In the business of home products retailing, you can’t say one without the other: Warren and Lenny, Lenny and Warren.
And like Cher or Elvis, no last names are necessary.
Warren Eisenberg and Len Feinstein are, of course, the founders and still co-chairmen of Bed Bath & Beyond, the single most important home furnishings specialty operation in the country.
They are as well known to vendors and suppliers in the business as anyone in the industry, yet they rarely if ever attend any industry functions, never accept honors or accolades and can practically count the number of interviews they’ve given to the business press on no fingers.
Yet their names are virtually synonymous with the retailing giant they created in 1971 and have led, developed and nurtured ever since. The fact that they have become wealthy in the process is neither ignored nor resented by practically everybody in the business.
The tale of Warren and Lenny is well known. First working together at a long-since-forgotten New York-based discounter named Arlans, they decided to go into business for themselves when that operation went bankrupt.
Eisenberg lived in New Jersey, Feinstein lived on Long Island, and so the geographically correct solution was two stores, one in each area. In 1971, they opened Bed & Bath stores in Springfield, N.J., and Cedarhurst, N.Y.
It took a lot of tinkering—and 14 years—before they found the formula that became Bed Bath & Beyond, mixing in high-traffic home hard goods to the soft fashion staples.
You know how the story has turned out since.
The pair maintains their geographical bases to this day and the company largely evolved along those lines: Merchandising located on Long Island under Feinstein and operations in New Jersey under Eisenberg. But like any good marriage, the workload division is neither that simple nor that neat. Each partner is involved in the other’s areas and in the earlier days of the business, there wasn’t an important market appointment or banking meeting that both didn’t attend.
They don’t often comment about their relationship, but in a rare 2000 interview with Forbes, Feinstein was unusually candid: “There aren’t many good marriages out there, but when you’ve got one of the great ones, it’s wonderful.”
The low profiles within the trade are on purpose. From the start they made the conscious decision not to give interviews to the press, not to get involved in industry organizations or functions and not to give much more information to financial analysts or outsiders. The company declined to be interviewed for this HFN special report.
The policy does not seem to have done them much harm.
These days, Warren and Lenny are less involved in day-to-day activities, although an outsider would guess that nothing really important happens at the company without their involvement.
It is said they are focused more on their families, philanthropic activities and travel schedules than the prices of solid-color sheet programs.
However, they remain joined at the merchandising hip and at least one source suggests they talk every day and are even the executors of each other’s will.
WarrenandLenny, LennyandWarren: Twenty-five years after changing the home retailing world when they went Beyond, they remain as one.