Creating a work atmosphere based on trust and autonomy can be difficult to achieve. It requires a degree of faith on the behalf of management, and assembling a team of employees who are like-minded when it comes to the goals of the dealership. But Sam Stone wouldn’t have it any other way.
The president of Stone’s Office Equipment (SOE) in Richmond, VA, has cultivated a work environment that places faith in his team to do the right thing, without the need for a micromanaged executive approach. It allows Stone to focus on his job while enabling his employees to thrive without the pressure of someone looking over their shoulders.
“We do things differently and we’re not afraid to try things, either,” said Stone, a 2018 ENX Magazine Difference Maker. “I want my team to be able to think for themselves and learn from past experiences, without the need for a leadership team telling them what to do. My approach is much more hands-off and to trust the people who surround you. It’s created a culture within our company of less stress on making mistakes and more on trusting. We’re a family and you have to trust your family to do what’s right.”
For Stone, the office equipment industry is all about developing deep, long-lasting relationships with employees, clients and other business and community partners. Finding ways to make the challenges of SOE’s clients less taxing and stressful is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Stone’s work; he fully credits and appreciates the efforts of SOE’s crew in making that a reality.
As SOE was founded by his father, Frank, Sam Stone’s indoctrination into the office equipment industry began at age 12, when he would shampoo cases of typewriters and clean the typeset keys. (His first suitcase was actually a carrying case from a Smith-Corona portable typewriter.) Upon graduating from school, Stone scored his first sale—a Casio desktop calculator for the princely sum of $129. As a testament to his relationship building, Stone later sold that same client a typewriter, fax machine, word processor and a copier.
Not surprisingly, Frank Stone played a large role in shaping his son’s business approach. The elder Stone had no money in his savings when he launched SOE, but was certainly resourceful, especially when it came to business acumen.
“He taught me how to treat people—employees and customers—and his favorite saying was ‘service sells,’” Stone said. “He instilled in me the notion that anyone can sell someone something; however, it takes work to earn their trust over and over again. That’s something I hold very dearly in my approach to working with our team. Just getting a customer isn’t enough. You’ve earned their business through earning trust, and it’s our job to continue to earn it every day.”
SOE is coming off a year in which it was named a finalist in the Retail Merchants Association’s Distinguished Retailer of the Year for Richmond. Stone’s also netted Elite Dealer recognition from ENX Magazine for the third consecutive year. Stone is working toward creating an IT department for existing business clients and hopes to carve out more time for community service and charity events.
Stone definitely has a passion for supporting the local community and backing charitable causes. Some of the organizations SOE has supported include the Ashland Police Foundation, The Jillian Fund, The Cameron Gallagher Fund, the Virginia State Police Foundation and the Henrico Police and Fire Foundations. Last month, SOE hosted The Ride of the Patriots, a cross-country trek to Washington, DC.
Moving forward, Stone hopes to build upon SOE’s foundation by staying grounded in the company’s core beliefs and values while gauging its process and ensuring the dealership keeps abreast of technology. “Just because something new comes about, doesn’t mean it makes an improvement,” he said. “It’s important to see how those improvements impact your company culture. Our clients choose to work with us because of our culture and we don’t want to start making vast changes in the name of improving if it’s not what they want.”
Underscoring the family atmosphere at SOE, Stone’s mother, Sally, works for the company, along with his sister, Tina Berry, and her husband, Mike.
Stone and his wife, Kerrie, have been married 27 years and have three children—Carson, Libbie and Matthew. An avid outdoorsman who enjoys golfing and mountain biking, Stone also loves the water and his family can usually be found vacationing at any beach along the Carolina coastline.