Above: The Stewart Organization’s headquarters is modern and pristine, yet unassumming.
A recent trip took us to Dallas for a visit with Walter Stewart of the Stewart Organization.
presented by Sharp, RISO and Continuum
As we plotted out our 2018 Dealer Tour, we made sure to include the Stewart Organization in Dallas/Fort Worth with headquarters in Irving, Texas. I first met Walter Stewart, the company’s chairman, more than 20 years ago at a Toshiba dealer meeting, while CJ first met him about five years ago on his first road trip to Texas. True to his roots, Stewart is a classic gentleman and treats visitors with gracious courtesy and respect.
Stewart Organization was founded in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1981. Over its first 10 years, the company established itself as one of the premier dealers in the South. The dealership’s motto was and remains, “Our service can’t be duplicated. We believe in the service business, not the sales business.”
Over the course of our relationship, I’ve had the benefit of speaking with Stewart on many occasions. On one such occasion, I asked about his motivation for becoming a copier dealer because he didn’t seem to fit the mold. Stewart had been a CPA and never had worked for a copier company as a salesman or a tech, which is how most dealers got their start.
Ever the shrewd businessman, Stewart recognized a good thing when he saw it. One of his accounting clients was a copier dealer, and that’s how he learned how profitable a copier franchise could be, propelling him to get into the industry. h
After growing his organization’s revenues to $26 million in Alabama, Stewart realized that to achieve more growth, he’d have to expand outside the Birmingham market. So, after nearly 30 years in Birmingham, he opened a Dallas office in 2010. By 2013, revenue from the Dallas and Birmingham operations combined had grown to more than $50 million.
Wanting to further broaden the Stewart Organization’s footprint in Texas, where the company’s management team anticipated a greater growth potential, Stewart made the strategic decision to sell the successful Birmingham operation to Global Imaging Systems in 2015. At the time of the sale, the Stewart Organization was the second largest imaging and office technology supplier in Birmingham and represented approximately $20 million of the dealership’s total annual revenue of $50 million in business.
I recall calling to congratulate him and asking what he was going to do with the deal’s profits. “Expand in Houston,” he said.
The Stewart Organization subsequently began shifting its headquarters from Birmingham to Dallas, having invested in a new 9,000-square foot building in the northwest Houston area. By May 2016, Stewart had moved the Houston branch into a 40,000-square foot building, elevating the company’s profile in the community and allowing it to further tap into the potential of the Houston market. In line with this move, the company planned to add more than 100 employees in the coming years.
By 2017, the Stewart Organization’s revenues in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston markets had grown to $45 million, coming within arm’s reach of the total company revenue before the sale of the Birmingham business. As a premier Canon dealer, the company now has an office in San Antonio and a local phone number in Austin with plans to open an office there soon.
Upon entering the Stewart Organization’s Dallas headquarters, customers will note that it has the look and feel of a professional consultancy; there is not a machine in sight. But once a customer gets to the demo room on the second floor, it becomes obvious that this is a business that sells and services copiers and printers.
An Enthusiastic Welcome
Upon our arrival in Dallas, Stewart picked us up at the airport, and brought us to one of his favorite restaurants in Dallas, Fernando’s, where we enjoyed chicken tacos and quesadillas. True to form, Stewart spoke candidly about his business and offered insightful advice about transitioning a business.
In our conversations over lunch, it was clear Stewart’s enthusiasm has not waned one iota. Stewart, himself, remains driven to succeed and claims that given a level playing field, he can beat the competition. Despite his competitive nature, he never comes off as overly aggressive, especially toward his competitors. Instead, his confidence is rooted in his dedicated approach to the business and his customers.
As I am with every dealer visit, I am truly grateful to Walter Stewart for his kindness and genuine interest in what we are attempting to accomplish with our Dealer Tour. We are indeed fortunate to have so many friends in virtually every part of this country. As our dear friend Roger King of EO Johnson likes to remind us, “Count your blessings.”