Walking in Giant Footsteps: The Campo Story
by Paul Cimino
It’s a well-known “secret” that St. Tammany’s northshore is home to many of the state’s most outstanding achievers. For all its “laid back” way of life, high energy is prevalent throughout this area. And it shows! Obviously, this energy’s helping to make St. Tammany the fastest-growing parish in the state.
People such as Paul Campo continue to add fuel to the growth fire. “I love the northshore,” he says. “It’s home to me and my family.” As he says this, his broad and illuminating smile leaves no doubt of his conviction. “We’ll always be here.”
The Campo name needs no introduction in this part of the world. It was made famous by Paul’s father, Tony, popularly known as “The Appliance Giant.”
Tony Campo ruled the appliance world of the Gulf South for decades. The Campo success story began across the Atlantic in Sicily, however, and continues with Paul on the northshore, proving once again that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree!
When Carlogero Campo left his home in Camporeale, Sicily, and journeyed to America with his wife in the early 1900s, he landed in New Orleans, where so many of his countrymen were settling. New Orleans and much of Southern Louisiana seemed an ideal spot for these new settlers because of the many similarities to Sicily.
But Carlogero Campo decided to explore America further and relocated to Kansas City, Kansas. Here the Campo children were born: Tony, his brother and a sister. During the course of several years in Kansas, the Campos owned and operated diverse businesses while the children grew. Somehow, the appeal of New Orleans never left Carlogero, who remembered its climate and culture. In the mid-l930s, the Campos returned to make the New Orleans area their permanent home.
Once settled, Carlogero Campo opened his first business, a combination general store and haberdashery, on Jackson and Magnolia streets. The business ran successfully and quietly, with young Tony helping his parents with the store until World War II began. At the outbreak of the war, Tony entered the military, joining the Army infantry and ultimately working with the K-9 Corps, while his brother served in the Navy.
At the war’s end, the brothers returned home, rejoining their parents in the business. It was at this time that Tony began demonstrating his business acumen by adding a line of hardware, in keeping with all the new post-war construction. America was fast changing from all the effects of the war, particularly in the areas of advanced technology and automation. Tony was quick to discern this and see the emerging need for modern appliances in America’s new lifestyles. His innate sense of business and keen knack for marketing and public awareness were all he needed to make his business explode.
In 1967, the same year New Orleans acquired the Saints football team, Tony Campo opened his first appliance store on Jackson and Claiborne avenues in New Orleans. This was the first of many others that followed in Metairie, Baton Rouge and other parts of Southeast Louisiana.
Success followed success, and with smart marketing and advertising campaigns, Tony Campo became “The Appliance Giant,” cornering the appliance market. This ultimately resulted in the company going public on NASDAQ in 1993. Out of this, the company grew to more than 30 stores throughout the South, grossing a then unheard of $300,000,000 in annual sales!
But Campo’s life was not all business. During these years, he met and fell in love with a lovely lady named Lena Taormina. The Taorminas were giants in the food staple business, equaling the popularity of the Campos. Tony and Lena were wed, and this union produced seven children who grew up in their father’s business, learning the industry while working in it from time to time between school terms. This was to be of particular benefit to one of the Campo boys, Paul, who later was to come into his own as a business guru.
The winds of change began to blow into Tony Campo’s life with the death of his wife. In the early 1990s, the appliance market started to decline. By 1997, the stores began closing until, in 1998, they were all gone. And so was Tony Campo, who died in 1996, not living to see the demise of the appliance empire he labored so hard to build.
But not unlike the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, one of the Campo clan was to emerge and carry on the Campo tradition.
Paul Campo, who was called “Sprout” by his friends because he always stood far in the background of his father’s illustrious career, took giant strides of his own into the business world, demonstrating a strong business sense. His calling was not appliances, but the new and exciting field of car audio, mobile electronics and cell phones. His company, Mobil One, quickly grew into a chain of 10 stores in Texas and Louisiana, demonstrating again the Campo business expertise. From its inception in 1985 to 2005, Paul’s Mobile One business hummed successfully along. He couldn’t know what fate had in store for him—a devastating gal named Katrina in 2005.
After the storm, Paul’s stores suffered severely and shut down completely. Undaunted, he kept all his employees on payroll, reassuring them he would reopen as soon as possible—which he did in a few short weeks.
It didn’t go unnoticed by Paul and his company’s senior vice-president, Paul Klein, that the sidewalks of New Orleans were turned into mountains of debris, chiefly ruined appliances, thrown out by returning homeowners. Seeing this, they decided to stock some major appliances in the stores to accommodate those residents eager to return to their homes. “We sold out in days,” he declares. “I couldn’t keep anything in the stores. People were desperate for stoves, refrigerators, freezers, all kinds of appliances. This scenario prompted me to return to the appliance business.” And so he did. The Campo Better Living store is now open in Metairie at 3020 Clearview Parkway. Paul, of course, is president.
Paul is ever mindful of the gifts his faith and family have given him in the pursuit of his dream saying, “I realize that I could not do it alone!” He made up his mind to build his business and family here years ago when he first came to the northshore as a boarding student at St. Paul’s in Covington. The fulfillment of a goal many years in the making, the Mandeville location opens this month.
But Paul is his father’s son. Not satisfied with his accomplishments, he is pushing forward the concept of what the newly branded Campo Better Living stores will bring to customers. In fact, it is almost a marriage of the youthful exuberance of the “leading-edge technology” Paul started with at Mobil One and the arms-wide-open “We’ll take care of whatever you need” approach that father Tony pioneered in the 1960s. New to the line up are state-of-the-art home security and automation systems featuring the hottest new bells and whistles of electronic technology. especially popular are custom theater systems designed for individual homeowners. The Giant would be proud!