2012 Hall of Fame: Bill Stewart
Bill Stewart, President/CEO, Petra IndustriesJanuary 2012 By Nancy Klosek
You can add Bill Stewart's name right up there on the roster of marketing mavens who founded their companies in their garages. In Stewart's case, the first product for sale in 1985 was a blank videocassette. "We started out with really no money and just a leap of faith," said the president and CEO of Petra Industries. "It took off, and we have taken it to where it is today."
Today, Petra sits at the top of thousands of dealers' source lists for accessories and other CE products. The distributor's arsenal includes roughly 20,000 SKUs from 500 manufacturers. Petra also plans to consolidate three warehouses under a single roof, while nearly doubling capacity from the current 150,000 square feet.
Petra has come a long way from the time when Stewart was a regional rack jobber for video rental stores and video departments within grocery chains. "I did our first catalog with clip art myself. Now we send a 1,300-page catalog to 90,000 people."
Petra's growth stems from Stewart's desire to meet the unfulfilled needs of the independent retailer. His empathy for the small dealer goes back to his teen years, when his family bought a small TV/appliance dealership in Muskogee, Okla. "I saw what a small independent goes through to run his business every day, from running delivery schedules to sales to ordering parts to doing service—and then he has to open the paper and try to live with the competitive prices the big stores smack you in the face with every day.
"There were a lot of people even that far back that were standing in line to sell the Walmarts. There were a lot of people who were leaving the independents in the dark, walking away from that business," he added. "It was an obvious need. I wanted to take an easy solution to those retailers on that side of the business."
Stewart is especially proud of improvements in order fulfillment, particularly in e-commerce, which has grown dramatically in the last seven to 10 years. Order cutoffs for same-day shipping have been relaxed so that customers can order by 6 p.m. rather than noon. But what has not changed since those first days, he said, is that there is no minimum order necessary to qualify for the service. "If someone orders a single product for 82 cents, we'll ship it. It was a nice accomplishment from the outset, and the same is true today. Our entire model is built around that type of thinking, and we continue to drive service to those levels."