Responsive, too, is the company's founder, who in 17 years has seen and overseen plenty of transformation. Stroud says he's still adjusting to one recent change, however: turning the job of CEO over to company veteran Wayne Selness in 1994. Stroud continues to act as chairman, providing vision and guidance for the firm. "My job now is to ensure we have the right management staff and to look at the direction the company is taking," Stroud says. "It's a big switch for me, not being hands-on in operations."
At 70, though, Stroud feels the change is healthy-both for the company and for himself. He describes himself as a man whose main hobby is business. "I like to read and go fly-fishing," he concedes, "but I've always most enjoyed running this company."
While Stroud may be logging fewer hours these days, his influence on the firm has hardly dwindled. "My father has put a very strong imprint on this company," says Jeff. "His ideas and principles are very much alive in the people who work here."
Case in point: Jeff's recent spearheading of an experimental new kitchenware department. Under Jeff's direction, a few stores have begun selling dinnerware, cookware, cutlery and related items. "Throughout the company's history, we've taken the approach of selling whole rooms-bedrooms instead of bedspreads, bathrooms and not just towels. The only exception has been the kitchen and dining room, where we've sold only table linens," explains Jeff.
If successful, the new department will put Strouds on a whole new playing field. And while Jeff is enthusiastic about that prospect, he's also suitably awed by his father's precedent. "Seeing what a great job we do with linens, it's a real challenge to create a kitchen department that lives up to those standards," he says. "My father built this company on the idea that if we were going to get into a business, we had to do it in a meaningful, competitive way. That rule is as indelible today as ever."