SCHENECTADY — The heart of the Beekman Boys operation remains in Sharon Springs, but the headquarters is moving to Mohawk Harbor.
Beekman 1802 CEO Mitch Hara discussed the move, and other recent changes for the specialty retailer, during a business luncheon event Thursday.
Hara said Beekman 1802 was born of adversity and necessity during the Great Recession a decade ago and has managed to grow steadily since then, based on the vision and passion of its founders, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge.
The New York City couple bought the circa-1802 Beekman Mansion in Sharon as a weekend place in 2007, but they soon lost their jobs in the recession. Their rebound was to form a living brand — not a lifestyle brand, Hara said, drawing a fine distinction — inspired and supplied by the farmers and artisans surrounding them in northwest Schoharie County.
Mitch Hara, CEO of Beekman 1802, speaks at the New York BizLab on Thursday. (Photo: John Cropley/Gazette Business Editor)
The life partners became business partners in a 450-square-foot Sharon Springs space and added a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in a former seed company building. Stints on reality television (“The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” and “The Amazing Race”) helped build their fame.
The headquarters was later moved to Urban Co-Works in downtown Schenectady to gain room and business resources.
Beekman 1802 still has only one retail location of its own, in Sharon Springs, but the workforce has expanded eightfold, much of it through the acquisition of an e-commerce company.
Hara said growth in staff and sales made the new 10,000-square-foot headquarters in Mohawk Harbor necessary. There’s also a new warehouse planned in Sharon. Square footage and cost haven’t been determined, he said, but it will be roughly triple the size of the current warehouse.
Keeping true to the Beekman Boys’ vision while building a viable business model amid rapid growth and bringing on an outside CEO was a balancing act, said Hara, who took the position in January 2016. He gave some highlights of the company’s evolution Thursday at a BizLab-Clarkson Lunchtime Entrepreneurship presentation hosted by Clarkson’s Bela Musits, one of the organizers of the lunchtime series.
Hara said he’d spent most of his career in New York City as an investment banker, working with a wide range of companies in the retail and consumer products industry. Beekman 1802 was not like any of them.
“It’s a very, very unique company, with a unique spin of content, community and commerce,” Hara said. “The Boys needed advice. They knew they had something special; they also knew it was getting too big for them, and they also knew they needed to raise capital.”
The Bronx native came in as a consultant, stayed on as CEO, and now lives in Saratoga Springs.
It was an unusual path for a new CEO to follow -- taking the helm of a company indelibly linked to its two founders and running it from the background while they remained its public identity. Hara said Thursday’s event was only the second time in 30 months he’s appeared in public on the company’s behalf.
“The Fabulous Beekman Boys are very fabulous,” he said. “They are the ones who get the branding — Josh and Brent are the brand, and the ones who are at the forefront.
“They are the creative visionaries … where I come in is strategy and execution," he added. "You can have the greatest strategy in the world, but if you can’t execute it, it’s not much of a strategy. … We have a happy division of focus and labor.”
Together, he said, they’ve grown the business more than sixfold since he became CEO, and they plan to continue growing, ideally twofold to fourfold over the next three to five years. As part of the strategy, Beekman 1802 soon will leave Evine for another shopping channel. Hara — a former Home Shopping Network senior vice president — was not ready Thursday to identify the replacement.
Hara went through a period of adjustment of his own after arriving at Beekman 1802. He recalled telling the Boys early on to “pick a lane," by choosing a market sector and product category, as his experience and the investor mindset called for.
“And I learned from them that you can be in multiple categories and be successful … as long as they all tie together with a common message. And again, our common message is, ‘Cultivate a better life.’”
The ever-evolving product line is drawn not just from the local community, but from other parts of the state -- from places the Beekman Boys travel to, from customer suggestions and from suppliers themselves.
“We’re an idea factory,” he said at one point.
The product selection process has been refined and formalized somewhat, Hara said. Some prospects are rejected as impossible to scale up to the mass market, or not close enough to the company’s vision. On the flip side, there is room — limited room — for really strong products that won’t bring a high return on investment.
Beekman 1802 now works with well over 100 artisan suppliers and brings their stories to life as part of the sales process.
The goal is promoting artisans and cultivating a better life, not just selling products.
“That’s part of the evergreen nature of our brand, because as we grow and as we build our stable of artisans, we’ll continue to introduce more and more," Hara said.