By Bill Sendelback
Every company has to make a profit to stay in business. But only a few look beyond that financial profit and also concentrate on investing in people, in particular the challenged and underprivileged, for the betterment of their community. Stoll Fireplace, a manufacturer of glass door and mesh fire screens, fireplace surrounds and fireplace accessories, is such a company, actively helping local people get through the rough challenges in their lives by providing jobs and assistance.
“Grandpa Stoll always had a heart for team members, employees who were going through tough times in life, so this has always been part of our company’s mission,” says Gary Yoder, Stoll Sales and Marketing manager, about company founder, the late William Stoll, Sr. “Grandpa Stoll regarded it as an opportunity, that as we grew the business, we could employ more people and they could make a good living and enjoy life. We feel like God brings people to our workforce. There are a lot of families that are being funded and sponsored because those workers were able to have jobs here.”
William Stoll, Sr., in 1969, moved from Virginia to Abbeville, South Carolina, and bought a farm on which the current Stoll Fireplace headquarters and factory now stand. The fireplace in Stoll’s new home was too large for any of the standard-sized fireplace spark screens then available. Relying on his blacksmithing skills, he made a mesh fire screen to fit.
Soon neighbors began asking Stoll for screens for their own fireplaces. Then a local hardware store began buying and selling Stoll’s screens, and the business took off. Stoll Fireplace was officially established in 1976. The popularity of the company’s screens was totally unexpected to Stoll. “I didn’t have any idea I’d be making fireplace screens for a living,” he said before his passing in 2008.
In addition to creating products that drew strong consumer demand, Grandpa Stoll brought his Christian values to the new company, values that continue to be the guiding principles of Stoll Fireplace. “One of our business missions is to have satisfied customers,” says Yoder. “We achieve that by being honest. Grandpa said honesty is not a question, and we view mistakes as a way of demonstrating our integrity and continuing to help customers.”
Stoll Fireplace is now a third generation company. Grandpa Stoll’s son, Robert, is president, his other son, Dennis, is vice president, and both are involved in R&D. In the third generation, now establishing themselves in the company, are Robert’s three sons; Douglas and Franklin are both Operations and Production managers, and Jonathan is CAD and Design manager. Dennis’ son, Darris, is also an Operations and Human Resources manager, and Dennis’ son-in-law, Gary Yoder, is Sales and Marketing manager.
With the company transitioning to the third generation of Stolls, Dennis and Robert have been freed up to be more involved in Christian missions that the company sponsors across the U.S., and in children’s homes in India. “Part of each sale goes to help fund the less fortunate,” adds Yoder.
L to R: Jonathon Stoll, Weston Stoll, Franklin Stoll, Robert Stoll, Douglas Stoll. Photo: ©2016 Jon Holloway Photography.
Because of recent sales growth, Stoll has had to expand its factory during the last two years; it now totals 70,000 sq. ft. plus 7,000 sq. ft. of office and showroom space, all to house the company’s 75 employees.
Glass door fire screens are Stoll’s major product, and other fireplace products made by the company are mesh spark screens, tool sets, wood holders, steel mantels, surrounds and grates. New from Stoll are stainless-steel and powder-coated decorative wall panels, stainless-steel and glass shelving, and decorative steel kitchen cabinet doors.
All of Stoll’s products are made to order, and 75 percent of its orders are for custom items. “We have some standard sizes, but we don’t actually have stock items except for a few things like grates,” Yoder explains.
Stoll ventured into steel wood stoves five years ago with the acquisition of High Valley Stoves. But earlier this year, that line was sold to Stoll relatives in Canada. “Because of the sales growth in our regular products, plus the uncertainty of the EPA regulations, we felt it best to sell the line and put more attention into our core products,” says Yoder.Many of Stoll’s product lines are traditional in style, even now-fashionable, industrial-styled products featuring stainless steel and eight antique finishes. Its Old World Sliding Glass fireplace doors, with obvious rivets, were introduced at the HPBExpo in New Orleans, as well as more contemporary Legacy and Elite Thinline glass doors, and contemporary accessories. Stoll even offers new toolsets in the form of golf clubs, baseball bats and fishing rods.
That attention to its core products has paid off. After strong sales in 2014, Stoll saw a six percent sales increase in 2015, even in a down market, and it’s on track for another six percent increase this year. Its sales are dealer-direct in both the U.S. and Canada. Having an aggressive pricing structure has helped make Stoll more than competitive, according to Yoder.
“We’re known for high value at affordable prices,” he says. “Our strength is our ability to produce very high-end products with real aggressive prices to our dealers and their customers.” Because so much of Stoll’s sales are custom orders, Robert designed production lines to save steps and processes to keep labor very efficient and yet work well with product customization.
Another thing Stoll Fireplace is known for is that it will try to make almost any fireplace accessory a dealer or customer can dream up. “Our motto is ‘Yes, we can,’” says Yoder. “Sometimes we have to step back and say that is not a wise thing to make, but when a customer wants something really special, we want to be their go-to supplier.”
Demonstrating that sometimes people are more important than profit, especially to the Stolls, Yoder says that, “Sometimes team members make us aware of people in a tough spot in life or a family that is less fortunate, or maybe a handicapped situation where it’s tough to find a job. With many of these situations, we have been able to walk that journey with them, maybe through rehab or partly paying their rehab costs while they’re working here.
Henry Petersheim. Photo: ©2016 Jon Holloway Photography.
“We’ve had a lot of those employees who have grown to be very gifted and skilled team members. Some move on once they have their feet beneath them and get established again. Being able to walk through that with them has been so rewarding.”
Working with these folks to bring them into the company as team members, employees, “has worked out well,” said Yoder. “There have been times when we questioned whether this was the right move. But it has always felt like it’s the right thing to do. When you see someone come through those tough times and are the better for it, yes, it has been good.
“One man was going through tough family times; he suffered from depression and needed a job. We were not then making steel fireplace grates, but we brought him in to make them even if it would not amount to a lot of sales for us. That line has grown to far exceed what we ever expected. That gentleman now manages that whole area, supervises three team members and is doing a terrific job.
“We’re excited about where we are now,” says Yoder. “We see a lot of potential in this year. It looks promising so far. We’ll see how it holds up.”