Soicher Marin, based in Sarasota, Fla., is the classic American success story. Ed Marin, who is the second-generation owner of Soicher Marin, has maintained the original vision, aesthetic and point of view of the company when it was conceived in the Los Angeles area in 1959 by Harry Soicher.
Marin was a framer by trade, and the pair took their individual talents into the decorative art market, serving the interior design, home furnishings and home fashion trades. By 1972 Soicher Marin was national with showrooms in every major market. Harry Soicher passed away in 1974 and Ed Marin eventually took over operations in the early ‘90s.
“At that time a lot of us were showing up at trade shows with the same types of products, because the universe of printed art was supplied by a handful of people out of New York and London,” says Ed Marin. “My dad was buying antiques and other artwork that was in the public domain, or he would find an artist he wanted to publish, and we would go to offset printing and do limited runs. It was great because it gave us our own identity and point of view, and we were able to do things exclusive to us. The problem was that you had to be right all the time; if you made a mistake you were sitting on a lot of wasted paper, so we were very cautious about the images we put out and how we put them out.”
When inkjet printing became a viable method of art reproduction, Soicher Marin outsourced it at first, but when it became more affordable to purchase the equipment it was brought in-house with an Epson printer and an Onyx RIP.
“We were 100 percent exclusive with our art within a year; we didn’t have anything we were buying from anyone else. We were and are very much a content-driven company and it’s been allowed to happen because of this breakthrough in technology,” says Marin.
All of Soicher Marin’s artwork is produced in-house. Marin acts as the “chief art director,” as he puts it, to ensure that a consistent look is achieved. The Soicher Marin “look” is drawn from both natural history and contemporary art. Either way, it has what Marin calls “a historical perspective” unique to Soicher Marin, which you can see in the accompanying photos.
“If we have a point of view in the industry it’s driven by the aesthetic I want to put out in the market. I have catalogs from our company that date back to the mid-‘60s and ‘70s. Obviously, the artwork and colors are different, but the aesthetic and point of view is not. There’s a common thread that runs through the product line. It’s not a conscious effort; it’s just how we think and the people who come to work here and have become involved in our design process come to see it that way as well.”
The Soicher Marin aesthetic is not forced; rather, it’s a natural extension of a corporate culture that encourages creativity, independence, leadership and customer service. Moreover, the emphasis is on the art, not the technology used to create or reproduce it.
“We don’t over-embellish, over-layer or over-digitize the artwork. We let great art speak for itself. Our biggest responsibility is to reproduce it with the highest fidelity. And the same goes for our framing; we’re very careful about the materials we pick and how we treat the art. We have a less-is-more approach to our design,” says Marin. “Although we have densitometers and other devices that help us reach the optimal, our employees have it down to an art – it’s less science and more art.”
The young artists who work at Soicher Marin are intimately involved in the design process. Marin says they’re given a lot of leeway to “go off the reservation,” and it’s encouraged. By immersing them both in the Soicher Marin aesthetic and independent creativity, the Soicher Marin brand is enhanced.
“There’s another component that’s less obvious and it’s that there’s a certain rightness to our design and point of view. In the biography of Steve Jobs I found that there was a lot of discussion about his obsession with design. There’s a design thread that runs through Apple’s products, and you can see that someone put a lot of thought into each product. There’s a certain organic nature to it,” explains Marin. “We can’t say why it is exactly that the iPhone and all the other products are so pleasing to the eye, but they just are. We look at it the same way. We obsess over small details that change something very slightly, then people stand back and say it looks right, whether it’s scale or color, and that’s the part of organic design that people have a hard time describing, but they know it when they see it. It’s something I think we accomplish here as a team.”
This is an integral part of the culture, but most important are the elements of customer service and leadership. For Soicher Marin, customer service begins within the company itself. If that element is lacking, serving the end-use customer will surely lag.
Therefore, great emphasis is placed on interpersonal and interdepartmental customer service. The art department is the digital department’s customer, for instance, so the digital department must please its internal customer first. “That’s the service culture we want,” says Marin.
To foster leadership, Marin explains, “Everyone is a leader and has a responsibility to someone else. My responsibility is to mentor them, teach them, give them my time, listen to their concerns, bring them into the general conversation of the company and work on their leadership skills. Then, their job is to do the same thing with everyone under them. Even if they leave our company, we may hate to lose them, but if they lead somewhere else because of something we taught them, we look at it as a service to the community.”
Like Soicher Marin’s design aesthetic, it’s the little things that make the difference in customer service. In other words, it goes far beyond providing a great product on time. It means answering the phone, showing courtesy and giving customers all the time they need.
“Our customer service people have the best job because they get to talk to the customer, even when that means fielding a complaint, since a complaint is often an opportunity to not only make it right, but to solidify that relationship. My dad used to say that it costs so little to keep a customer; it’s much more costly to find them than it is to keep them,” says Marin.
Marin adds that the recession has made things difficult for the entire decorative art market. Soicher Marin made because of a brand that’s more than 50 years old. “The power of the brand is almost infinite when times are tough,” says Marin.
The Soicher Marin brand is strong because the company takes a collaborative approach to branding. Soicher Marin chooses partners wisely; partners that have the same dedication to quality and detail. For instance, Soicher Marin designs artwork for Lillian August’s furniture collection for furniture maker Hickory White.
“Lillian August has a beautiful furniture collection with Hickory White and she will collaborate with us on the design of all the pictures that are supposed to go with her furniture, so it’s a de facto collaboration with an important brand like Hickory White. Our customers know that the licensing relationships we have are really strong and collaborative, which makes our company still relevant after all these years.”
For its art reproduction, Soicher Marin’s choice of giclee materials is purely subjective and vary from LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper to LexJet Sunset Fibre Matte and Sunset Hot Press Rag, as well as canvas reproductions with LexJet Sunset Select Gloss Canvas and Sunset Select Matte Canvas.
Soicher Marin releases four sets of collections per year. Its two “major” seasons are spring and fall, and its two “minor” seasons are summer and winter.
“The type of art we bring to the table will determine the medium we put it on. If it’s photography, for instance, it could end up on an eSatin, a fibre-based or rag paper, based on what the image is,” says Marin.
Again, it’s the seemingly minor and subtle choices that make Soicher Marin so unique and successful in its offering. As Marin puts it, “We don’t just sell prints.”
For more information about Soicher Marin and its collections, go to www.soicher-marin.com.