By Kat Walsh
It’s amazing what our pets have to teach us, if only we would listen.
Fortunately, Marjorie Gray listened to her flat-coated retriever, River. Sitting on her in-law’s dock on the Beaufort River one afternoon, she watched River launch himself into the water over and over again, ears back, tail wagging, tongue flying.
“His enthusiasm was inspiring; the simplicity was magic,” said Gray. “It just clicked and River Happy was born.”
River Happy, a lifestyle brand inspired by the unleashed happiness of Gray’s dog, River, sells apparel, totes and hats with a variety of themes and messages: Southern loyalty, friendship loyalty and team loyalty. There’s even a series of “River Says” T-shirts at stores from Beaufort to Hilton Head and beyond.
Gray said that the unifying theme – and the heart of the River Happy brand – is being thankful for the things that make us smile, and loyal to those who bring us joy.
“We do our best to make high quality products that highlight our passion points and honor our interests,” she said.
Saying Gray is a Beaufortonian is a bit of an understatement: Her grandfather, Angus Fordham, was mayor of Beaufort for 17 years; her father, Paul Trask, was one of Beaufort’s most significant real estate developers, and her husband, Herb Gray, is the president of Grayco Hardware.
Growing up, Gray and her husband both attended Beaufort Academy, and the couple has stayed involved with the school as active alumni, board members and involved parents.
Her youngest, Leith, is a seventh-grader at Beaufort Academy, while her two oldest children, Hope, 17, and Herbert, 15, both attend Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va.
River Happy is the latest endeavor in Gray’s impressive and wide-ranging professional trajectory. After completing dental training at MUSC in 1997, she practiced as a general dentist for seven years with Dr. Gene Grace.
“What I miss most about dentistry is my patients,” said Gray. “You get to know people really well when you are that close!”
Once her children were a bit older, Gray moved on to launch the home decor department at Grayco Hardware on Lady’s Island.
“I was elated when Grayco Hardware moved into the new space on Hilton Head, which included a home decor department,” she said. “And I felt a bit of accomplishment when they added the ‘Home’ to Grayco Hardware and Home.”
For seven years, Gray went to the markets for Grayco as a buyer, and was always inspired by the experience.
“I knew I wanted to start a business of my own and had been thinking about it for a while.”
So when she watched her dog River that one particular afternoon, she was ready for the lesson River was ready to teach.
Gray’s philosophy is to work hard, go places, do things and “find your happy.” After all, she says, “River Happy is not just a brand, but a state of mind.”
With an assistant and a buyer working for her, Gray focuses on the creative side of the business: design, strategy, promotion and market plans. “There is always something to do and most days I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Currently, the brand is available at Grayco Hardware and Gray says they are in the process of setting up on online store so that customers can purchase products directly from the website. And the brand is growing beyond Beaufort and the Lowcountry.
Recently, River Happy was well received in Atlanta, bringing the company brand new attention and new representation in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas.
“It has been a big change to go from buyer to wholesaler,” said Gray. “It’s a challenge every day because there are so many great companies out there to compete with.”
But despite the challenges, Gray has never second-guessed her decision to take on the world of branded apparel. It was just simply the right thing to do. “That day on the dock I was reminded of what my mother always said: Dogs have so many lessons to teach,” said Gray. Whether it’s a simple pleasure or a big splash … find your happy.
Top photo: Marjorie Gray’s dog, River, is the inspiration behind River Happy and its logo.