July 5, 2016 – HIGH POINT, N.C. – The International Casual Furnishings Association will honor the late Merv Conn, vice president of Mallin Casual Furniture, and Joe Watson, owner of Watson’s Fireplace & Patio, Lutherville, Md., with the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award for 2016.Conn, who died unexpectedly in 2013, joined Mallin of Montebello, Calif., in 1963 as the shipping manager and worked his way up to general manager. In 1991, when the company was purchased by Minson Corp., Conn was named vice president of sales and marketing. Under his leadership, Mallin Casual Furniture was re-established as a leader in the industry for comfort and style.
Conn was active in the casual furniture industry for nearly two decades, joining the Summer and Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association (SCFMA) board in 1997. He was elected an officer in 2002 and served as president from 2004 to 2006, and as chairman from 2006 to 2008. He was the last chairman of SCFMA before the organization expanded and became the International Casual Furnishings Association in 2008. Conn was known as an expert negotiator with a keen eye for styles that would become top sellers.
“With his dedication, vision, hard work and creative thoughts, (he) helped not only Mallin Casual Furniture grow, but the industry in general,” said long-time Mallin colleague Brenda Pereyda.Like many young men of his generation, Watson sold Fuller Brushes door-to-door as a high schooler. But his penchant for sales continued long after his teenage years, eventually resulting in his acquisition of a garden shop in his hometown of Towson, Maryland, in 1955 after completing a stint in the Air Force.
The garden shop “blossomed” into a $6 to $7 million garden center in just over a decade. Along the way, his brothers joined him in business, and they moved the center to nearby Lutherville in 1961, where burgeoning residential development led to nearly instant success. In 1986, Watson took the patio and fireplace departments, along with some adjoining real estate, and opened Watson’s Fireplace and Patio.
While the garden and patio businesses flourished, the store also became a destination for Christmas decorations, including fresh-cut trees and wreaths, nutcrackers, and specialty ornaments. Their winter wonderland displays also regularly featured live animals including, famously, a reindeer. Watson’s son, Steve, continues to operate the fireplace and patio store today, while the garden center closed earlier this year.
Watson was active in leadership of the Casual Furniture Retailers Association prior to its merger with ICFA in 2008. He says he can’t imagine his business success without the “brainstorming” and networking he enjoyed with his association colleagues over the years.
Conn and Watson will be honored during the ICFA Awards Gala at The Field Museum on September 22, during the Casual Market Chicago. Tickets for the event are available here.