For her back-to-school clothes shopping, incoming high school sophomore Casey Warren had a simple request.
“All she wanted to do was go to Bass Pro Shops and get Guy Harvey T-shirts,” said her mother, Bonnie Armstrong-Warren.
Guy Harvey — marine artist, angler, conservationist and entrepreneur whose underwater life designs have been worn by middle-aged fishermen for nearly three decades — is drawing fans from unexpected waters these days.
His new school includes, literally, schools. Among them is Western High in Davie, where Casey and her friends wear their Guy Harvey shirts so often that accidentally showing up in the same one is common.
“All of my friends own them,” said Casey, who turns 16 on Friday. “They’re just really nice shirts, they’re made well, they’re comfortable, they look good.”
Harvey’s popularity in high school halls and college campuses is by design, as his namesake Davie-based company seeks a wider audience with new images, products, partnerships, branded hotels, advertising and a floating 1,065-foot cruise ship canvas that launches next fall.
Guy Harvey, Inc. has licensing agreements with 15 partners and counting, with thousands of products sold in more than 1,000 stores. More than 2 million T-shirts — his most popular branded item — were sold in 2013, and revenue percentage increases have averaged in the double digits every year over the past five years, according to company president Steve Stock.
“If you’re not growing, you’re contracting,” said Harvey, who lives and paints in Grand Cayman but who owned a home in Fort Lauderdale for 10 years. “There are so many companies out there doing what I did — and in some cases doing a better job than we did, not in terms of composition of art but in terms of the actual garment that they choose to put that artwork on. We obviously have to pay serious attention to this, so we’re always looking at the competition, seeing what they’re doing. We obviously want to try to stay ahead.”
Most important for Harvey, who was a marine biologist before he started to make a living with his underwater images, is that a growing company allows him to direct more money into the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. Founded in 2008, the 501(c)(3) gave more than $1.3 million last year to over 60 different organizations. The sister for-profit company requires licensing partners to give at least 1 percent of sales to the foundation, said Stock, who is also the foundation’s president. Harvey said that approximately 10 percent of gross sales go to the foundation.
“Without the solid business backing, we can’t do any of the research,” Harvey said. “I always say it takes cash to care.”
Harvey, 58, was born in Germany while his father served there in the British Army, though he is a 10th generation Jamaican of English descent. He spent his early childhood in Jamaica, where he fished and explored his surroundings before heading to boarding school in England. He was interested in art, sketching scenes from his island upbringing, but pursued marine biology when he went to college in Scotland. Eventually, he returned to Jamaica to get a Ph.D. in fisheries science at the University of the West Indies.
But he kept drawing and painting, exhibiting his work at art shows, and in 1988 he left his science career to pursue art full-time. By then, he had started working with a company to transfer images to T-shirts — those sold at boat shows and tackle shops.
He married his wife, Gillian, the following year, and the couple had two children, Jessica and Alex. Harvey’s distinctive signature includes two small dots after the “y” in his last name that represent the now-adult kids.
As his family grew, so did his product line. Harvey signed with a California company, American Fishing Tackle Company, in 1999 to produce woven button-up shirts for “the more mature fishermen,” said president Bill Shedd. That relationship was extended in 2004, when the company became the licensee for all Guy Harvey apparel.
Since then, Shedd said the change in audience has been huge.
“The line now is still enjoyed and looked to by that same male angler, but at the same time his wife, his son and his daughter,” he said. “The breadth of interest across the age groups and the sexes is just pretty unusual. The reason for that is that all those share in common is an interest and love for the ocean and an appreciation for the authenticity of Guy’s art.”
Over time, Shedd said, the clothing line expanded from tackle stores to beach and resort shops, then large sporting chains such as Bass Pro Shops and finally clothing retailers such as Bealls. At the same time, the brand’s reach grew from Florida and limited Gulf Coast cities to include Southeastern coastal areas and Southern cities hundreds of miles from the coast.
The company operates two retail locations, a 4,000-square-foot shop in Grand Cayman and a smaller store at its Davie headquarters. Stock said plans call for opening another next year in South Florida, and in Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa in the next three years.
While the core audience will always be in coastal markets, Stock said, the company is also targeting growth in the Northeast, Southern California, the Pacific Coast, the Midwest and Europe. The expansion strategy includes creating designs that will appeal to regions nowhere near an ocean, such as freshwater fish, North American big game and ducks.
