Liam Walsh Reporter
Jun 14, 2019 — 12.10pm
A week before our lunch, Gold Coast entrepreneur Travers “Candyman” Beynon posted on his Instagram feed a photo of bikini-clad women eating potato chips at his $4.3 million home with the caption, “Snacks on snacks”.
That Instagram post is a hallmark of the brash businessman’s style. It’s a trait that despite attracting ire – former Minister for Women Michaelia Cash has called his actions deplorable – has also tapped an audience that loves his politically incorrect image, which could have come straight from the “greed is good” 1980s.
Beynon’s Candyman brand has more than 1 million social media fans, including Millennials from Australia, but as far afield as India. They are entranced by his gaudy multimillionaire lifestyle, which he says includes living with his wife and four girlfriends, and his imagery of women that is totally out of line in today’s #MeToo world.
Beynon’s wealth comes from a source equally unpalatable to modern society: tobacco. His business has 1300 vending machines and more than 300 franchised and company-owned stores. He also dabbles in property.
His alter-ego provides regular fuel for tabloid headlines, including recently when a kangaroo jumped into his mansion grounds, sending women – wearing bikinis, of course – fleeing. But hopefully, speaking to him will reveal more about his less-covered business tactics and help me work out where the persona ends and the real Beynon begins.
Beynon has selected Ioesco at the Gold Coast’s elite Sanctuary Cove for a meal. It’s an airy, refined, riverside restaurant. It’s not crowded and fairly quiet on the Wednesday we attend.
Today, our fellow diners look like well-off retirees, but we could just as likely have bumped into billionaire Clive Palmer. The area oozes wealth; cars parked near the restaurant include a red Ferrari, a 4WD Mercedes and Beynon’s 2014 Rolls Royce Wraith Coupe.
For the next hour and a half, the former international model dives into issues from selling legalised marijuana to running for politics – without worrying about splashing sauce on his $1700 Italian suit.
“How would life be if I can’t wear my suit because I might get something on it?” he asks.
Beynon partly models his business on Richard Branson’s Virgin, but unlike his entrepreneurial hero’s love of flying, Beynon’s preference is for fast cars. One of his six luxury vehicles is a gold and black Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 (which sells for north of $500,000 … used), with doors flashily emblazoned “The Candyman”.
In his Candyman persona, Beynon can be seen posing in Versace gym gear or Brioni suits. For International Women’s Day, Candyman was pictured on a bed with two naked women using their legs to form a letter W, while another woman in a G-string vacuumed the floor. That last woman’s face isn’t visible but her bottom is. On it appears to be a tattoo of the word “Freechoice”, the name of Beynon’s tobacco chain.
This is the same guy who is politely chatting with an elderly couple sitting behind us. The persona is just the tip of the iceberg, Beynon tells me. But he tones it down in front of his two youngest children, he adds.
“I’m a non-smoker, but I’m an advocate for freedom of choice,” says Beynon. “I mean, the dangers of smoking cigarettes are obvious.” Paul Harris
Beynon was born in Melbourne in 1972. His parents were involved in the tobacco industry but he saw his future playing Australian Rules; at 16 he won best and fairest at a national schoolboys’ carnival. Then an on-field collision ruined his back and footy dreams.
His career as a model began when a local hairdresser offered Beynon $350 to photograph him. “I’m like, just to take a photo?” he says. For nearly a decade he was based in New York and worked for brands including Levi’s as well as gracing magazine covers.
While he looked bulky in modelling photos, Beynon says he was strict on food, “keeping my sides down to fit suits”.
That brings us to lunch. Even though he quit modelling nearly 20 years ago, Instagram demands a buff Candyman.
“I’m dieting at 47 harder than I was when I was 20,” he says. “One part is about looking healthy. But the main thing [about dieting] is to keep my energy up to be able to do all the things I need to do with work and my lifestyle.”
That lifestyle includes caring for two young kids and two older children (his 17-year-old daughter Lucciana has started modelling), while being partner to his wife, Taesha, long-term girlfriend Nisha Downes, and three other girlfriends who all live in the family home. That leaves time for about four hours’ sleep. The bedroom at night is no time to chill out, he remarks. I wonder if this is a line he’s spinning as part of his Candyman schtick. But more on this later.
We select just mains, but then the restaurant owner suddenly spots us a calamari entree – I assume because Beynon is a regular. Beynon orders the chicken breast parmigiana and recommends the lamb shanks, which prove excellent. We also settle for water since Beynon doesn’t often drink alcohol.
The health kick is ironic for a man running a tobacco chain. He’s tried electronic cigarettes but says he never smoked normal ones, which probably stems from his early years focusing on football.
“I’m a non-smoker, but I’m an advocate for freedom of choice,” he says. “I mean, the dangers of smoking cigarettes are obvious. But no one stopped me when I started motor racing. If someone said that’s too dangerous, don’t do it, I’d be like, ‘Go to hell’.”
