Photo: Alex McKnight
Robert M. 'Bob' Beall II is a Florida ‘Icon'
(Chairman, Bealls department stores, Bradenton; age 71)
There are many forms that leadership can take. I’m a quiet person, so my form is probably not as outgoing as many. But if you lead by example and you make more right decisions than wrong decisions, then you’re probably going to do pretty well.
Florida’s growth and the advent of the shopping center combined to fuel our growth. In the early ’50s, the shopping center kind of got off the ground. Publix was doing a lot of shopping centers, and being able to tag along with Publix was really instrumental for us.
I was not in favor of the Bealls’ 100-year anniversary hoopla this year. I just thought, ‘Who would care about our company’s anniversary?’ But it turned out to be the right thing. Once we got into it, it was fun and enjoyable. I’m glad we did it. It was a mistake to not to want to do it in the first place.
My dad’s insistence that I work in the store while I was still in school was helpful to me in the long run. I remember — I must have been about 14 or so — when I became the window washer for the old downtown Bradenton store. Later, when we opened another store, I was kind of promoted to janitor. I’m not sure which was the better job, but I learned from both. I learned to get there on time, even on a Saturday. My dad got very upset when I was late one of the first few days, and that never happened again.
I was a little more risk-oriented in the older days. I remember I opened — I forgot the number of stores, maybe six or seven — but I opened enough stores in one year that it was 50% more sales space and store space than the previous year. My dad never said anything. I think he was worried. I was young, so I wasn’t so worried. If, say, three or four of those stores had been dogs, then I think we probably would have been out of business.
Amazon is certainly going to continue to grow. They’re a great organization. They’re very predatory, and I don’t use that negatively.
Subconsciously, I must have a style because I gravitate toward the same things. My casual clothes mostly come from Bealls. If I need a jacket or a suit or something like that — usually, when we’re in New York for one thing or another once or twice a year — I’ll go to Paul Stuart and get it there.
Florida has had its little moments, but, in general, the growth has been terrific and very conducive to our sort of business.
The future of retail is going to be difficult, but I’m confident. We were very early to start an e-commerce function, selling goods through e-commerce. That was probably 10 years ago. We thought at the time that technology could be the killer of retail. We were quite worried so we wanted to get that going and we did, and we continue to put a lot of money into technology both in terms of the systems and software, people and so forth. My feeling right now is that if we put a lot of our department stores near the water in resorty sorts of areas, people who are on vacation and visitors who have a lot of leisure time will continue to see shopping as an activity they want to do.
I think we’re becoming over time more and more like Europe in a way, maybe learning to enjoy things more and work a little less.
My grandfather started the company 100 years ago. My dad ran the business, and I followed my dad. I feel like I was a good custodian of our brand, a good builder of it, but I never really thought a lot about being the standard-bearer of the company name. I’m not consciously trying to create a legacy per se. In that way, I suppose I’m like my dad. Our kids, they see what we do. They learn what they like about it and what they don’t like about it — and they make their own choices.
The economy in 2008-09 was very worrisome for me. My blood pressure was up.
I was on the golf team in high school, and that’s probably about the last time I played golf. It just took up too much time.
From my family, I learned the importance of honesty certainly. From a business perspective, I learned the value of putting most of the profits back into the business rather than paying ourselves larger salaries.
I don’t like the traffic and the crowded beaches and this and that, but I think growth is Florida’s destiny.
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