Awareness of Harvey’s brand and conservation efforts has also grown through documentaries and other partnerships, such as a Florida Lottery game that has sold nearly 26 million $2 scratch-off tickets since it launched in 2012. To use Harvey’s art and brand, the Lottery paid $969,000 to the foundation.
The company has branched out into hospitality with Guy Harvey Outpost-branded lodgings.
Its first venture, at the Bimini Big Game Club in North Bimini, dissolved after only a couple of years, when Harvey pulled his flag over disagreements with the property owner.
But that didn’t stop the brand. Now, Guy Harvey Outpost has two properties in its “Signature Collection,” in St. Pete Beach and Islamorada, with two more Florida spots about to sign. Those hotels undergo renovations and rebranding, and Harvey gets a licensing fee.
The Guy Harvey Outpost, a TradeWinds Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach has already earned its 15 minutes of fame. The Animal Planet series Tanked featured the installation of a 33,500-gallon aquarium — which performs double duty as a place where guests can snorkel — at the resort’s Guy Harvey RumFish Grill.
Eight smaller hotels in the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico and Galapagos are part of the Expedition Collection, maintaining their own identities but appearing on the Guy Harvey Outpost website (which gets a commission for selling rooms).
Mark Ellert, president of Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts, said he believes the company could double the portfolio over the next five years as the brand becomes better known.
“What we’re really trying to do is project the Guy Harvey mission,” he said. “Our new tagline is ‘travel with a purpose.’ Do something that’s important to you, get out there. Guy’s always said you gotta get off the couch.”
Other endeavors launched in the past year include a licensing agreement with a Wisconsin company, Artisans, to manufacture higher-end women’s clothing inspired by Harvey’s art; production of bean bag-tossing games that are a favorite of Midwesterners; and a new branded rum in partnership with Southern Wine & Spirits that debuts later this year.
“Rum tends to be sun, sea and sand in terms of its DNA,” said Rudy Ruiz, executive vice president of spirits at the company. “I think that Guy Harvey pretty much has the same platform.”
One huge platform coming soon is the 4,248-passenger Norwegian Escape, from Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line, that will bear a Harvey mural on its hull. In addition to providing a floating canvas that will be seen throughout the Caribbean, the agreement gives Guy Harvey a long-desired entry point into the cruise industry.
“That’s always been a goal and objective of ours,” Stock said, but the company hasn’t been able to make the pricing work. “We haven’t been able to crack that nut.”
A Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman confirmed that the line is in talks with Harvey to sell some of his merchandise on the ship, potentially including his rum.
“It’s more about building the brand in the long term,” Stock said.
Harvey and his company have embraced social media for that cause, as well; the official Facebook page, which is updated frequently, has more than 660,000 “likes.”
The page includes photos of the ocean and its creatures, news about Harvey’s work and appearances, and sometimes giveaway promotions. During Shark Week last week, the company gave away $500 shark giclée prints every day to members of the “Guy Harvey Hammerhead Nation,” a fan club. Facebook posts often wish “Hammerheads” a good night or happy day.
That kind of community-building is reminiscent of another beach-loving personality, Jimmy Buffett, who has built an empire thanks to the loyalty of his “Parrothead” fans.
Miami-based brand consultant Bruce Turkel said the two have much in common.
“Really, Guy Harvey is the visual arts version of Jimmy Buffett,” he said. “When you buy his products, whether it’s a T-shirt or visor or having a mural painted on your building, you’re not buying the functionality of what it does … you’re buying an experience, you’re buying an emotional connection to an aspiration.”
Doug Parker, a radio host in the prime Hammerhead territory of Jacksonville, described the community of fans as akin to a fraternity — you see another person in a Guy Harvey T-shirt and know immediately that they share some of your interests.
Parker spoke highly of the St. Pete Beach resort, which he visited recently. The 34-year-old has been buying Harvey shirts for the past decade or so and said he’s noticed the brand reach a near-fad status in recent years.
“I think it could be like a phase, but if it’s just a phase he’s doing a damn good job of branding it and getting people to buy his stuff,” Parker said.
That’s the benefit of licensing agreements, especially for artists who have to concentrate on producing more art, said Nicole Desir, executive director of Blueprint, a division of brand extension consultancy Beanstalk.
“It allows you to extend your brand, your name, your artwork without your having to invest in that yourself and helps manage some of the risk,” she said. “Typically, you’re looking to enter those spaces with companies that have expertise in developing those products, and so as long as you have a great agreement in place, you’re protecting your risk.”
