A good business—a business that lasts—has to have savvy management, a strong financial model, and a healthy dose of luck. Most of all, though, it needs satisfied, loyal customers.
That’s the common thread that runs through Northshore’s “5 Over 50” nominees. These enterprises, all of which have been in operation for more than five decades, display a dedication—some might say obsession—to keeping people coming back.
Whether they are teaching visitors about traditional wooden boatbuilding or helping a house hunter lock down a loan, attention to the needs of people is what unites all of this year’s honorees.
Photo by Kindra Clineff
Lowell’s Boat Shop and Museum, Amesbury
When you walk into the rambling red building that houses Lowell’s Boat Shop, you won’t see the staid and static displays you might expect from an establishment dedicated to historical education.
“It’s a directed mess,” says Graham McKay, the museum’s master boat builder. “That’s the beauty of our museum—it’s always changing.”
Simeon Lowell founded the boat shop in 1793 as essentially a factory, churning out wooden dories to serve the burgeoning fishing industry, McKay says. The company kept at it for more than 180 years, until declining business drove Lowell’s descendants to sell. The family that bought the shop was dedicated to preserving its heritage and getting it designated a National Historic Landmark. Lowell’s has been an independent nonprofit since 2006.
Today, the operation still builds custom wooden boats using traditional techniques and tools, but uses these activities to teach children and adults alike about history, math, and craftsmanship. There are classes in boat painting and metalworking, overnight rowing trips, and even an apprenticeship program for teenagers.
“You’re getting history, yes, but even more you’re getting to see and touch boat building,” McKay says. “You’re getting to see a historic craft take place.”
Photo courtesy of Salem Five
Salem Five, Salem
The principle behind Salem Five’s impressive longevity—the bank was founded in 1855—can best be described as “progressive conservatism,” says chief marketing officer Martha Acworth. The term is not an oxymoron, she says; it reflects a sensible combination of entrepreneurial spirit and careful assessment of risk.
“Salem Five has been there at every turn, supporting community businesses and families through ups and downs, being a steady, stable force,” Acworth says.
The forward-looking side of the bank made it one of the first institutions to offer online banking, launching the capability in the late 1980s, when Internet was not yet a household word. In the years since, Salem Five has been an early adopter of Apple Pay, cardless cash machines, and remote deposit.
At the same time, the bank prides itself on being devotedly local.
In 2011, the bank changed its bylaws to make it highly unlikely to ever go public and sell out to a large financial institution. The goal is to keep Salem Five rooted in and responsive to its community, a philosophy that applies even to everyday customer service calls.
“You call us and we actually answer the phone at our call center in Salem,” Acworth says. “It’s right on Essex Street.”
Photo by Doug Levy
Royal Jewelers, Andover
Steven and Paula Leed have been immersed in the jewelry industry their entire lives. Their father opened Royal Jewelers in a tiny shop over a burger restaurant in Lawrence in 1948. The siblings hung out in the store regularly; the days when new products were delivered were like mini-holidays, Steven Leed says.
“My sister and I grew up in business,” he says. “It was always the topic of conversation at the dinner table.”
It was natural, he says, that the pair would end up taking over the business, now located in downtown Andover.
Some things have changed over the years. Royal was one of the first area jewelers to feature in-store boutiques for individual designers. And today, a computer system tracks any piece brought in for service through the entire process.
The key tenets, however, remain the same. The store strives to do everything it can, from marketing and accounting to jewelry repairs, in-house. Sales staff does not work on commission, so shoppers can be sure they are getting advice based on their needs. And the Leed siblings maintain their father’s attitude toward customers.
“His credo was that the people who shop at Royal are more valuable than the jewelry we offer,” Steven Leed says. “Our motto, our mission, has been the same.”
Photo by Jared Charney
Beach Sales, Revere
When Beach Sales first opened its doors in March of 1947, it was as a typewriter repair shop rather than a purveyor of high-end appliances, says Alan Belinfante, who owns the store along with his wife and business partner.
“Then they began selling greeting cards,” Belinfante says of the shop founded by his father-in-law. “The greeting cards somehow led to film, and film led to radios and then small appliances.”
Televisions eventually joined the blenders and toasters, and then large appliances came on board. In its current incarnation, the store sells appliances and knowledge, offering design consultations and services to help customers make the most of their appliance purchases.
There have been two keys to the business’s longevity, Belinfante says. First, the owners make sure to keep up with the times, adopting new technologies in their inventory and in their marketing. Second, they have a customer service philosophy that treats every shopper with respect, whether they are buying a replacement filter for their fridge or a complete suite of expensive appliances.
“We are now helping third-generation customers,” he says. “You take care of your customer and the customer will be loyal. It’s worked for 70 years.”
Photo by Lauren Pousssard
Kelly’s Roast Beef, Revere
Kelly’s Roast Beef got its start almost accidentally. Frank McCarthy and Raymond Carey ran a hot dog stand on Revere Beach and worked in a local restaurant as well. One day, a wedding party cancelled on the restaurant, stranding it with many pounds of roast beef. McCarthy and Carey turned the meat into sandwiches and sold them at their hot dog cart.
“And then you had the creation of world-famous Kelly’s Roast Beef,” says Dan Doherty, vice president and director of operations for the company.
Since that fateful day, Kelly’s Roast Beef has expanded its menu to encompass lobster rolls, cheeseburgers, pastrami, and soups and salads, alongside the requisite hot dogs and roast beef. It has grown its footprint as well: After operating out of Revere alone for more than 40 years, the business opened a location in Saugus in 1994. Since then, the chain has added shops in Natick, Medford, and Danvers, and even debuted a food truck this past summer.
Locals aren’t the only ones who have noticed Kelly’s. The restaurant’s signature roast beef was featured in the PBS documentary Sandwiches That You Will Like and on Rachael Ray’s $40 A Day. Despite these brushes with fame, however, Kelly’s has remained dedicated to its founding mission, Doherty says.
“We haven’t changed our recipes and our portions,” he says. “We’ve come up with some new items, but we’ve stuck to our roots.”