From Star Bursts to Walk-Through Ornaments, Baltimore’s Becker Group Specializes in Décor for Holiday Trimming Around the World
Leaders of The Becker Group, a privately held company in Baltimore, found their way into the holiday décor business in interesting ways. Founder Gordon Becker began working while still in college as a Santa at a strip mall. He then formed a stable of Santas to help at the shopping center, owned by friends. Next, he located a reliable source for Christmas lights and trees, creating a need for trimmings and other holiday décor. In 1953, Gordon launched the company focused on trimmings all year long, and Gordon became a local legend known as "Father Noel."
Current Becker Group President and Owner Cormac Woods, an Irish immigrant who won a lottery ticket to the U.S., started as a forklift operator 20 years ago. He later became a director of information technology and then a vice president. He's now the boss , working alongside his wife, Martina Rapp, who is senior vice president of client relations. Martina, after returning to her roots in Baltimore following a divorce, entered the business. She fell in love with Woods and now they enjoy a lot of time together.
While the company's origins are interesting, the world-wide operations of The Becker Group today are an inspiring success story. Rapp says she and her husband never forget that true holiday spirit is about delighting children. The company continuously manufacturers new holiday décor and finds creative ways to use new technology such as RGB lights that change colors.
At one point, a large corporation bought the group. But Rapp and her husband were able to return the company to previous ownership, after which they did a rebrand. Today's company website slogan reads: "Making reindeers fly over 60 years. And our Facebook page is charming," says Rapp.
Customers include strip malls, municipal centers, The International Council of Shopping Centers, hotels and even "Christmas Experiences" in the castles and lodges of Ireland, where Rapp was headed last week. Newer projects include Foundry Row in Owings Mills, Md. and Kenilworth Center in Towson, Md., both Greenberg Gibbons properties.
Madison Capital also has deep roots in the Baltimore region. From the early days when Gordon was at the helm, Nancy Pistorio, now Madison's President, met with him and began offering financing to help Becker's customers' clients who needed capital for the seasonal spikes in costs that grew along with malls and other retail venues here and abroad.
Rapp said only about 10 percent of her customers take advantage of financing, but she thinks more should consider it. "It's called a lease, but it's really a way to capitalize the expense over two to five years," she said.
The Becker Group is also a customer of Madison Capital, valuing the finance company's expertise as well as its knowledge of Becker's business and industry. Madison Capital finances the machinery that produces foliage for the company's trees and wreaths.
"We're probably close to $100,000 to $200,000 in financing with Madison over the course of the year, Rapp said. "They've been great to help us expand our business and do more domestically." Financing from Madison has also enabled the company to hire more American employees.
On one occasion, she said, there was a delay in the delivery of some raw materials needed, some sort of paperwork glitch. She called Allan Levine, Madison's founder and partner, and he resolved the problem in less than 24 hours.
Recommitment to its roots, to relationships and to having fun on the job has been good for The Becker Group. So has working with Madison Capital, said Rapp, "Our work is to make a child smile."
PHOTO COURTESY OF GREENBERG GIBBONS