Rafael Cruz, who works with artists trying to build businesses as an instructor at Broward County’s Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute, said artists must be very clear about how their brand can and cannot be used — and act quickly if something happens that paints them the wrong way.
Cruz, regional director of the Small Business Development Center in Fort Lauderdale, has used Harvey as one example of an artist who has made the leap to successful businessman.
“It seems that he has acquired some very good help, especially in the legal side, to look at a licensing contract, to make sure they don’t water down his brand, to make sure they don’t start selling it on everything,” Cruz said. “That’s the inherent risk, that a brand will get watered down.”
But some risk remains even when all the agreements have been finalized, as Harvey’s company has discovered the hard way.
After partnering with a restaurant developer to open a chain of seven Guy Harvey’s Island Grill restaurants throughout the South several years ago, the venture flopped after the partner ran into financial hardship and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“They all collapsed,” Harvey said, saying he made a “bad choice” of partner. “I just have to be a little more diligent and do my homework a little more thoroughly next time.”
Stock said the company worked hard to repair relationships with customers who had bad experiences with the restaurants.
“If at the end, the partner through the license agreement doesn’t follow the exact letter of the contract or spirit of it, you find yourself worrying about what’s the damage perhaps to the brand or Guy’s reputation,” he said. “When it goes bad like those deals did, you just do damage control.”
Harvey’s reputation is key to the company, of course, because the brand is built around his triple-threat status as artist, scientist and conservationist. The company’s website, guyharvey.com, promotes upcoming appearances at concerts, benefits, stores and other events.
“He clearly is the competitive advantage, if you will, and our biggest, most important asset,” Stock said.
A new advertising campaign featuring Harvey in different situations — on a boat, fishing, painting, diving and filming underwater — capitalizes on that asset to pitch him as a representative of an entire lifestyle.
“There isn’t another one of me, which is why our most recent marketing push has adopted the slogan ‘Real Guy — Real Life,” Harvey said. “Because everybody else, from Tommy Bahama down, is some sort of catchy name or logo, but there’s no person behind the brand.”
A big part of his brand — and one that he and his advisors believe resonates with customers, especially young adults — is his work on conservation and sustainability issues. Harvey approached Nova Southeastern University in the late 1990s with the idea of a collaboration that would conduct research aiding conservation. Nova Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute, part of the private Davie university, was established in 1999 and is the biggest recipient of funds from the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.
Mahmood Shivji, director of the institute and a professor at NSU’s Oceanographic Center, said Harvey is heavily involved, helping to plan projects and participating in field work.
“It’s quite amazing to see how enthused he is about being in the field and doing the hands-on work,” Shivji said. “He doesn’t just sort of stand back and watch and take video, he’s in there. He’s holding down the shark, putting the tags in, then jumping in the water to film it all. It’s quite remarkable. He’s got a huge amount of energy, but it comes from a real passion for doing this.”
Shivji said his guess is that Harvey “would probably spend a lot more time being out in the field if he didn’t have as many commitments.”
So would Harvey entertain the idea of selling the company, which he owns?
“It wouldn’t cross my mind for the time being unless somebody made me just an absolutely wonderful offer,” Harvey said. No one has yet tried, but Harvey sees a future of keeping the business in the family. He said his kids are both artistic and divers and anglers. Son Alex, 21, is studying business at Cardiff University in Wales, and daughter Jessica, 24, works as a terrestrial research officer for the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.
“Both are in a good position to continue the work,” he said. “My library is so huge that in a way, after I pass on, it can be managed diligently and properly and continue to generate income.”
For now, Harvey says he’s enjoying his many roles — especially the ones that allow him to spend time on the ocean or share his message of sustainability.
“The driving force nowadays is far more to do with the business of conservation rather than the business of selling art,” he said. “The business of selling art continues to do well, but in linking it with conservation through cause marketing, we can encourage people who are followers of the brand, who are users of the ocean, to do whatever they do, but more responsibly.”
Guy Harvey Inc.
Guy Harvey: Live!
Business Monday celebrates its expansion with a live event featuring Guy Harvey and business reporter Hannah Sampson talking about his brand expansion. Join us on Wednesday, 6 p.m., at the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami 33172. Tickets, $10 in advance, $15 at the door. http://hrld.us/tickets.