150 Years of Tradition & Innovation: An Interview with August Jones of U.S. Stove Company
Nov. 20, 2019
When you’re at the helm of a company with 150 years of business under its belt, you sometimes don’t have the time to sit down and reflect. But that’s exactly what we asked August Jones, President of U.S. Stove, to do.
In our conversation, he pondered the many successes and achievements of the company, as well as its continual drive to see future successes. A rich history of innovation has laid the foundation, and U.S. Stove has continued to build on it in Jones’ 15 years with the business.
Trend: First off, U.S. Stove is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year! What does it mean to you to be leading such a long-tenured heritage brand that has impacted people positively for a century and a half?
Jones: When I think about what it means to me, I think about the thing that pulls on my heartstrings the most — our people. When you look at any company, people are what define it. Our employee base is amazing. We have a strong, close-knit, family-oriented group of people who are passionate about what they do. A lot of them, like myself, are multi-generation employees — with parents, grandparents, uncles or siblings who have also worked for our company.
As we celebrate 150 years, the part of it that means the most to me is being able to stand side by side with people I would call coworkers, not employees. People who are just as passionate as I am about the company, where it’s been and where it’s going.
Trend: A key to such longevity has got to be innovation. What are some of the things that have happened under your watch, innovation-wise, since you've taken the leadership reins at U.S. Stove?
Jones: Innovation is one of the things we pride ourselves on the most. It’s all about embodying an entrepreneurial spirit, reinventing ourselves from the standpoint of innovation.
Product innovation has become even more critical with changing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines. We’ve essentially reinvented our entire product line. What we have today — what we sell — none of it existed 10 years ago. We’ve completely reinvented ourselves.
We’re offering products that are cleaner and more efficient, and they have a more modern look to meet consumer demand. It’s not just about function; it’s also about fit and form. We’ve tailored our entire product line to do just that, through every division of U.S. Stove.
Trend: Of course, the biggest impetus for innovation recently at U.S. Stove has been the new 2020 EPA regulations that soon go into effect. Can you tell us about how U.S. Stove has maneuvered to accommodate those rules?
Jones: There were two steps: One was implemented a little less than five years ago, and the other one is being implemented in 2020. We adapted and evolved for the first stage, and we’re ready to go for May 2020. We’ve already started transitioning all of our customers and retailers to those products.
The EPA opened its doors to our industry, allowing various manufacturers to have a say. I think that we had a strong voice. Not necessarily one that dictated what the end outcome would be, but we definitely had an open dialogue. This allowed us to really redesign our product in a way that wouldn’t be counterintuitive in the marketplace.
To get up to speed with these changes, we launched our own state-of-the-art testing laboratory and partnered with a third-party testing agency that allowed us to do a tremendous amount of research and development. Obviously, not all of it worked, but it was trial and error. We put a lot of horsepower behind that.
We’re using secondary combustion technology, as opposed to catalytic like most other businesses. It’s basically a reburn. It’s super hot and burns off emissions — making for a cleaner burn that is within EPA guidelines.
After 150 years of design and technology, I have the confidence to say: Our engineers know what they’re doing.
Trend: Environmental sustainability is a matter that will impact most businesses in the future. What advice would you share with other business leaders who are, or soon will be, trying to figure out how to be better environmental stewards?
Jones: I would say embrace it. See it as the glass is half-full, not half-empty. See it as an opportunity to build on your company’s longevity.
In our case, working on our product line to align with EPA regulations allowed us to pursue additional market share, and it allowed us to refresh products that probably needed to be revisited anyway.
Build relationships with organizations and governing bodies who can assist. We have found that if you’re interested in opening a conversation, there are organizations out there willing to share their expertise and knowledge.
Trend: When you think about the future of U.S. Stove and its leadership role in the heating industry, what does it look like to you?
Jones: In one word: dominant. I think we’re positioned to be the dominant leader — and even more so, the dominant leader within our industry — and in a situation that allows us to become even more diverse than we already are.
We’re thinking locally and acting globally. We continue to broaden our horizons to global markets in places like Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. Essentially, we sell our product everywhere but Antarctica. I think that our innovations and our continued determination to reinvent ourselves definitely allows us to pursue any type of product, including wood, pellet, gas and HVAC.
I’m really excited about where we are as a company and what we’ve done. There aren’t many other businesses in our space that have been able to accomplish what we have, and I’m proud to say that we have been able to take adversity and challenges and turn them into exciting new opportunities. As I look to the future, I see this trend of turning adversity into opportunity continuing for US Stove.