Bealls chairman Robert M. Beall II wins Florida hospitality and retail Entrepreneur of the Year award

MANATEE -- One of Bradenton's most successful entrepreneurs was recognized Thursday night for his contributions to the hospitality and retail industry when he was named Entrepreneur of the Year at an awards ceremony in Orlando.

Robert M. Beall II, 71, beat two other finalists to win the regional Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. He will move on as a candidate for the national awards hosted in Palm Desert, Calif., in November.

The other finalists in the same category were Don L. Harrill, CEO of Holiday Inn Club Vacations headquartered in Kissimmee, and Abe Ng, president, founder and CEO of Sushi Maki based in Coral Gables.

Beall has been with Bealls for 45 years. The national company began as a small store front in downtown Bradenton in 1915 called The Dollar Limit. Bealls is the only large family-owned retail chain still in operation in America, and the homegrown business is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Beall started as a window washer and then became a janitor for Bealls when he was still in school. After attending graduate school in

New York and working for Bloomingdale's, Beall re-joined the company. He became chairman in 1994 and he has played a part in Bealls' many developments.

Beall is particularly proud of the company's success in expanding into e-commerce and online sales.

"I don't think even that Florida's our biggest state for sales in e-commerce; it's California, Illinois, Texas or New York," Beall said. "It's been very positive in spreading our base of customers."

He's also proud of Bealls' newest venture, Bunulu stores. Bunulu is an upscale boutique store aimed at Bealls Florida customers and is set to open this fall. The tagline for Bunulu is "Land, Water and Style."

In April, Gov. Rick Scott issued a resolution recognizing Bealls' success over the last 100 years.

Bealls has 535 department and outlet stores that total more than $1 billion in sales and 11,000 employees nationwide. Bealls is also Manatee County's second-largest employer with 1,924 workers.

Beall, who was in Orlando to receive his award, was not available for comment.

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter @jayohday.