June 28, 2016
Strong ties to the Mountain State, the resilient support of a community and a solid education under your belt – the best combination to run a family business in West Virginia. After a few years of running his family business, Young and Stout Wholesale Meats and Provisions, College of Business and Economics alumnus A. Stephen Stout couldn’t agree more.
“My parents and the local community here that I grew up in [had a great impact on my life and career choices]. It’s not that anybody pressured me, but I had a ton of support to go into the family business, to stay here, to stay in West Virginia. Everybody kind of helped me understand that we had a good thing here – just take it, go and run with it. That's kind of what I would say influenced me,” the 2013 accounting graduate said.
Young and Stout, a proud family business, is a USDA meat processor and premium wholesale meats and cheeses distributor that operates in Bridgeport, West Virginia. The company was started in 1942 by Stout’s great-grandfather and his business partner (Young). Stout said that after a few months Young thought the business would fail, and Stout’s great-grandfather bought out Young’s half. The Stout family proved him wrong, building a successful business and passing it down from generation to generation.
“When I went to college, my father was running the business and he was approaching retirement age. I did not know whether that was going to be the path I would take or not. I worked in small firm. I worked for a couple banks. I worked a couple summers here,” Stout said. “In the last few months of school, I really started looking at the business and focusing on some things. I just kind of realized this would be good for me – I’m just going to tackle this for a while and see what happens. Now, here I am four years later.”
With Young and Stout being a small family business with 14 full-time employees, it is essential for Stout to know every aspect of the business. During several summers in college, Stout worked at the business in a labor capacity.
“Those summers were so important for two reasons. One, you learn. That’s how I learned
the backbone. That's how I Iearned what we do. And two, it was a great way to kind
of earn some respect from your employees. If you’re out there, you're in the ditches
with them, just doing whatever needs done, it’s kind of a good way to earn respect,”
Now fully running the business, he wears multiple hats. The majority of his time is spent focusing on the customers and production, as well developing the employees and dealing with regulations – “making sure everything comes together every day as it’s supposed to.”
Operating a business that has been around for approximately 75 years, things are bound to change somewhat. Stout said that he is making additions and inserting his own character into the business, as his father did before him.
“We just added a small cooking facility to our plant here about six months ago. It was a big addition. It took a lot of money, a lot of research, a lot of time. We got that all up and running about three months ago. That was a big accomplishment.”
Looking to the future for the wholesale meat operation, Stout sees a lot potential, continuing to find small niche markets in West Virginia.
“There are a lot of small niche markets in this area. As crazy it sounds, the pepperoni roll, the hotdog and all the Italian cuisine around. That’s what drives us, the small niche things. You don't find pepperoni rolls or hotdogs like we make them at least anywhere else,” Stout said. “So, if we can continue to find those, (we will) put ourselves in a better position to be more sustainable and keep developing employees. “
Stout said he found great mentors during his time at B&E and learned many lessons he uses in his daily life.
Dr. Jack Dorminey was one of his two favorite professors. Dorminey, who refers to Stout by his given name, Abner, said that one of most his profound moments with a student was with Stout as he was trying to decide what route to take after graduation.
“He came to me, and he was apologetic to me. He said, ‘I’m really sorry. I’ve got an offer with some of the larger CPA firms, but…I’m just going to go into the family business.’ What struck me about that was that it was very clear to me that he thought the only acceptable career path was to work in a CPA firm. He thought he was taking a second choice option. I had to convince him that what he didn’t understand is that he was taking a first choice option,” he said. “I said, ‘Abner, what you’re doing is exactly what you want to do. You’re going to use every aspect of your degree in that business. Besides, the degree is yours to apply your way.’”
Dorminey said he knows Stout will prosper as business owner due to his approach to business, life and problem-solving.
“What really stands out to me about Abner is that he does have a tendency to want to redefine a problem. I don't mean you have to see it his way. What I mean is he will take a look at a problem or a challenge, whether it be an accounting problem or challenge on the floor, he’ll look at that problem and he’ll define it differently. That’s what makes him a standout to me. That’s what will make him successful,” Dorminey said. “Defining the problem differently opens the doors to different solutions that have never been tried. That’s how he works. That’s how he thinks. And that’s how he will succeed.”
When he hangs his hat up at the end of the day, Stout knows he chose the right career path and is proud of his family’s established, but still growing, West Virginia business.
“You control your own destiny. I think it’s that I enjoy that feeling of satisfaction I get after a good day. Everybody worked hard, everything got done and everyone is happy. My customers are happy. My employees are happy. No problems. Just a good day,” he said.
Stout's entrepreneurial spirit carries over into his rental company business, Stout Holdings, LLC. He is also a member of Shriners International and participates in the Hunters Helping the Hungry program each year through Young and Stout.