Deck the Walls

By Carol Tisch Photography by Lori Sax December 31, 2009

Score a big coup for the region’s creative community: The multimillion-dollar company that America’s top interior designers seek out for high-quality framed art and wall décor has quietly moved its operations to south Manatee County from Los Angeles County, Calif., where it had been based since its inception in 1957.  

As a producer of what’s known in the home furnishings trade as wall décor, Soicher-Marin has a digital archive of more than 12,000 antique prints that are reproduced as giclée prints. They also work with artists who create original commissioned art

for clients.

Soicher-Marin products hang in such prestigious hotels as the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Fountainebleau in Miami Beach and the Biltmore in Coral Gables. (Chain hotels include Destination Hotels & Resorts, with its more than 7,000 guest rooms, and Ayres Hotels’ 19 European-style boutique hotels in southern California.) It supplies art for the walls of retailers like Macy’s, Williams Sonoma and Lillian August, and for the retail boutiques of well-known interior designers from Thomas O’Brien to Barclay Butera.

The company gained market share in recent years by becoming a complete custom house, and it’s gained loyal customers in renowned designers whose work appears regularly in decorating magazines. Several, including Jamie Drake, Mariette Himes Gomez and Suzanne Kasler, also have become licensing partners.

It is only fitting that a company specializing in high-end framed art would choose Sarasota as its new home after an exhaustive search that spanned the country.  “Sarasota is an arts-sensitive community—we like that,” explains owner and chief executive officer Ed Marin. “We also like the proximity to the Ringling College of Art and Design; it offers a great pool of talent and access to young people with fresh ideas to intern and work here.”

But perhaps even more important, he says, is Florida’s absence of state income tax and its business-friendly attitude, which Marin describes as the antithesis to that of California. Sarasota and Manatee counties both aggressively wooed Soicher-Marin with incentives. Not wanting to be beholden to either county, Marin passed on the perks. “But the fact that we were being courted by Sarasota and Manatee counties led me to conclude that the region is pro-business. Both demonstrated a willingness to help and that they would not impose a lot of restrictions,” he says.

Soicher-Marin considered relocating to Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina. In the end, the move in September to a spanking new 26,160-square-foot facility in Benderson Development Company’s Sarasota Commerce Center near the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport was decided in equal parts on lifestyle and business. “We are closer to our clients here; the majority of our business is east of the Mississippi in Atlanta, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Maryland and New England,” Marin reports. Freight charges from its former headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., have already been reduced by four percent. And shipping time is reduced as well. “We can have a truck in Atlanta or North Carolina in 24 hours from Sarasota, as opposed to a week from California,” Marin explains.

Ed and Robyn Marin thought about leaving California when their three sons were small children because they weren’t keen on raising a family in Los Angeles. “We’ve been tossing the idea around on and off for 20 years,” he says. With two sons away in college and the third in high school, the timing was right for a move. “By the middle of last year I knew California was headed for crisis, and the decision would come down to when to go, not if we would go,” he says.

“As the patriarch of the family, I’m looking down the road: This area is not just better for the business, it’s better for my kids,” he says. “The cost of living is so much more reasonable that they would be able to afford to buy small starter homes in Sarasota if they chose to move here—with a little help from me,” he chuckles. “And when they have families, their wives could choose to stay home with their kids if they wanted to. From a cost standpoint, that could never happen in L.A.”

The catalyst was Marin’s longtime friend and business associate, George Mazzarantani of George H. Mazzarantani, P.A. in Sarasota. “I’ve known George for 20 years. He’s a lawyer now but was an architect when I began working with him. George is passionate about Sarasota. He showed me the potential here and introduced me to the movers and shakers,” Marin explains.

Beginning in February 2009, Marin made three trips before deciding in April to relocate. “At that point George and I spent hours putting a plan together. He had a punch list, a war book; he helped me get a mortgage broker, a realtor, a banker, helped secure a building and begin the process of relocating the company. George connected all the dots for me,” Marin says.

Now everything hinged on Robyn. “I took her to the beach to tell her what I hoped to do, and I’ll never forget her reaction. We were on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and she just cried. I said, ‘We’ve been together for 30 years and I know what you like. Sarasota has the same small-town but sophisticated feel as Palo Verdes Estates. Let’s make a trip to check it out, and if you say no, I will soldier on,’” he recalls.

That was May. By July the pair had purchased a home on Siesta Key. “Robyn is a trooper; she has embraced Sarasota,” Marin says. “Siesta Key is very much like the beach we lived on in California. The difference is Robyn swims here every day. In all the time we lived on the West Coast, I think I saw my wife in the water just once. ”

Marin relocated four key employees to Sarasota: his operations manager, vice president of sales, designer and accounting manager. The company’s sales force includes a network of 26 independent reps located across the country; one of them is his sister, Maria Marin, whose territory comprises Mexico and most of California.  

In Sarasota the goal is to hire 40 local employees, but that has proved to be a challenge. “The labor market here was a surprise,” Marin explains. “Several medium-size framers had lost their businesses with the downturn in the economy, and there had been a lot of layoffs. We thought it would be simple to find framers, but we found that many people gave up looking for work and left the state last year,” he says. Undaunted, Marin and his executive team are recruiting and training to quality standards many consider the toughest in the industry.

While Soicher-Marin’s manufacturing and designing will take place in Sarasota, the company imports component products from Europe, China, Vietnam, Haiti and Africa. The “Made in America” aspect gives Soicher-Marin a leg up on the competition in terms of quality and agility in meeting tight deadlines. “It would be impossible to meet our standards in Asia,” Marin says. ‘You need to be on hand to control quality. Asian companies know how to mimic well. But the intrinsic nature of quality is impossible to mimic.”

Indeed, because of its high-quality standards and its design sensibility, the company eschews the mass market, which focuses on lower-priced goods. Though he declined to give sales figures, Marin acknowledges that his company commands a fairly good amount of market share at the medium- to high-end of the wall décor business.

“I don’t know if we are the biggest, but we are the king of the hill, and when you’re in that position people want to knock you off,” he says.

The Soicher-Marin collections are priced at retail from $200 to $4,500, appealing to the mid- to upper-end market. And now that the company commands the lion’s share of this category, it is expanding into a younger demographic with a new, lower-priced but equally stylish brand called SM2. That brand launched in April and was well-received at the influential High Point furniture market; they’re now working on a collection with super-hot Thom Filicia (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy designer) to be introduced in April. It will be priced from $180 to $1,500.

From product development to expansion into new markets to its unique custom capabilities, the company is growing rather than defending share. And the savings expected by moving to Sarasota ensure an even brighter future, Marin says. ■

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