What a great experience to see the Storey Kenworthy Family of Companies reach the milestone of 85 years in business. This feat could not have been accomplished without the talented and committed Team Members, past and present. Congratulations to all!!!!
One of the questions I ask myself regularly is, “how did I get to being 70 years old so fast?” I wanted to take a little time to share some of my earliest memories about the company and the people before I joined SK back in 1975. I’ll first start with my grandfather A.G. Kenworthy. Prior to 1936, he worked with Koch Brothers as the office furniture manager. He enjoyed the industry so much he wanted to take the risk in 1936 and start a new business to which he could some day pass on to his family members. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to work with him, although I do have many fond memories of my grandfather while I was growing up. He passed away in 1962, still working every day at the office until his death. One thing I found interesting was that my grandfather never drove a car. He would rely on public transportation, a ride from my grandmother (who did drive), rides home by my father, or get a lift from a Team Member. I did get an opportunity to talk to Team Members and customers who did work with my grandfather. He was described as “kind, honest, and hardworking”. These characteristics I believe were the cornerstone foundation of SK. His workstation was at the very front of 309 Locust. He was the first person to greet anyone who walked in the front doors. That was who he was; the face and name of the company. I fondly remember his smile, kindness, and positive attitude.
My father joined SK after he served in WWII and finished college in 1949. In that year SK moved 2 blocks east on Locust to its new 1 story building location at 309. After starting at SK my father joined a number of social and business groups such as DM Jaycee’s and Rotary Club of Des Moines. These types of organizations were the only way to network with other upcoming business leaders in the community. The company was growing. The 2 founders’ sons and son-in-Law were the outside sales, all working hard in the post war period of economic recovery. However, it was a slow period of growth. SK was the first Office Products and Furniture Dealer in Des Moines to hire a dedicated Interior Designer. His name was Walter Welsh. SK early on became a leader in the Des Moines market for Office Furniture. SK supported the A&D community and Corporate customer’s needs. Through the years every business faces challenges. In the early 60’s there was a fire at 309. The fire itself was limited to the back dock. It was theorized that vagrants may have lit a fire to stay warm. Unfortunately, the fire department not knowing the actual location of the fire, decided to breach the building via the front display windows with fire hoses blasting water on everything from the front of the building to the back dock. There was not much fire damage but there was major water damage to everything on the 1st floor and eventually leaking down into the basement supply warehouse. With time, things were brought back to normal with the committed support from Team Members and understanding of our customers. Shortly thereafter, a second story was added for the growing office furniture group. One of the biggest commitments the partners made was the creation of our Profit Sharing Trust Account in the mid-60’s for all Team Members. Our Profit Sharing Trust Account was started a little over 50 years ago. Today this account has grown to over $30 million all owned by SK Team Members. This underscores the commitment the founding family members had in sharing the success with all of our dedicated and committed Team Members who helped in SK’s growth and profitability. If compared, the value of the Profit Sharing account for all Team Members is greater than the book value of the company over its 85 years. Our success could not have happened without everyone, past and present, within the SK Family of Companies. My father hung a picture of his father after his death. Just below the picture was a framed copy of Rotary’s Four Way Test. These were the words;
“Is it the TRUTH?”
“Is it FAIR to All concerned?
“Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?”
“Will it be BENIFICAL to ALL concerned?”
These standards I believe are demonstrated by all Team Members at the Storey Kenworthy Family of Companies still today.
After graduating from College in 1973, I moved out West and worked for the US Dept of Interiors in Salt Lake City, UT. On weekends I would spend time camping in the mountains and deserts of the West or skied during the winter months. It was a great experience for sure. In 1975 my father reached out to me to join SK and work at 309 Locust. When I came back to Des Moines the company had less than 20 Team Members working at the company. We had 2 delivery vehicles, a van for supply delivery and an open flatbed truck for furniture deliveries. Les Fiefe and Glenn Ritter were the only two in furniture operations on the 2nd floor. Paul Dahl drove the supply delivery van. Each morning there was a fight over who got control of the elevator to bring supplies up from the basement or furniture down from the 2nd floor. It was something that happened every day and certainly was quite comical. Tom Hayes and Jerry (sorry can’t remember his last name) manned the supply warehouse in the basement. Every supply order was handwritten. There were no computers or fax machines in those days. I still believe on the ceiling beams by the elevator in the basement you can see where they would write on the beams when record numbers of orders were filled and then would date it. They were so proud to have filled 80 orders or more in a day. I am not sure how that stacks up to daily orders filled today. Up front on the sales floor was Thelma Lewis. She greeted and manned the counter for fine writing instruments and waited on walk in customers. She was one of the original team members starting with my Grandfather when she graduated from high school. Royce Ferber was responsible for overseeing the supply operations and did our supply purchasing. Ramona Watrous was the office manager and Jane Brown handled our accounts receivables. There was one other woman named Georgia (I believe) in the office responsible for accounts payable, but again I may have come up short on remembering her name. We had 2 outside sales people; Louis Mossman for supplies and John Koerner for furniture. The 3 partners – Chuck Storey, Bill King, and Jim Kenworthy – were very much involved in sales as well. At the time approximately 80% of all sales were personally handled by the 3 partners. Needless to say there was not much strategic planning. It was more of a nose to the grindstone process of hard work in those days. Everyone worked 6 days a week.
We have had great success since my early years. The size of our organization has grown exponentially. We have expanded our footprint not only in Des Moines but throughout the state as well. We’ve invested in technology and equipment. Planning and communications are inclusive to all team members. Goals are shared. We started a Corporate Foundation to share our success by re-investing in the communities we serve. Our simple business has become more complex and competitive than when it began 85 years ago. We have encountered hardships like floods and recessions. We have survived and come out stronger. We have made the succession to a 4th generation. This is something achieved by very few businesses. This could not have happened without the dedication and commitment of all Team Members past and present. We as owners today embraced the work ethic and commitments from our founding family members of the past. Since 1936 we have and continue to work on demonstrating our commitment to our Team Members, our customers, and the community we serve. I have a great level of confidence in the Senior Leadership in advancing the success and growth of the Storey Kenworthy Family of Companies on into the future.
I had a conversation a few years ago with Rick Stowers that is still fresh in my mind. He joined the company straight out of high school shortly after I began in 1975. One day Rick came up to me and said, “Thank you for allowing me to grow up here at SK for all these years”. In looking back over my years at SK, I want to say to all of you “Thank You All for allowing me to grow up here at Storey Kenworthy”. It was a great time in my life!!! I will always have many fond memories!! Congratulations on being part of our legacy over the past 85 years. I look forward to watching your continued journey in reaching the 100th year anniversary for the Storey Kenworthy Family of Companies.
All the Best,