Napoleon turned up the heat and doubled its growth in five years

How Co-CEO Stephen Schroeter has expanded his family’s Barrie-based business into new product segments and new continents

 
Canada’s Best Managed Companies

 

Started in a garage

“The origin of our company goes back to the late 1970s. My father [Wolfgang Schroeter] was working as a tool and die maker, and, at the time, there wasn’t a lot of work. He’s the type who always needs something to do, so my grandfather went to him and said, “I’d like to buy a wood stove, but they’re pretty expensive. Do you think you could build one in your off time?” My father came up with his own design and made a wood stove for my grandfather, and another one for himself. Sure enough, a neighbour saw him welding in the garage, and they wanted one too—and things just snowballed from there.

Later, my dad was the first person to put a single piece of glass into a wood stove so that you could see the fire. This was unique because, at the time, stoves just had solid plate doors at the front. Initially, he got laughed at, because the glass would get dirty. But when he figured out a way to clean the glass using an air-wash system, my father was the one laughing back!”

Growth strategy

“In 2013, we set out to double the company in five years. It was a pretty lofty goal, but we met it on schedule. We had about 800 associates, and now we’re up to 1,600. Sixty percent of our revenue now comes from international sales, which is quite amazing for a small Canadian manufacturing company.

Our goal is to hit 30 percent of sales every year with new products. It’s a tough goal, but it really drives our company forward.

We have three main divisions in our company: wood stoves, gas grills and HVAC systems. We have a research and development department for each segment. They have a 100-percent focus on new products, and that’s a strong reason why we release so many new products every year.”

Professionalizing the Business

“In August 2018, my brother [Christopher] and I were named co-CEOs of the company. It’s a big change for us, now that our parents have retired. My brother and I are trying to take it from a family-run business with two decision-makers to more of a professionally-run company. Chris mainly looks after operations and research and development; we have a president, who is very strong in finance and in managing the teams; and my forte is sales and marketing. I call the three of us a trifecta of power, and it really works. I struggle to think that one person can actually run an entire company, and be good at every single segment of the business.”

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 


 

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