NB: Where and when were you born?
LM: We lived on 48th Street in Ocean City. I was born in Peninsula Regional Medical Center in 1952.
When did you open Seacrets?
Seacrets opened June 29, 1988.
Wow, one day after my birthday!
[With very dry wit] Yes, that’s why we opened it then, to commemorate your birth.
That was very considerate of you.
How did you make a living prior to opening Seacrets?
I started out running the Gateway Motel on 48th Street for my dad, Leighton Moore Sr. After that, I opened the Gateway West Hotel, located where the current Princess Bayside is. The hotel housed the Brass Rail Saloon, as well. I subsequently constructed and operated the Ocean Club on 49th Street for many years. After selling the Ocean Club, I began work on building Seacrets.
So you’re Leighton Moore Jr., then?
I am, but I named my son Cody because I never really liked the name Leighton.
Because it’s just too long and complicated when I was young. I’d rather spend my time playing than answering a lot of questions about how to spell and pronounce my name. [Pretending to be someone trying to figure out his name] “What is it, Clayton? Peyton? Olé-ton?”
I doubt many people have made that particular mistake, but that’s really funny.
So, that’s why my son is named Cody… nice and simple!
How old is Cody now?
He’s 20. He’s a great young man. He’s off at SCAD [Savannah College of Art and Design], studying design. I’d like to think he has his dad’s creative streak, but he’s going to be smarter and better-educated than his old man, who only made it through the 11th grade and had to get his GED!
You seem to have done pretty well without it.
Could you remind readers the role Dr. Lenny Berger had played in helping you launch Seacrets?
Sure. When I divested myself from the family business, Dr. Berger offered to buy my interests in it. He made an offer; I made a counteroffer, and we shook hands in agreement and without a formal appraisal. When the bank got involved, they required an appraisal, and when it was made, the value it reflected was less than we had shaken hands on. Rather than using the appraisal as an opportunity to renegotiate the price with me, Dr. Berger chose to honor his original handshake, which I thought was incredibly honorable on his part.
Later on, probably 1991 or ’92, I had overextended myself financially in trying to complete Seacrets the way I had envisioned it, which left me about $60,000 in the hole. By this time, the bank was licking its chops and ready to pounce, but Dr. Berger, of all people, stepped in and lent me the money to satisfy the debt. So, I think it’s fair to say that without Lenny Berger, Seacrets may never have made it, and I would probably be in Worcester County somewhere, driving a backhoe.
What do you feel was the single greatest challenge you had to overcome in order to make Seacrets a success?
It wasn’t so much one challenge but an ongoing challenge that I still face when it comes to overextending myself financially for something I really want to do. When I get a concept or vision of something I want to see become a reality, I don’t like to see money get in the way, so sometimes I wind up biting off more than I can chew. I like to think that virtually anything that can be imagined can eventually happen if you stick with it long enough and don’t give up.
Every entrepreneur worries for a time that his/her new business might fail. Assuming that you, too, had this worry, how long did it take before you got over it?
Except for that story I told you earlier about Dr. Berger, I pretty well knew that Seacrets would make it from the start. However, any anxiety or moment of pause I might have had would have ended much earlier if I had different habits when it came to spending for the business. In this area, for seasonal businesses like mine, I’ve learned to that you have to consider one day to be a week, one week to be a month and one month to be a quarter — and that’s all you’ve got for the year. I think you need that mentality to properly plan your spending and budget and NOT overextend yourself.
What seminal event, hallmark or achievement was the first big indication that your bold roll of the entrepreneurial dice was going to pay off?
That’s interesting. I’d have to say it was several years ago, when Seacrets was ranked as the seventh or eighth largest business of its kind in the United States, in terms of gross revenue, and the largest business of its kind that is privately owned by an individual. I did — and still do — find that utterly incredible.
How many patrons do you estimate Seacrets has served over the years?
Well, if you figure about 700,000 people a year for 27 years, that’s about 19 million people. But to be more conservative — taking into account the early years, when Seacrets was still building its base — I’d say we’ve easily served at least 12 million people.
What trait or skill do you possess that you feel is most fundamentally responsible for your numerous successes in business?
