapiros know how to band together to achieve the competetive edge. During the mid 1980s, a high-end luggage store entered Crossroads Mall; the Shapiros, being innovative, increased marketing efforts and enlarged their product mix. The new operator lasted but three years. "We wanted people to know Salt Lake is our market," comments Daniel, revealingly.

Master Innovators

The move into electric gizmos and gifts is an example of the willingness of the Shapiro family to try new things. Today, it has an unusual collection of gifts, some useful, some quirky. Luggage and leather goods, which are under the watchful eye of Alex, remain the foundation of the business. But gifts, which are in Eric's custody, now bring in 35 to 40 percent of revenues. Daniel's responsibilities include inventory control and employee relations.

A new inventory tracking system, instituted by Daniel and based on his training at Macy's, has improved the firm's efficiency. Inventory is now turned over faster, and data on what's sold is faxed to headquarters daily.

Marketingwise, the firm invests heavily in direct mail. Each year, almost a half million color catalogs are mailed.

In 1974, recognizing the power of the suburban malls, the firm opened its first store outside downtown at Fashion Place Mall. When the third generation began entering the business in the early 1980s, pressure for additional expansion increased. In 1985, Shapiro opened a small outlet in the Main Street mall in Park City.

This too involved innovation. "Park City taught us we could successfully recreate our business on a boutique scale," notes Eric. The Park City store has 1,200 square feet versus 5,000 for the downtown outlet. Since then, the firm has opened stores in Cottonwood Mall and the Ogden City Mall, bringing the total to five. Shapiro is looking at new markets to enter, and its next outlet may be outside Utah.

"Expansion is essential for our survival," notes Alex. "It's how we protect our market."

"If there's anything that counts most for our success," says Joel, "it's that we've adapted over the years. We seem to have a successful Darwinian business impulse."

With over 75 years of success and lots of growth, Shapiro is a classic example of the triumph of natural selection in the rough-and-tumble world of retailing.

PHOTO : Joel (center) with sons Eric (left), Alex, and Daniel (seated) at the store's longtime Main Street location. "Salt Lake City is our market," they say.

Based in Salt Lake City, Alan S. Horowitz writes about business and computer topics.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Shapiro Travel Goods and Gift Shops of Salt Lake City appeals to a wide range of tastes
Author:Horowitz, Alan S.
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Words:1028
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