Father and Daughter Retailers: Harrison Ltd. Scott Pyburn turns 30 as daughter Courtenay Bullock opens her own boutique
Opening a small business isn’t easy, but maintaining a long-term business is even harder.
About 20% of new businesses fail within the first two years, 45% fail within the first five years, and 65% within the first 10 years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, some companies have thwarted the odds.
Harrison Ltd. at Mountain Brook Village – an upscale men’s clothing store owned and operated by Scott Harrison Pyburn – celebrated its 30th anniversary on March 6.
Asked about the significance of the anniversary, Pyburn said he derives “great satisfaction” from the store’s relationship with its customers.
Some of these customers shop at Harrison Ltd. “for 15, 20 or 30 years,” he said.
“They’re friends of the store and friends of mine,” Pyburn said. “They are not just customers.
The store’s anniversary is “an important milestone,” said Courtenay Bullock, Pyburn’s daughter.
Bullock said she admires how her father weathered America’s “toughest times,” like the 2008 recession and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“His persistence and determination to get up every day and get to work is incredible,” she said.
And while Harrison Ltd. entering his fourth decade, Bullock has followed in his father’s footsteps.
She opened her own women’s clothing boutique, Le Weekend, in English Village in December.
Bullock also hopes to emulate his father’s long and successful career at Harrison Ltd. with its own shop.
“I hope we will be here forever,” she said.
A native of Florida, Pyburn, 59, has lived in Homewood since she was 9 years old. He earned a degree in business administration from Birmingham-Southern College and gained experience selling menswear while working for Sons & Harwell during and after his time at BSC.
When developing his business plan for Harrison Ltd. in 1991, Pyburn got a lot of information from “Men’s Wear Retailer”, a trade magazine.
At that time, according to the publication, the average lifespan of a men’s clothing store was seven years, Pyburn said.
“I thought, ‘I hope we do better than that,'” he said.
In fact, at age seven, Pyburn paid off his first business loan and was free of any long-term debt.
Over the decades, Pyburn said he faced “ebbs and flows” in the apparel business.
The industry sees a lot of changes and trends — “some of which I like, some of which I don’t,” Pyburn said.
However, you have to adapt if you want to “stay commercially viable,” he said.
For example, Harrison Ltd. sells its products on the Internet.
But Pyburn said the in-store experience is still hugely important to many of its customers.
“If you want to buy a $600 pair of shoes…do you want to order it online or go somewhere you can put your foot in it? ” he said. “What we sell is incredibly tactile.”
He also takes pride in the quality products he offers at Harrison Ltd.
“We curated this assortment of merchandise which is exactly the collection we believe in,” he said.
Pyburn and his wife, Margaret Ann Pyburn, have three daughters. In addition to Bullock, Ann Lacey Pyburn is the youngest daughter and Caroline Pyburn McGarity is the oldest.
Growing up, the girls all helped out at the store, which “was really fun,” Bullock said. She said she liked “meeting people who walked into the store.”
Bullock branched out into retail and found her own way in fashion.
“There’s something osmotic about her being here,” Pyburn said. “She was ready to deal with people.”
Fashion-wise, Bullock “always had her own style and she recognized things that other girls didn’t quite recognize,” Pyburn said.
A stint at Etc. in Mountain Brook Village gave Bullock more retail experience.
Bullock graduated from Auburn University in 2017 with a degree in fashion and apparel design. She then spent three years working in fashion in New York.
However, she returned to Birmingham in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s where it all started,” she says. “I had so much time to think about myself.”
In designing The Weekend, Bullock drew on the many Saturdays she spent shopping and getting merchandising advice at retailers like Barney’s and J. Crew on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.
Shops there treated customers “with this hospitable kindness,” she said.
She was also exposed to many smaller brands that she couldn’t find when she returned.
Bullock tried to provide an “overall shopping experience” that Birmingham lacked, she said.
What we sell is incredibly tactile. We have curated this assortment of merchandise which is exactly the collection we believe in.
Her daughter “brought something new and exclusive” to Mountain Brook with her list of vendors, Pyburn said.
Bullock operates Le Weekend with the help of Molly Murphy, a longtime friend who is the store’s marketing director.
Murphy “is my right arm, and I couldn’t do it without her,” Bullock said.
“We have so much fun working together,” Murphy added.
Murphy expressed his admiration for Bullock and Pyburn.
“They’re both such real people, and they give real opinions, and they love people so much, and they have so much integrity and they get things done right away,” she said.
Father and daughter seem to enjoy a great working relationship and mutual respect.
For example, Pyburn doesn’t offer her daughter business advice unless she asks for it, Bullock said.
“I ask him things all the time, but he also has so much faith in me to run my own business,” she said. “He was so helpful every step of the way and still is.”
Pyburn admires Bullock for his commitment to his vision for The Weekend.
“What I admire most is the vision she laid out in her business plan,” Pyburn said. “She stays in her hallway. One of the worst things a small retailer can do is try to be everything to everyone.
Bullock praises his father for the same reasons.
“Dad does a good job of staying true to what he believes in, and it shows in the store’s merchandise,” she said.
Now that she’s in business herself, Bullock appreciates the success of her father who stayed in business for 30 years.
“I really don’t think I understood the gravity of running your own business until I was in his shoes,” she said.
Pyburn’s success at Harrison Ltd. “says a lot about what he created besides selling clothes: the relationships and the community that supports him,” Bullock said.