Newsmaker Q&A: Stow Company’s Frank Newman

Originally posted in The Holland Sentinel on December 11, 2012

Holland’s Stow Company Inc. recently appointed Frank Newman its president and chief executive officer.
Stow makes custom storage and organization systems for homes, and employs about 100 people.
Newman — who joined Stow Co. as interim president and CEO in May — is no stranger to leadership, with more than 25 years of experience as a CEO.

The Sentinel caught up with Newman shortly after the company announced him as its president.
A little about you personally — what’s your hometown?
Born in Wembley, England, in 1948. Grew up in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and England until moving to the U.S. in 1964.
You seem to have led all sorts of businesses, so why Stow Company? {image_1}

I spent most of my early career in hardlines (hardware or dry goods) retailing, perhaps the most competitive and challenging of all businesses. You have to re-earn your customers on a daily basis. It was the best training ground for understanding consumers, learning how to differentiate your offering from competitors’ and how to operate efficiently enough to thrive even when margins are razor-thin. Those skills are valuable in every business environment and have been invaluable to me throughout my career.

I have led three businesses as CEO, each related to health care but in fundamentally different segments: F&M Distributors, the pioneer deep discount drug chain whose business was based in high volume health and beauty aids; Eckerd Corporation, one of the largest traditional drug store chains in the U.S., whose business included not only 3,500 stores, but also a billion-dollar pharmacy benefits management and mail order prescription drug operation and a huge distribution network; Medical Nutrition USA, a developer of proprietary, concentrated medical nutrition products for the institutional market (nursing homes, hospitals, dialysis clinics). The common denominator is not the industry segment or my experience in it, but being able to develop and implement a well defined and consistently implemented strategy grounded in the capabilities of the organization.

In May of this year, I was asked by Windquest Group to step in as interim CEO for The Stow Company during a management transition. During that time, I became excited by the opportunities for growth and impressed with this fine team. With strong manufacturing capabilities, a customer-centric focus and industry leadership, Stow is well-positioned. In addition, the company believes in its people, creates jobs, supports the local community and demonstrates every day that we can outperform competitors. I am delighted to be able to lead this company for the long term.

Economists tell me the furniture industry’s business remains soft. How do you deal with that, or counter-act that, as a CEO?

In our segment — home storage and organization — the ambient rate of growth is reflective of trends in home remodeling, home construction and the life cycle of our target demographic. We believe we can outgrow the ambient trend and increase our market share through operational excellence and providing a superior customer experience from start to finish.