Integrity — and the fact that I very much believe in karma and that what goes around comes around. My job in life is to make people get along and be happy. Alienating people and making enemies is not the way I try to do business — or life in general.
What business advice — and possibly life advice — would the Leighton Moore of today give to a 21-year-old Leighton Moore coming up now?
Okay… I’d have to say “Stay in school” -— precisely because I didn’t. I would tell the 21-year-old me what I would tell Cody, which is find someone in your chosen field who has integrity and talent, and then model yourself after that person. See if you can find someone who is considered the best at what you want to do, then try to somehow arrange a type of mentor-protégé relationship, and work so hard and so well that your mentor or role model comes to see you as an indispensable part of that business and its success.
Did you have any heroes or inspirations growing up?
[Laughing] Sure… The Lone Ranger and Rin Tin Tin! Honestly, though, I’d have to say no. The key lessons I learned from others while growing up had more to do with what not to be and do.
What’s your favorite thing to do for fun?
Believe it or not, it’s actually being at Seacrets, watching people have a great time. That’s the most fun thing for me — but it’s not the only fun thing. I also really enjoy traveling, and I get a lot of satisfaction designing or creating something out of nothing and seeing it become a reality. I think I get so much out of it because of my lack of formal education.
What really stresses you out?
Not getting enough sleep, which happens a lot because I’m a workaholic. I really don’t like the effect that being underslept has on my temperament, though. I get cranky. There are times I’ve reflected on how I’d behaved when I didn’t have enough sleep and thought: Man, I am such a jerk!
The other thing that stresses me is when people don’t believe or have no faith. Words like “no,” “can’t” and “won’t” are three of my least favorite words in the language, so it really irritates me when I’m dealing with people who have that attitude.
What’s your greatest joy?
That’s easy… spending time with my wife, Rebecca.
If you could improve one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Interesting. I guess I’d like to be better at what I do, and to do that, I need to change my sleep habits so that I can be ‘Moore’ consistent.
Though you are best known for Seacrets, you have other business interests. What are they?
I also own a boat-building business, which is run by my son-in-law, a liquor store and a radio station.
Other than the industry you’re currently in, what other vocation or profession would you have liked to try, or think you might have been good at?
I’d would have liked to try psychology. I really like people and enjoy helping them. I find human behavior fascinating. Additionally, when you have as many customers as Seacrets has and more than 600 employees, having the ability to understand and deal with people is a very important asset.
Who’s the smartest person you ever met?
A couple of people come to mind. One person for sure is Jack Burbage. Also, Bill Mariner, my accountant, and my CEO and CFO, Gary Figgs — and those last two have nothing to do with the fact that they work with me; they really are that smart.
Who’s the funniest person you know or have known?
Ralph DeAngelus, the owner of Taxi Taxi, is truly hysterical and probably tied for the funniest person I know, along with Bulldog [Rothner] from WOCM radio. Sure, Bulldog is my friend and runs the radio station, but he’s a riot and definitely one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.
Who’s the most talented person, famous or not, you HAVE ever met?
It has to be Mayor Rick Meehan of Ocean City. Somehow, he manages to run this deceptively complicated town without being heavy-handed in his governance. If you know politics at all, you know that’s a very difficult thing to do, and he does it as well as anyone I’ve seen. He seems to understand the critical difference between leadership and being domineering, yet he’s nobody’s puppet.
Who’s the kindest person you’ve ever known?
My employee Mary Handy. She started with me 33 years ago as a front desk clerk and is now my vice-president. I’ve never known a sweeter, kinder human being.
If you could fly out to Vegas tomorrow to see any performer, living or dead, who would it be?
If you somehow found yourself on Death Row, what would your last meal be?
Spaghetti with red meat sauce.
What’s your foremost guilty pleasure when it comes to food?
A Heath Bar Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Good stuff!
What’s your favorite drink to have at a bar?
Seacrets’ gin on the rocks.
Finally, what figure from history would you most like to have a conversation with over dinner?
Probably Albert Einstein. Not that I would understand even half the things he was talking about, but I’d like to ask him if he thought people were too smart for their own good — smart enough to be the architects of their own downfall yet not smart enough to prevent it. I worry about that sometimes.