A shift in the Windquest Companies taking hold

June 7, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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HOLLAND — Windquest Companies Inc.  has marked its 25th year in operation with a significant re-brand: It now is known as The Stow Co., a reference to its products that enable homeowners to stow many types of personal possessions in an organized method.

“‘Stow’ is a nautical term that means a place for everything,” said Eric Wolff, president and CEO.

The new name is one “we have embraced because it’s very specific to our identity,” said Wolff. “It defines what we help people do: We help them put things in order and stay organized, making life more enjoyable.”

As Windquest, the firm experienced the effects of the recession over the last few years — like most other manufacturing operations — but now reports first quarter sales in 2010 are up 25 percent over the same period last year. The privately held company does not divulge its annual sales revenues.

The Stow Co., which markets its products throughout North America, has corporate headquarters in Holland, with manufacturing in Holland and New Jersey, and company-owned showrooms in Atlanta and Holland.

The plant at 3311 Windquest Drive in Holland has about 185,000 square feet of space and employs about 100, according to Wolff. Its Pine Brook, N.J., manufacturing site and the Atlanta showroom together employ another 90 or so people.

The company has its roots in a firm that was called Laminations Inc., founded in Holland 25 years ago as a supplier to the office furniture and store displays industries. Wolff, 45, has been with the company since 1999 when it was Laminations. Prior to that, he worked with Steelcase in its international sales division.

According to Wolff, the Windquest Group, an investment management company in Grand Rapids headed by Dick DeVos, acquired Laminations Inc. in 1994 along with a second company called Datel, and merged the two companies to form Windquest Companies. Datel produced storage products for the medical profession.

Today, Stow products include closet organizers, garage storage, kitchen pantry organizers, wall beds, entertainment centers, mudroom storage and more, as well as storage products for business and home offices. The company offers storage products at a variety of price points and can accommodate homeowners who want to hire someone to design and install solutions, as well as those who would rather do it themselves.

The panels it makes are a wood-based composite using recycled material, said Wolff.

“In everything we do from a product standpoint, we really try to push the sustainability and environmental side,” he said.

Wolff said it is difficult to determine the actual size of the specific North American market the company serves because many of the storage systems built in new homes or included in renovations are largely handmade by trim carpenters and other craftsmen.

“Whether it’s a $2 billion or $6 billion market, we don’t really know,” said Wolff.

The 2008-2009 recession and shrinkage of the home construction market definitely had an impact on The Stow Co.’s business, however.

“The recession has definitely made our marketplace very challenging, being housing related,” said Wolff. Fortunately, he said, the company has been able to stay focused on the future.

“We’ve really looked at this as a challenging time, but it’s more than that: it’s a time for opportunity, to really make our claim that we are the leaders in the home organization category, from a product and service and quality standpoint.”

“We feel that we are definitely taking advantage of the market opportunity to increase our market share. That’s part of what’s behind the change of name.”

Although sales are improving, management doesn’t expect a miraculous recovery from the recession. As for home construction, they don’t expect much improvement — yet.

“We think it might have bottomed out, but we haven’t seen any improvement at all in the market — and frankly, we don’t really expect to, in the short term. But that doesn’t mean we don’t expect to grow,” said Wolff.

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