Storey Kenworthy, Des Moines, Iowa

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Des Moines, Iowa-based Storey Kenworthy was established in 1936 by the Storey and Kenworthy families. The Kenworthys bought out the Storey family in 1980. Today, the fourth Kenworthy generation has entered the dealership. According to vice president Lincoln Dix, most of the company’s business comes from the banking/finance, insurance and agriculture industries.

Three reign supreme

When asked about the secrets of the company’s more than eight decades of success, Lincoln doesn’t hesitate. “The top three reasons we’ve been successful are our culture, our people and diversification,” he says. “Having owners and leaders who invest in a good culture and make decisions to support that culture is the most critical key to success. We believe culture exists by design or default. Leaders should be intentional about creating a unique culture; if they aren’t willing to invest the necessary time, money, energy and resources, employees will create their own. Usually, with the absence of good leadership and information, and given that the human species can often be negative, the culture they create will tend to be negative too. Good cultures have employees who make good decisions; but most importantly, good cultures allow employees to make mistakes. Experimentation and risk taking, in an environment of acceptance and understanding that sometimes these risks might fail but will serve as a learning experience, promote entrepreneurial thinking.”

Lincoln believes hiring people who fit the culture is the second key: “What is most important to us in our recruiting and hiring is not the skill set; that can be taught. We look at who the candidate is as a person and whether they will fit into our culture. People can be highly qualified and in our pay range, but we don’t want to hire them if they are not a good fit for the team. Sometimes mistakes are made and fixing them takes courage. You need to be willing to terminate people—even high performers—if they are only out for themselves and destroying the team’s productivity. Anyone can recite a vision statement, but you need to look at what they are doing to be sure they understand and are carrying out your core values.”

And then there is diversification. “Core office product sales continue to shrink, so you have to have a diverse product mix,” Lincoln explains. “We got into print and promotions 11 years ago through an acquisition. Currently, we are expanding into packaging, industrial supplies and maintenance, repair and operations.”

Other factors have also played a part in Storey Kenworthy’s continued success. “The company is extremely fiscally conservative,” says Lincoln. “The leaders have invested smartly and believe in investing the profit back into the company.” One area in which the company is “investing heavily” is technology, including creating web stores for client-approved, customizable products.

Laying pipe for the future

Lincoln offers this advice for other dealers looking for success: “About five to 10 years ago, the owners started succession planning and realized they needed to hire some people for specific areas. They hired four people, including me. We came from large Fortune 1000 and Fortune 500 companies and were willing to take a pay cut for the right environment and a better work-life balance. The owners don’t want to be known as the company that pays the most, as that is not sustainable. They want to be a company that is loved by its employees. Many of our employees could go to another company and make more, but they like the culture, people and benefits. We enjoy working here. If you hire people who care
about having a good culture and offer them that, they will like working for you and stay.”


Headquarters: Des Moines, Iowa

Top management: John Kenworthy, president; Lincoln Dix, vice president; Ryan Boyington, partner; Jim Mueller, chief operations officer; Julie Beinke, vice president of human resources

First call wholesaler: S.P. Richards

Online sales: Transactional items, 80% to 85%; all product categories, including customization, 50%

No. of employees: 200+