Building a family business with hard work, dedication and values
By Angela Rogalski
Photography by Johnny Jennings
A long history of tradition, family values and hard work is the backbone of Alex Malouf and the businesses he has built and nurtured over the years. Malouf is a man who believes in the work ethics of someone who doesn’t back down and doesn’t give up. And he has over 40 years of success to prove that.
Alex Malouf was born in Greenwood in 1941 and graduated high school in 1959. He attended the University of Mississippi as a business major, but left after his junior year.
“I was doing well at Ole Miss, but I didn’t feel like I was developing a career path for myself,” Malouf says. “I was just confused. I really didn’t know what ‘business’ meant, or who I was going to work for or what kind of business I was going to become involved in.”
Malouf left Ole Miss at that point and joined the Army National Guard, leaving for active duty for about seven months. When he returned, he went to work for his father, Alex Malouf Sr., who owned a small, popular-priced furniture store, Malouf Furniture, there in Greenwood.
“Dad’s was one of eight furniture stores in Greenwood at the time,” he says. “There were three really nice, high-end stores; there were three that sold popular-priced and low-end products—we were one of those—and there were two stores that were very low-end. My goal at that time was to step the store up a notch and compete with the three stores that were selling better products, and that’s what I did.”
Malouf Furniture at that time was on Carrollton Ave.; it didn’t have a large volume, was debt free, and produced a nice living for his parents. Being the oldest of five children, Malouf eventually bought the store from his father, and his younger brother Bill joined the firm as a partner.
“After we bought it from Dad, we moved it out onto the highway—this was around the early ’70s—and built what’s known as Malouf Furniture Company today,” he adds. “When we did that we made a lot of changes, eliminating all of the appliances and the entire low-end product line. We hired designers, rather than just sales people, and changed the whole dynamic of what we were doing. It took a long time to get that done because we didn’t have a lot of money. We borrowed the money to build the building and hocked everything else we had to get enough money for the inventory to put in it. We really stayed with the business to make sure that it was going to grow, and it grew rapidly to a multimillion dollar business with cash flow, within a few years.”
Malouf was proud of what the store did over the next few years as it continued to flourish and grow. Eventually, he stepped out of the business, and Bill took over the day-to-day operations. Along with the furniture store, Malouf had also started John Richard Investments with a friend, which was a semi-mortgage, banking company. The two also started a telephone company and John Richard, as it is known today, which was just a small wall-décor company at the time.
As time went on, Malouf took the wall-décor company and gave his partner the phone company. “We had the three companies; the mortgage-banking company we decided to just continue it on together. Without buying houses or financing or selling them, we would just let it go dormant and pay out what we had.”
Malouf took the small wall-décor company, John Richard, and moved it to a spot behind Malouf Furniture. At the time he took it over, it was doing about $240,000 per year and had a lot of debt on it. Within a year, Malouf pulled it out of debt and saw some amazing numbers take control, and it has followed up with more growth each and every year since.
“After that, our interests just kept growing,” he adds. “Eventually, I went into the mirror business, the original oil-painting business, home accessories, and lighting. I just began to grow it, and grow it and we had several buildings around town that we were operating in, so I went to the state of Mississippi. They passed bonds for us and we built a 90,000-square-foot facility in the Industrial Park, which has now morphed into a 500,000-square-foot facility, known as John Richard.”
Malouf says today, John Richard has nine product lines, all upscale and at the higher end of the marketplace. “Our wall-décor line is made up of original pieces under glass and canvas reproductions. We have about 50 artists in the United States where we take their original work and we replicate it identically in our factory, on canvas. And we do it all right here, in-house, and that’s a large part of our line. So we have about 550 different designs in art. And every six months we refresh everything and create a totally new line.”
In addition to that type of art, Malouf adds that they also have original oil paintings, with art colonies in South America, Vietnam and China.
“Our artists paint originals for galleries in Europe, and we take the production to the United States,” he says.
Malouf and his wife, Pat, along with a partner, also own a sister company called Alexander & Victor Fine Art, which was based in New Orleans, but is now in Picayune, Miss.
“That company sells fine art to galleries from Miami to Carmel, California,” Malouf says. “We represent these artists for the United States and sell from the fine art side, and then our company John Richard sells them to the high-end designers and high-end furniture stores on our side. Alexander & Victor actually uses the artists’ last names and has a more complete biography. When you buy from John Richard, we use their middle name typically, and the biography is not quite as complete.”
So, in Malouf’s art line they have their regular framed art, reproductions and an original line that gets tracked as two different categories. John Richard also has a complete line of upscale tables and floor lamps and a complete chandelier line.
“So between art and lighting, we have four lines,” Malouf says. “Our factory in Vietnam makes our line of handcrafted mirrors, a complete line of furniture and a chair line. All handcrafted, hand-finished, and bench-made, one piece at a time.”
John Richard also has a lighting factory in China that primarily produces lighting and chandeliers, and a new plant in India manufacturing home accessories and lighting.
Malouf adds that they also have a permanent botanical line, where they actually buy trees from growers around the country, cut off the roots and systemically preserve those trees.
“In other words, when we get finished with it,” he adds, “it’s a real tree that’s been preserved. And we’re bringing pieces out of South Africa and we’re drying them, preserving them and altering the look by adding different colors. We’re manufacturing about a line of about 500 botanicals right here in Greenwood.”
John Richard has an exclusive sales team in all 50 states and does great business in the Middle East and Far East, with a distributor in London, as well as one in Australia, and sales in most parts of Western Europe. “We’re signing a contract soon with a group to open John Richard stores across China,” he says.
Malouf and his wife, Pat, have been married for 51 years and have four children: Shane, VP of manufacturing at John Richard; Patrick, an attorney who lives in Jackson; Natalie, who lives in Nashville; and Gardner, who manages the family’s Malouf Furniture store in Foley, Ala.
When asked what he thinks his dad, Alex Sr., would think of the virtual empire that he and his family have made of the one small store that started back in 1946, Malouf says:
“Dad wasn’t much of a risk-taker and I don’t know exactly where my genes came from to take risks, but my whole career has been betting the farm on the next step. Now that I’m approaching 75, and our businesses around the world are stable and doing well, all the living-on-the-edge and nail-biting is over. I think my father would be extremely proud and amazed that his little store on Carrollton Ave. is now manufacturing and selling in six of the seven continents, excluding only Antarctica.”