It was just another day in 1993 for Scott Beaumont and James Bradbeer Jr. The two Pennsylvania businessmen were working a trade show representing Eagle’s Eye, a preppy sportswear label run by venture capitalist Christopher Burch. It was there, where Bradbeer said, he experienced an “a-ha! moment.”
“We were at this trade show and saw that the Lilly Pulitzer brand was for sale and that Lilly wanted someone to resurrect it,” Bradbeer said. “For me, it seemed like a no-brainer. I grew up with Lilly since my mom was such a big fan. She wore it — she even worked in a Lilly store — and I remember how sad she was when the brand was retired back in the Eighties.”
So, Beaumont and Bradbeer took the idea of purchasing the brand to Burch. He wasn’t interested.
“We decided pretty much right away that we were going to do this ourselves,” Bradbeer said. “So we did. We spun off.”
Both men lived in King of Prussia, Pa., so they decided to set up shop there — Beaumont would be chief executive and Bradbeer, president. While it was far from sunny Palm Beach, Fla., where the brand was founded and Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau still lives, Beaumont said that she was all for the idea of headquartering in King of Prussia and encouraged them to open outside of a major city — in a more low-key, suburban area.
“She thought it would be better for us to stay focused without the distractions of a city,” Beaumont said. “After all, she started the brand in a small town, so it made sense for us to follow that path.”
Today, the brand does operate a showroom in New York on the 21st floor of 550 Seventh Avenue, but it is still headquartered in a 100,000-square-foot pink stucco building in King of Prussia. Surrounded by traditional white and gray office buildings, the pink and white Lilly Pulitzer headquarters is a beacon of the tropical lifestyle.
And inside is no different — Beaumont and Bradbeer have created a little piece of Palm Beach, complete with sand-colored carpeting, wicker furniture with Lilly-printed pillows, photos of models wearing the brand on the beach and a canoe anchored in the entrance way.
Upon entering the building, visitors are whisked into a world where everyone who passes is all smiles — dressed head-to-toe in Lilly, from the ceo on down. Employees are the best walking advertisements for the brand. They — and, by extension, their families — live the Lilly lifestyle to the fullest. Pictures of their children decked out in Lilly hang in sun-drenched cubicles (10 percent of the staff happens to be expecting soon-to-be-Lilly-wearing babies), and designers anticipate a new fabric shipment like kids look forward to Christmas morning.
Central to the headquarters is a huge glassed-in courtyard, made to look like Palm Beach’s iconic Vias shopping area. In this courtyard are fully grown palm trees, cozy bright pink couches and chairs upholstered in Lilly prints, an array of dining tables with pink and green chairs and even a giant juice stand (which doubles as a fully stocked bar for events). The atrium serves as the main gathering point for meetings, lunch and a place where anyone in the company can go to relax before heading back to work.
In addition, there’s a tremendous warehouse, filled with product ready to ship to retail — partnered and company-owned stores, as well as to a roster of wholesale accounts including Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman and Harrods in London. In a nod to customer care, a team of people in the warehouse steam and iron the clothes, in assembly line fashion, before packing them into boxes.
This is also the place where legions of Lilly Lovers from around the country flock to for the brand’s biannual warehouse sale. It’s then and there that they get the best deals on new merchandise, but it’s also the perfect time for these devotees to gather and catch up with each other.
“They literally spend the night in the parking lot,” Bradbeer said. “They love it, they look at pictures of each other’s kids, catch up on each others’ lives and then we open the doors and they clean us out.”
It’s these dedicated fans of the brand (hundreds of thousands of them worldwide, according to Bradbeer) who keep the company growing. Today, industry sources estimate the Lilly Pulitzer brand brings in about $75 million in wholesale volume annually. That’s quite a feat for a company that had a sluggish start — the second time around — back in 1994.
“We had our best year in business in 2001, especially in the months following Sept. 11,” Bradbeer said, noting that it’s the brightly colored printed clothing that brings its wearers to a “much happier place.”
“I don’t know whether to be happy or sad about the downturn in the economy,” Bradbeer said. “Traditionally for us, it’s times like these when our business is quite good.”
