Looking back: Julian Saul

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An allergy to Rayon and cotton rugs was parlayed into Hall of Fame career.

How Queen Carpet was positioned leading into 1986…

“The company was founded as Queen Tufting as a manufacturer of scatter rugs and room size rugs. When I got out of Georgia Tech in 1963, we were doing $1.8 million a year, 80% of that going to Montgomery Ward in cotton rugs.

We got into the carpet business in 1969. The reason we got into the carpet business was because I was allergic to the rayon and cotton rugs. I was miserable; when I walked in the plant I would start sneezing and everything. Nylon is non- allergenic.

I get credit for it, but my father financed the company with tax-free municipal bonds. Gerald Embree was CFO at the time and was also instrumental in that. During the Jimmy Carter years, people were paying 20% and 21%; the most we ever paid was 8.75% for those bonds. We argued about everything but, in the end, we would agree and everything would work out for the best.

We originally sold carpet through distributors but then we started selling direct, first in the Southeast. Styling is what separated us. We really had some hits. We just were attuned to the market.”

Tell me about the product range.

Queen was always known for having good products. In 1976, we decided to put in our own twisting and heat setting and also a dye range. We came out with a style called Prime Time; it made our company. We had five versions of it. It took our business from $29 million to $69 million in one year, to $99 million the next year, and then to $129 million the next year. It really got us going.

What was special about it?

Well, ironically, the yarn salesman, Bob Moore, who sold for Chevron, said, “I’ll give you a sample of yarn.” It was terrible. He sent another sample and it had the bulk characteristics of a type 6,6 nylon but it dyed like a type 6, and the value was unbelievable.

Where did Queen rank among the 300 or so carpet mills?

Prime Time actually vaulted us to probably the top 20. I mean, we would dye 200,000 yards of a color. That dye range never stopped. It was phenomenal. It was almost like counterfeiting. I would allocate the rolls personally. I would say, “This one gets this and that one gets that.” By 1986, we were cooking pretty good. Then Stainmaster really hit.

What did Stainmaster do for Queen?

Queen was one of the four mills that were selected for Stainmaster and it really helped us get going. It was phenomenal. It just elevated us. People who wouldn’t give us a look, all of a sudden they’re interested in all our products.

Why do you think you were selected as one of the four?

Well, first of all, the salesman, Bob Huie, went to Georgia Tech with me. DuPont wouldn’t sell us. We were too small, and I bumped into him in the Oakwood Café one day and he said, “Why aren’t we doing business?” We started the next week.

You’re president of the company in 1986?

No, I was vice president in charge of product development; the reason why is because when stockbrokers or anybody calls, they always ask for the president of the company. My father said, “Why don’t you be president and I’ll be chairman?” I said, “No, I don’t want to be president.” I didn’t become president until a little before his death.

Best decision you made at Queen?

Going vertical and making our own yarn. We built the plant and we brought the yarn in one door and carpet out the next instead of hauling it all over. We were by far, in my opinion, the lowest cost producer. The second-best decision was buying Tuftex. Tuftex was, by far, the premier West Coast carpet mill. It elevated us.

Today, Engineered Floors talks about raw materials going in one door and carpet going out the other door.

We were doing it long before they did. We were also the first mill to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We never stopped. I copied that from DuPont. They couldn’t shut down because they were running type 6,6. The only time we ever shut down—Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving and the week of Fourth of July.

After Stainmaster came on the scene, what was the first sea change?

National advertising. They were the only ones. Nobody else was doing it, until this day. It elevated the carpet industry to a different level.

What could the industry have done better over the last 35 years?

Not make base grade. Base grade is the worst thing that ever happened to us, in my opinion. The people who lived in apartments, they had base grade. When they moved into their homes, I could just hear them say, “I don’t want carpet.” But the worst of it all was in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Southern California—these contractors run out of money for the house and they put in the cheapest floor covering they could get. It would be base grade, and the people have it for a year or two. They don’t want carpet anymore. It was a terrible thing.

The one thing you would do differently if I turned back the clock.

I would have bought Karastan. We had Karastan bought. Mohawk came in, unbeknownst to the chairman of Karastan, who I’d just been with in Boston the day before. We had a price agreed on Karastan. He called me back the next day and said, “Our board met, and they’re going to open it up for bids.” Mohawk bid a lot more than we did. I could match for a dollar more, and I turned it down. Not many people know that.

Why did you merge with Shaw?

By the time I would have gotten to be 65, my son Matthew would only have been 25. I just decided it’s not fair to him to put a business on him doing $800 million, and I would have had to have somebody else run it. My sister was a stockholder, too, and I called her and we worked it out.

