Former Paragon CEO Helps Reopen Its RI DC

Some Rhode Island residents consider fixing up their beach house as a summer project. Steve Rowley brought a shuttered 132,000 sq.-ft. distribution center in Westerly, RI, back to life.

Rowley, a semi-retired marketing consultant who was CEO of The Paragon from 1998 to 2005, helped bring jobs back to the building that once housed The Paragon and other catalogs of BlueSky Brands, which shut down last March. The Paragon’s merchandise and operations equipment stored at the Westerly DC were scheduled to be sold at auction this past June, says Rowley.

But the auction was cancelled before its scheduled date when multititle gardening mailer Gardens Alive agreed to purchase all the items, plus the intellectual property and rights of The Paragon. (Gardens Alive had bought BlueSky’s games catalog Bits and Pieces in May.)

Knowing that the facility and equipment were sitting idle, Rowley convinced Gardens Alive founder/CEO Niles Kinerk to lease the space and reopen the plant. (BlueSky Brands management had sold the building for $3.45 million in August 2007 and was leasing space there.)

Kinerk could not be reached for comment by press time, but he evidently agreed: About a dozen former employees were hired back to handle shipments of Bits and Pieces merchandise housed at the DC, Rowley says.

“Here we had 180 of my former employees who already knew how to use this equipment, and [Gardens Alive] had a need for warehouse space and additional fulfillment staff,” Rowley says.

The only difference between equipment used by BlueSky Brands and Gardens Alive is the type of software used. And Rowley says the programs are similar enough that a lot of training should not be required.

“Gardens Alive has high respect for the workforce we had at Bits and Pieces,” he says. “For them to be as open-minded about something like this that wasn’t in their plans shows they care about good people.”

Gardens Alive restarted The Paragon Website in late October, and plans to relaunch the print catalog in January, according to Rowley. If or when Gardens Alive, which in addition to its namesake title includes the Breck’s, Gurney Seeds, Henry Field’s, Michigan Bulb and Spring Hill Nurseries horticultural catalogs, buys additional non-gardening titles, the Westerly DC will handle the fulfillment, Rowley says. He hopes that means all 180 employees who had worked in the warehouse will eventually be hired back.

In addition to Paragon and Bits and Pieces, BlueSky Brands included the Bits and Pieces U.K., National Wildlife Direct, and Winterthur catalogs. plus third-party fulfillment provider AB&C Group, which filed for Chapter 7 in April.