Retail Profile: Ben's Garden
Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, 2013-01-03 11:12:00
Ben Busko, the 29-year-old eponymous founder of N.Y.-based retailer and wholesaler Ben's Garden, has been designing, creating and selling gifts and home décor since age 8, when he debuted his handcrafted decoupage and notecards at an outdoor crafts fair.
Busko was born in 1983 in Setauket, Long Island, and his parents introduced him to fine art and gardening at an early age. A passion for plants blossomed in the form of a few decoupage projects (including his mother's cocktail table), and by 1994 "Ben's Garden"-branded crafts and notecards were selling at Smith & Hawken stores and in the New York Botanical Garden shop.
Busko's base of operations for most of his school years was his parents' carriage house. After graduating from high school (2002), he completed Cornell's Master Gardener program, and beefed up his client roster with orders from Anthropologie, ABC Carpet & Home, Dean & DeLuca and Kate's Paperie. Next, he hit the tradeshow circuit, exhibiting in Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. In 2004, he opened his first Ben's Garden retail boutique, on Long Island's Gold Coast in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Three years later, he added a second shop - in Huntington, N.Y. - that includes an indoor conservatory and a living green wall.
An e-commerce site, Bensgarden.com, launched six years ago, and is now shipping around the world.
Today, in addition to the two stores and website, Ben's Garden products are sold in 900 high-end boutiques nationwide. The Ben's Garden stores and website operations account for about 35% of the total business. The rest is dedicated to the design, production and distribution of Ben's Collection, which includes decoupage glass trays and platters with vintage scripts and ephemera, home accessories, gifts, crystal paperweights, photo frames, artwork and furniture, all handcrafted in New York.
Some of the design and production work is done in a studio in Oyster Bay, but the company recently took over a 14,000-sq.-ft. space in Brooklyn to facilitate expanding production and distribution needs for its signature lines. Busko has a book in development, Ben's Garden: The Way to a Wonderful Day, featuring whimsical illustrations, inspiration and his own photography. His work has been featured in several national magazines and on Oprah's O List, and he's demonstrated his craft and decoupage techniques on segments of The Martha Stewart Show.
How has business been over the past year? Business has surpassed all of our projections. Our year has been fabulous! The number of new product introductions and developments to the Ben's Garden line is nothing short of startling. Building the corporate and physical infrastructure to support the much larger and more complex scale of the business has been the main priority, with expansion into the larger space in Brooklyn. Retail provides an invaluable venue in which to test new concepts, receive feedback directly from the customer, and develop product and brand packaging. Two additional Ben's Garden stores will be opening this spring in New York's West Village and in Brooklyn. And the e-commerce business has continually outperformed company sales and volume projections; the opportunity for growth is exhilarating.
Tell us more about the new space in Brooklyn. It's in an historical building on a cobblestone street, has floor-to-ceiling windows, and a striking view of the Statue of Liberty. An investment in sophisticated computer infrastructure, software and training has enabled us to develop and create the most well-received product introductions in our history, including our copper-edged quote coaster sets, and our Vintage Expressions and Words of Wisdom artwork collections, both hand-embellished with 18k gold leaf in exotic hardwood frames.
Describe your stores: The Ben's Garden retail stores present the complete Ben's Garden concept and vision, including scent, sound (proprietary Ipod mixes), lighting and design. The stores showcase various vignettes throughout, using vintage furniture arranged in an eclectic sensibility. Our indoor conservatory room in the Huntington store and the outdoor trellised garden in Oyster Bay both carry an unusual assortment of antique garden ornaments and pottery. A signature of the retail stores are our ever-changing window displays, which are captivating, striking and award-winning concepts - from a winter display featuring an igloo crafted of recycled plastic water bottles and surrounded by a snowstorm of hanging marshmallows, to a springtime display with a live branch covered in airy paper flowers.
Describe your average customer: Our general demographic is female, between ages 28 and 38. She has style and knows what she likes and wants. She shops at Anthropologie for clothes and latte bowls, and shops for organic vegetables at Whole Foods. She respects Martha Stewart but doesn't want to grow 18 varieties of lettuce, may find reference books boring, and generally thinks Jonathan Adler is fun but over-the-top. Ben's Garden is a destination for clients wanting a curated mix of accessories, home décor, gifts and artwork that reflects their personal style and fuels their lives' passions.
What categories of home accents do you carry in the Ben's Garden stores and online? You'll find decoupage trays with quotes and images, French crystal paperweights, wall décor including botanicals, vintage maps, vintage expressions, words of wisdom and sea fans; decorative pillows made of Belgian linen, copper-edged coasters and photo frames, gifts, stationery and amusing cocktail napkins. We also carry Belgian furniture, antique lamps, mirrors, pillows, candles, a collection of books worthy of any fine library, and tabletop accessories, including a variety of one-of-a-kind, vintage found objects.
What's hot right now? Ben's Garden signature custom program is a fantastic success. Personalized decoupage trays can be made with customers' own photographs and keepsakes.
Size of stores: Oyster Bay, 2,000 square feet, and Huntington, 4,000 square feet
Do you exhibit at any of the major tradeshows/markets? We exhibit in High Design at Atlanta's Americasmart, both January and July, at the National Stationery Show in May in New York, and at NYIGF in At Home, in January and August.
Where do you live? I live in New York City; my building is actually right on top of the High Line in the Meatpacking District - a perfect intersection of town and country.
Can you give an estimate of annual sales? A million? A couple million? A few billion? My mom is very proud of her son.
Biggest challenge you face on a daily basis: Trying to fit it all in. A quote I live by, "The trouble with trouble is it starts out as fun," sums it all up. I do what I love, so I love what I do!