Md. woman's firm makes national list Success: Marjorie Waldman's purchasing company, Stroud Group, has been listed in the top ranks of small American businesses owned by women.

May 11, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The Stroud Group is a family business in the truest sense.

For almost two decades, it was operated under a different name as a regional purchasing company by a couple expecting it to provide for them in their later years.

Instead, the couple's daughter, Marjorie Waldman, gave the company a new name and has landed it in the top ranks of a high-profile list of small businesses owned by women.

The 18-employee Stroud Group can outfit a hotel with all of its needs, from the lamps and plants in the lobby to the curtains and carpet in the guest rooms.

For its efforts, it was listed as the third top woman-owned small business according to sales in a recent ranking by Dun & Bradstreet and Entrepreneur magazine. It was the only Maryland company listed.

"I do what I do because I really like it, not to get on a list," said Waldman, the company's president and a former public relations executive who previously sold cosmetics and did free-lance advertising work. She is married to an assistant business editor at The Sun.

"Yes, I want to be successful, but I wouldn't have been able to do this without my family," she said.

Entrepreneur magazine reported the company's 1996 sales at $10.8 million. Last year, the Stroud Group had sales of $24 million, the privately held company said.

To be considered for the list, woman-owned companies must have fewer than 100 employees, said Mike Azzi, spokesman for Dun & Bradstreet Corp. The financial research firm evaluated an estimated 1 million woman-owned small companies. The top firm in the survey had $25 million in sales in 1996.

There are an estimated 8 million woman-owned businesses in the United States. According to Dun & Bradstreet data, woman-owned and minority-owned firms are two of the fastest-growing segments of the small business market. Combined, they generated about $3 trillion in sales in 1996, the most recent year's data available.

For Waldman, growing the Stroud Group from $10 million to $24 million meant 10-hour days filled with tasks such as keeping track of the company's contracts, visiting job sites, wooing potential clients and attending furniture shows to find quality goods, she said.

"I thought I wouldn't be working hard when I'm successful," she said. "But I'm still working hard."

Waldman took the day off to celebrate her 40th birthday last month -- the first she's been able to do so. "I'm a wife, mother and business owner," she said. "Self isn't part of that equation."

On a typical day, she arrives at work at 8: 30 a.m. and leaves after 6 p.m. to attend to twin sons and a daughter, ages 8 and 7, respectively. Her only hobby is working out at the gym, she said.

"I try to block out work when I leave the office, but it's difficult because I work with my family," Waldman said, adding that she has recently instituted a rule limiting talk about the business at family gatherings.

She always wanted to work for her parents' company, Stroud Purchasing, but she never wanted to do it in the Poconos, where it was based, Waldman said. She spent much of her life in the area, growing up near Philadelphia and attending East Stroudsburg State University nearby.

Two years after relocating to Columbia, Waldman opened a sales office for her parents in her home in 1987. She named the venture the Stroud Group because she knew it would be different from her parents' company. But she didn't know by how much.

By 1989, Waldman was doing well enough to eclipse her parents' business in revenue. Needing more help, her brother, Michael Orloff, left the Poconos and took up with the Stroud Group. Now he's vice president.

Her parents, Claire and Harold Orloff, closed their business and joined the Stroud Group in 1994. Claire Orloff is the head of the accounting department, and Harold Orloff serves as in-house consultant.

Recession hurt resorts

The Stroud Group has grown far beyond its predecessor, which Harold Orloff bought into in 1978 and then bought out his partner two years later.

Stroud Purchasing had clients only among resorts in the New York area. Its work force topped out at six other employees and, at its height, raked in about $6 million, Orloff said.

The recession in the early 1990s hit the resort area hard and stifled Stroud Purchasing. But the Stroud Group is benefiting from a solid economy and a recent boom in the lodging industry. The hotel business reported gains of $14.6 billion last year, according to industry reports.

As a purchasing company, the Stroud Group keeps a "library" of fabric samples for carpeting, curtains, furniture coverings and other items. Clients can visit the company's offices and view samples, or a Stroud employee may visit for on-site presentations.

Once a contract is signed, Stroud coordinates with the hotel company's designer to develop a budget for the job and agree on the look for the guest rooms or lobby. The company secures suppliers for such goods as furniture, wall paintings and bed spreads. Stroud coordinates delivery of the goods and their installation.

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