First thing that comes to mind with the following…

  • Bob Shaw, formerly with Shaw Industries and now Engineered Floors—Friend. We grew up in the same neighborhood. He is nine years older than me, but he’ll tell you stories that I used to carry his football helmet. It’s true. My next-door neighbor and I were the mascots of the football team. We played softball and a lot of sports together. We’ve been friends forever.
  • Gene Barwick—One of the best things I ever did…He sent word to me that he’d like to come to our plant— this is after he got out the second time. He came there and we walked through the plant. I would say 30% of the people in that plant had worked for him before. He was dressed to the hilt, double-breasted suit. They came up and hugged him and kissed him. That put tears in my eyes, and he wrote me the nicest note the next day about how much he enjoyed it. He was responsible for all of us. He’s the one who really got the carpet business going.
  • Jeff Lorberbaum, Mohawk—A friend and a hell of an operator.
  • Joel Cohen, Queen Carpet—Joel had a big role in the development of Queen. He was selling scatter rugs. I asked him to come to work for us. He didn’t do it. Then about four or five years later, he came and he really helped us. What a character he was. Today, I don’t have anybody to call on the phone except Sandy [Mishkin], but if I’m trying to think of somebody, I don’t have Joel anymore. He was called the most for a couple of rea- sons: He ate the most, he talked the most.
  • Jack Riley, Karastan—A wonderful friend.
  • Walter Guinan, Karastan and head of CRI—He did wonders for the carpet business; a wonderful guy, the nicest, the best.
  • Peter Spirer, Horizon—Really great guy, good friend, and a very great marketing guy.
  • Al Wahnon, Floor Covering News—Night of 100 Stars in New York, he knew all of those actors. He knew who they were. He and Anita went around and took pictures and got autographs of everyone there: Cecily Tyson, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Gina Lollobrigida…the list goes on.

Storytelling: Julian Saul shares tales you may never have heard

How Queen merged with Shaw…

Bob [Shaw] called me three years before [we eventually merged] and said, “I’m going into the retail business. We need to merge.” I said, “Bob, as a friend, I hope you don’t do it. As a commetitor, I hope you do it. It’s not good. You shouldn’t do it.”

That goes on for three years. Then, he called me and said, “Look, we’re getting out of the retail business.” That’s when the conversation started.

Was I was amenable at first? Yeah, when he told me what he was going to give me. But the conversation on Friday wasn’t the same as it was on Monday. He said that was telephone talk, and then we really started talking about it. It took about 10 days.

How he came to own Barnsley Resort…

I came to Barnsley to play golf, and I’m sitting in a bar and this lady comes up to me and asks: “Do you know Julius Shaw?” I said, “Do I know him? His office is next to mine.” She said, “Well, I worked for Shaw for years.”

She calls me in my office two weeks later. “The Prince [Hubertus Fugger of Bavaria] is going to sell [Barnsley] and he wants you to buy it.” I didn’t want any resorts, but then we met with the Prince and his wife and we bought it. I had a partner, Mike Meadows. Then, I bought him out. He was smart.

Brush with a future heavyweight champion…

In the late 1980s I was visiting Rite Rug in Columbus, Ohio. My host asked me to come to the warehouse. “I want you to meet the next heavyweight champion,” he said. There was this huge guy working in the warehouse. I’m thinking, no way. He must have weighed 250 pounds and someone is going to have to get him in shape. It was Buster Douglas, who would go on to knock out Mike Tyson to win the heavyweight championship in 1990.

The boy’s got game…

Bob Shaw and Julian had somewhat of a rivalry on the golf course. When told that Shaw acknowledged that “Today, Julian is probably the better golfer,” Julian replied, “He couldn’t beat me on his best day. He beat me once in the club championship. I made up my mind he’d never beat me again. And he never did.”

Hans Lutjens…

The biggest character ever in the carpet business, bar none. He had Chamblee Carpet Mills in Cartersville, Ga. He starts this company called Tahlequah Mills. He gets drunk one night and runs the carpet upside down and laminates the back to the face. Joel [Cohen] said, “Hans, were you drunk?” He said, “You don’t think I’d do that if I was sober, do you?”

Bob Shaw…

We used to play ball, and he was our fast-pitch softball player. One night his wife, Anna Sue, told him he couldn’t come out. They had kids, and he had to stay home that night for some reason. He climbed out the bedroom window.

Heinz Gruber…

Another person who really helped Queen was Heinz Gruber, who was the technical person from Kusters. After we ordered that dye machine from him, he came to see me every day and said, “You need to do this, you need to do that.” He basically taught me how to dye carpet. He insisted we put in a printer in line with our tank machine and continuous dyeing, and that’s what got Queen going. That’s what made Prime Time so special that no one could duplicate.

Nate Lipson…

Nate had Venture Carpets in Calhoun. At one point they weren’t doing so well, so my father called him and said, “Nate, if you need anything, like money, just ask.” He said, “Harry, let me tell you something: My wife bought all these Monets and other paintings, and they’re worth an absolute fortune.”

Shaheen Shaheen…

Tom Pappas fixes a dinner with Shaheen, Ted Haserjian (Carpeteria) and Zsa Zsa Gabor. They’re having dinner, and Zsa Zsa has this low-cut dress on. Shaheen’s telling Zsa Zsa, “I got airplanes. I got this, I got that.” Zsa Zsa turns to Piera and says, “Darling, if you’ve got all this money, then why don’t you do something to yourself?” Piera calmly responded, “Zsa Zsa, I’ve had one husband. How many have you had?”

Carl Bouckaert…

He invites us to his house to watch the election returns the year Reagan or Bush was running. He gets a call while we are having dinner and the person says, “Someone is stealing carpet from the mill and they’re putting the rolls on the roof.” He runs over there, he’s gone for about 40 minutes, comes back. Turns out they were re-roofing the building.

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