So, Bradbeer said, as the company celebrates the 50th year since Pulitzer opened her juice stand in Palm Beach, he is planning for growth next year of about 20 percent. And while he admits that the brand always want to serve those dedicated Lilly Lovers (who regularly send him letters offering their own ideas of what the company should do), now is a time to “celebrate our past, but concentrate on moving the company forward.”
As brands such as Tory Burch, Milly, Tibi and Trina Turk leapfrog Pulitzer in terms of growth, the company’s owners are planning an aggressive expansion to stay in the game. (Burch, incidentally, is the ex-wife of Christopher Burch. Her business, a direct competitor of Lilly Pulitzer, started in 2004.)
“There are brands out there that are just eating our lunch,” Bradbeer admitted during the company’s Jubilee celebration at the famous Breakers hotel in Palm Beach last May. “But we are ready to compete with them head-on.”
To create some big buzz, the brand has partnered with several other “great American companies,” including Jeep Wrangler, which last month launched a floral-print, limited edition Lilly Pulitzer model. About 70 of the Jeeps were preordered and, at $25,000 a pop, some of the Signature store owners will not only be driving one, but they are also able to sell them to their customers. (The Jeep dealer nearest to the store will provide all proper paperwork and support).
Also in the works are a pink-andgreen printed Steinway & Sons piano, a Hasbro Monopoly “Lilly-opoly” game (where a player can buy property in Palm Beach before “shifting” to the next space) and a Florida’s Natural orange juice carton decked in Pulitzer’s famous prints. One million of the limited edition cartons will be distributed to grocery stores nationwide.
The idea, Bradbeer said, is to continue to be a leader in their arena and to keep creating new things that honor the heritage begun by its founder, but still excite a new group of shoppers as well.
“Lilly was an innovator, a great American designer who made her way by being who she is,” he said. “Our job is to keep doing just that, but in a modern way.”
Bradbeer acknowledges that the brand will never be for everyone, but the firm is finding new ways to extend the brand, including its licensed categories. Currently, there are four: Eyewear with Kenmark, Sleepwear with Carol Hochman, a new stationery deal with Lifeguard Press, and three fragrances, with PulsePoints LLC, that are ready to hit the market. (See related story).
Its shoes and handbags, two products that are often licensed, are produced in-house.
That’s just a fraction of what the company has in the pipeline. Now hitting retail for resort, which is traditionally the brand’s strongest season, the apparel has undergone a transformation. To help with this, Bradbeer has brought in several seasoned designers as consultants.
Gordon Thompson, former corporate vice president of design and global creative director at Nike Inc. and former executive vice president and creative director at Cole Haan, has joined Pulitzer as a creative consultant, and Jeffrey Chow has signed on as a women’s wear design consultant. Besides designing his own ready-to-wear line, Chow was a designer at Pucci and Perry Ellis.
The result is a collection segmented into three categories — Jubilee, Day Lilly and resort collections. Jubilee comprises high-end product for women, men and children, including beaded and embroidered silk gowns and dresses, cashmere sweaters and tunics, with some signature Pulitzer prints throughout. This collection, wholesaling between $24 and $425, is offered in limited edition runs. Jubilee influences the less-expensive merchandise meant for more everyday wearing in the Day Lilly group.
Day Lilly represents the biggest change for the brand. There are many prints seen throughout, but overall, they are not as busy as traditional Lilly designs — for example, there are tan and brown giraffe-print safari dresses, elephant-print tops, a blue and coral medallion-print silk dress and cotton tops in solid navy, white and pink. This collection, Bradbeer noted, was made to become the “modern Lilly collection.”
The resort line, which will be sold year-round, focuses on traditional and iconic Lilly prints — mostly in pink and green, but some blue and yellow manages to slip in as well. It includes sportswear, swimwear and dresses.
As time goes on, Bradbeer said he plans to continue to carry on Lilly’s legacy, and he looks forward to providing Lilly nation with new ideas. Now a father of four sons, it seems ironic that he is president of all things pink and green and girly.
“I have four boys at home, but Lilly was my first child,” he said. “Lilly’s my first girl."
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