Murray M. Spain
Bernard Spain, Dollar Express
Co-founded with his brother

Biography

Murray Spain faced an early career dilemma when he graduated from the Fox School as an accounting major in 1965. “I knew I didn’t want to go into accounting,” Mr. Spain recalls. “I really didn’t like it; however, accounting provided me with the perfect tools to succeed in business.” He chose accounting simply because it had been the major of his big brother Bernard, who by then owned two Spain’s Cards & Gifts shops. As Mr. Spain recalls, “Bernie said to me, ‘Why don’t you join me and we’ll see what we can do together?’ They were the most wonderful words I’d ever heard.” The Spain brothers built Spain’s Cards & Gifts to 25 stores, and later, they grew their business into the Dollar Express chain, with 106 stores and $155 million in revenues when they sold the company in 2000. The two brothers worked closely together, sharing the same office, frequently signaling instructions to each other while negotiating on the phone. Although they hadn’t originated the dollar-store concept, “We were better,” says Mr. Spain. “I think you see that a lot in successful businesses. You don’t have to be the first. Just try to be the best.” It was the same story in the early 1970s, when the brothers enjoyed tremendous success and media fame by making “Have a Happy Day” merchandise decorated with the iconic round “smiley” face. Although they didn’t create the original design, they are credited with creating the smile fad. They out-produced and out-hustled competitors, selling an estimated 5 million buttons and sales of $2-3 million for mugs, T-shirts, posters, and dozens of other products. Mr. Spain has returned to the Fox School frequently for visits, and the Spain brothers sponsor the Grand Prize award for the annual Be Your Own Boss Bowl® (BYOBB). The brothers were awarded Temple University’s first-ever Entrepreneurial Excellence Award in 1991. Shortly after winning Entrepreneurs of the Year in the Delaware Valley in 1999, the Spain brothers sold Dollar Express and retired. “When we sold the company, I was not a happy guy,” he says. “I loved retail and I had seller’s remorse.” Almost 20 years later, he still occasionally dreams about Dollar Express: “But the interesting thing is, I never dream about the problems.”

Temple University Degree
Bachelor of Science ’65, Fox School of Business

Temple University Awards & Affiliations

  • Sponsor, Grand Prize of the Be Your Own Boss Bowl (BYOBB)
  • First-ever Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, Temple University, 1991

What I wanted to be when I was 20 years old
I wanted to be wealthy. When I was 20 years old, that meant to me, specifically, earning $25,000 a year (in 1963, of course).

Best piece of advice anyone ever gave me
The best advice anyone ever gave me was to not be satisfied with the status quo in business. The cliché, “Standing still is to move backward,” is applicable here. Also, it is important to grow to satisfy key employees financially and emotionally; as they do well, so do you.