Creative Concepts founder Wayne Lednum reflects on his beginnings at Montgomery Ward to serving as the patriarch of his successful business, now in its third generation and going strong
As a result of studying law as a young man, Wayne Lednum learned at least two valuable lessons: One, law wasn’t for him; two, retail was. Those realizations prompted him to get a job at Montgomery Ward, where his career took off. By the time he decided to strike out on his own, eight years later, he was a soft-goods merchandise manager with 25 department managers under him. Yet, the course he’d set for himself took more guts than one might realize at first glance.
“Back then, it was commonplace for sons to follow in their father’s footsteps, so to speak, by working in the same fields as they did,” shared Wayne, who, at 82, sports the sharpness of a man half his age, “but while I really respected my father and his career as an educator, I knew that wouldn’t be my destiny.”
Instead, Wayne gathered up all that irreplaceable retail experience (at “Monkey Ward’s,” as he lightheartedly refers to it) and combined it with his own natural savvy, opening Creative Concepts here on the Shore in 1973. Over the 40-plus years that followed, Wayne and his wife, Bobbi, created what is quite literally an Eastern Shore institution, with the kind of reputation for quality, service and ethics that never go out of style.
“I really enjoyed my time in what they call big-box retail,” Wayne said with a philosophical mixture of nostalgia and pragmatism, “but I think Montgomery Ward taught me as much if not more about what not to do if you’re running a retail business. I mean, realistically, there’s a reason it’s not around anymore.”
For Wayne, one key way to build and maintain a successful business over the long haul is to not resort to the gamesmanship (some would say trickery) that other retailers large and small have come to rely upon to maximize traffic and profit.
“Two things we’ve never done is use bait-and-switch or false discounts — where the retailer artificially marks up the price of the item, just to mark it way down, creating the illusion of a bigger discount — to attract customers,” said Wayne, who has a degree in business from the University of Maryland. “Instead, we offer good, fair prices every day, year-round. There’s a saying in retail that ‘The first markdown is the best markdown,’ and we’ve found that that has always worked for us. No games… just good, honest value.”
He’s also discovered that managing a successful business in his field has a lot to do with something customers virtually never see. “Much of our success over the years has had to do with very careful, scrupulous budget planning,” Wayne said. “Controlling inventory, proper ordering, good relations with your vendors and suppliers, keeping a close eye on emerging trends while continuing to offer the classic styles that are perennially popular — all help guarantee the fluidity of the business through any economy.”
Wayne would be the first to tell you that a big infusion of vitality comes not just from the showroom floor, where he continues to work with customers five days a week (“Still and always my favorite aspect of the business, working with customers,” he says) but also from what he considers the blessing of getting to work with his three sons every day.
His eldest, Craig, is the furniture merchandiser and accessories manager. He’s the one, Wayne says, who is primarily responsible for keeping their two locations, in Ocean View and Lewes, beautiful, relevant and properly stocked. Steve, meanwhile, is in charge of the warehouse and delivery operations, as well as the window-treatments division — very important, says Wayne, because it was with window treatments that the company essentially launched and solidified its reputation for precision and reliability decades earlier (“Steve still does every single measurement for every job himself, and we have, hands-down, the best installer in the region,” Wayne says). His youngest son, Scott, oversees construction and building management, possessing, his father claims, “a spatial intelligence I really wish I had but never did.”
Then, there’s Wayne and Bobbi’s daughter-in-law, Gail Lednum. Gail is Creative Concepts’ lead designer, a highly trained and skilled professional with an impeccable reputation in the region. “Gail has an absolutely incredible eye,” Wayne said. “It’s kind of like a natural gift. Gail’s the one who sets the standard for all our designers and makes them better because of it.”
Most recently, Wayne and Bobbi were joined at Creative Concepts by the third generation of Lednum — their two
grandsons. Justin works full-time in the showroom, while Corey is in the warehouse in-between semesters at college.
It’s a family affair that means the world to its founder.
“Even at 82, I wake up eager to go to work every day, because I know that when I get there, my family, my incredible staff and the best customers anyone could ever ask for are all going to be there, too. Bobbi and I are very blessed people; we couldn’t ask for a better life.”
302-539-6989 (Ocean View) 302-645-6200 (Lewes)
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