NOTE - This is the first in a series of profiles showcasingVanNoppen Marketing's clients. Check back monthly for new installments. -AVN
Nearly 50 years ago Charlotte businessman Ralph Stump founded The Stump Companies with a clear mission to provide owners of the furniture industries with real estate transactions and trusted, smart and confidential financial leadership overseeing mergers and acquisitions.
Today, with headquarters still entrenched in Charlotte, the company has evolved into a multi-generational, family-owned, industry sector powerhouse dedicated to home furnishings mergers and acquisitions and real estate brokerage services, small and large, around the world.
Ralph’s sons, Tim and Randy, lead the two divisions. Their children -- the third generation of Stumps -- are wholly engaged in the enterprises; everyone credentialed with advanced degrees and impressive employment histories. The companies are poised for what they see as a very positive year of continuing growth for the furniture industry.
Stump has been a VanNoppen Marketing client since 2007. Our marketing contributions to Stump’s success include design, development and management of a robust and engaging website, design and deployment of integrated eBlasts, newsletters, direct mail, transaction content development, and branding. Our own generations-deep engagement with the furniture industry has served well the Stump-VNM collaborative efforts.
Tim leads the M&A division. His two children, Stuart S. Mullens, 32, and Bo Stump, 30, have joined the firm and recently were promoted to Partner. Tim recently shared with us their approach to work, their outlook for 2021 and the solid but simple foundation from which Ralph built the businesses.
“Ralph always had the core four,” Tim said. “The first was the confidentiality and integrity to deal with confidential information of private businesses. Our clients for the most part are family businesses. They are people deeply concerned with keeping their financial and operating information confidential. We have to honor that confidentiality.
“Number Two is just hard work. My dad was a very hard worker. Big hours. He always said, ‘The harder I work the luckier I get.’ We continue to adhere to that principle.
“Thirdly, we are financial people. Both my son and I have MBAs, my daughter worked at McKinsey & Company and was schooled in deep financial analysis. When you are dealing with mergers and acquisitions it is largely a financial understanding game and I think we have great skills in understanding the financial bedrock of a company.
“Lastly, Ralph would talk about experience. … We’ve sold over 400 companies in the almost 50 years. Experience teaches you the tricks of the trade, it helps you understand what tools in the toolbox to deploy in negotiations, and that experience he passed to me, and now I am passing to my kids.
“And we added a fifth one when I came on board back in the 90s. We added the term, Creativity and Ingenuity. I think (Ralph’s methods were) somewhat of a generational thing; he had a set of tools and I had a set of tools and between the two of us we sharpened the iron and got creative on merging our skill sets. And I am clearly seeing that now with my two 30 something-year-old partners, and the skills, ideas and the creativity that they bring are helping sharpen me. That creativity is allowing us to be more effective both with our clients and our potential clients.”
ADAPTING TO CHANGES
Charlotte has served as headquarters since Stump’s inception and early clients, while positioned around the country, were predominantly located in the southeastern states. By the late 1990s, it was clear that industry operations were migrating to the Pacific Rim. “In 2001 my father bought me a coach ticket to China and said, ‘Go figure it out,’” Tim said. “And I did.” Stump’s client roster now includes companies from around the world.
Furniture is a traditional business and Stump’s methods have catered to that old school style. Face-to-face. Lot’s of personal meetings. Honorable handshake agreements. COVID-19 and the roller coaster that was 2020 changed all of that and brought to the forefront of the furniture industry the importance of eCommerce and the digital age.
“eCommerce didn’t exist a bunch of years ago for our industry,” Tim said. “It’s kind of like the Asia tidal wave that came in the late 90s. We had to learn and adapt. And that is what we are doing right now with eCommerce. A lot of it is technical and so many don’t understand it. A lot of it is the human condition and purchasing patterns and influencing patterns. So we’re learning everyday about the emergence of eCommerce, whether it is B2B or B2C or D2C, Direct to Consumer.”
The Stump team reformatted it’s internal operations to meet demands of the next decade. Not only has eCommerce become a cornerstone of its M&A strategies, the team moved into new, modern offices, significantly upgraded its technical infrastructure, installed new CRM software to better coordinate work whether in the office or at home, and deployed new tools to access information, mine databases and generally dig deeper on the client’s behalf.
“Learning and adapting has to be a part of a successful business today,” he said.
2021 brings unknowns, uncertainties, and, Tim said, “the fork in the road of, Are you going to be optimistic and forward thinking or are you going to head down the road of negativity? We’re choosing to be positive. 2021 will be a fantastic rebound year for mergers and acquisitions.”
“Residential furniture is booming. eCommerce has proven itself and accelerated that trend 10 years because of COVID. Return of domestic upholstery manufacturing has accelerated because of COVID. So we see plenty of reasons to be optimistic.”
“The furniture industry has a wonderful opportunity to grab a larger share of the consumer's discretionary dollar for years and years,” he said. “It has lost market share with the advent of smartphones and flat screen TVs and more fancy imported cars, but we are going to be at home more. People are going to want nicer furniture.”
“We are excited. We think the furniture industry’s days are very bright,” he said.
Tim’s advice is as straightforward as are his business plans. “Be positive,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons to be negative. Our country is divided, politically, racially and economically. I am hopeful that, whether or not it is one person at a time, we can find unity. We’re doing our part to be positive, to put mergers together with people who want to do it the right way. We’re doing our part to give back. We’re a tithing family, we believe in leaving the world better than the way we found it. And I think a lot of it starts with your mental approach. You can choose to be positive and you can act on that or you can choose a different path.”
“At age 64 I see most of my peers thinking about retirement,” he said. “I am not. I am energized to help Stuart and Bo build the business and grow it and they have visions of where it can go so I am hustling to help them do that. It is very rewarding for me (and) to see my clients call them instead of me asking for advice. So as long as I am healthy you’ll see me supporting them and I think you will see me take a more quiet path as they exert their leadership and voice in the industry.”