“I wouldn’t see myself as a politician, because I have no filter and I’m not politically correct,” Beynon says. “But I would certainly get a job done.” Paul Harris
Freechoice was founded in 1991 by Beynon’s parents – he says he lent them $100,000 he had earned from modelling – and he bought the operation in 2006. The business is growing despite the industry shrivelling, he says. He gives rough estimates – revenues up 5 per cent and earnings before interest and tax up 37 per cent this year – but declines to provide a dollar figure.
His various entities are private and don’t have to make their accounts public, so the only available figures are from company documents filed in a court dispute, listing pre-tax profits of $6.4 million in 2014 and $10.4 million in 2015. Increasing profits had been based on petrol-station deals, the documents said. Although vending was described then as “bleeding”, the company says that division is now growing.
Beynon links an overall improvement to Freechoice grabbing a larger piece of a shrinking pie. It also cut costs. “If you really get down to numbers, which I do, you can find savings,” he says.
But the industry outlook is sickly and so Beynon’s strategy is to build the Freechoice brand, which he says is synonymous with the Candyman. His inspiration is Branson’s Virgin brand, which began as a chain of record shops and now encompasses credit cards and airlines.
“Your Freechoice tobacconist could be a Freechoice convenience store,” he says.
Whatever brand extensioning he does, the Candyman persona has been key to the plan.
The character emerged in 2015 and among the first Instagram posts was one of the Candyman using bikinis as leashes for two women crawling on his driveway. “Doggy style,” he wrote.
“I knew that people would react,” he tells AFR Weekend. “Again, don’t take life so serious. Once I got the exposure I used it to my advantage. It’s called … disruptive marketing.”
It’s also been called misogynist, sexist and offensive. But Beynon maintains he is not about disrespecting women. “My mum was my idol, my grandmother was called The General … I grew up with dominant women,” he says.
Hate it or press like on it, his posts are marketing manna. The Candyshop Mansion Instagram account has 878,000 followers, plus 109,000 Facebook followers and a YouTube channel with 51,000 subscribers.
The fans are predominantly Millennials and, surprisingly, split evenly male-female, Freechoice says. Picturing the Freechoice name in some images doesn’t breach strict tobacco advertising laws forbidding the use of specific brands such as Marlboro, which is another benefit.
Behind the outrage at his activities, Beynon has been quietly registering trademarks. Since 2015, his companies trademarked everything from his face to Candyman logos. The Candy Shop Mansion website sells a range of branded items including clothes and vaping equipment.
He says he will consider other commodities for Freechoice too, potentially including legalised marijuana.
“We were actually exploring it probably a year or two ago. The only hurdle there is in the states where you can’t be a retailer of tobacco and a licensed seller of cannabis,” he says.
Eye on property
The photographer is snapping away at the restaurant and Beynon has a fleck on his collar – surprisingly he isn’t fazed by this spot on his image. I quietly wonder if he’ll just quietly dump the whole persona one day.
Beynon says he probably won’t retire from business fully, but may focus more on property. An AFR Weekend search of property records indicates he’s paid almost $16 million for Queensland properties alone, including seaside homes he might develop.
Another avenue he has toyed with is politics: Gold Coast mayor.
The coast could be the most desirable destination in Australia, Beynon says.
“I wouldn’t see myself as a politician, because I have no filter and I’m not politically correct,” he maintains. “But I would certainly get a job done.”
It would be foolish to write off his chances of success in a post-Donald Trump world. (Beynon once compared himself to the US President in an Instagram post: “The only difference between us: ‘the pussy grabs me!’”)
But politics is not an ambition for Beynon right now as he is too busy with Freechoice, Candy Shop Mansion and his extended family. Beynon insists his unorthodox home life is not for show. Girlfriend Downes has lived with them for four years. “It’s a serious relationship,” he says.
But even hedonism has rules. For example: could a girlfriend bring along a bloke?
“No,” Beynon says immediately. He maintains that’s not hypocritical. “In every relationship there’s different rules of engagement. If we’re both happy with them, then why is it for anyone else to judge?”
Rules and the law are a common feature in Beynon’s life, despite his nonconformist lifestyle. His companies have faced court fights with a cigarette maker, car team and rivals and he sued his current father-in-law about texted comments in a property dispute.
“I’ve won a lot more than I’ve lost,” he says of lawsuits.
Beynon outside Brisbane’s Federal Court: “I’ve won a lot more than I’ve lost,” he says of lawsuits. AAP
One appeal he lost was in February when Freechoice and Beynon were found to have breached the Fair Work Act in a bitter dispute over the dismissal of a senior manager.
Separately, in 2016, the Federal Court ruled Freechoice had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct in trying to entice store defections from rival Tobacco Station.
“Sometimes you’ve got to defend and sometimes you’ve got to fight,” he says of his approach to lawsuits. “It’s a fine line of what really went down, and what employees did. I’m ultimately responsible so I won’t skirt away from that.”
When it’s time to go, Beynon departs, having eaten most – but not all – of the meal. After all, he has an image to protect.
Ioesco, 3a Masthead Way, Hope Island, Qld
Lamb shanks, $38
Parmigiana di pollo, $34
Sparkling water, $9.50
Still water, $9.50