Coastal’s approach is to become more public and rely on enthusiasts — the dedicated groups that make pets their profession and who live the lifestyle — to back the brand.
The other part of the brand story is told by retailers via the presentation of Coastal’s products. Stout says Coastal curates its retail relationships in part through its authorized dealer program. Those that hit the metaphorical bullseye have clean stores and well-trained staff, training that Coastal will provide, if necessary.
“We promote and support retailers that are going to give the consumer a great experience,” Stout says.
That also means Coastal will exit relationships with customers that don’t abide its guidelines.
“We turn off customers that don’t follow our MAP,” she says. “And we’re private, so we can do what we feel is best for consumers for the long term.”
A graduate of The Ohio State University and Rhode Island School of Design, Stout taught public school in Maryland outside Washington, D.C. She joined the family business after she was asked to fill in as a Mid-Atlantic sales rep, splitting her time between school and sales.
But it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that she would work for the family business. Coastal was a staple in her life — it had always been there and, presumably, would always be. So she went her own route and became a teacher, until she became disenchanted with the profession.
“What I didn’t like about teaching is there’s a real social work aspect to it that was really defeating,” she says. “And so I decided it was not going to be for me long term.”
Stout left the vocation and Maryland to join the company in Alliance full time in a marketing capacity. Soon, she was director of sales and marketing, and shortly after, the company’s president.
When she took her seat in the president’s chair, she saw the market through the eyes of a marketer, carrying with her the principle that customers drive Coastal’s business. But it also meant her vision in other aspects of the business was limited, such as in operations.
She pulled herself out of the sales and marketing role, hired her replacements, and spent more time in operations, walking the department floor and talking with personnel, as well as finding more familiar ways to immerse herself in the business.
“The clarity comes from doing the work, thinking and spending a lot of time planning,” Stout says. “I tend to be a little bit of a book person. That’s the teacher background. You have an objective: We’re going to go from here to here, and these are the steps. My father’s not book-oriented, so it’s very different leadership styles. At the end of the day, I think one of the benefits is that I know I am not an expert in the functional areas. But I have an umbrella view of the industry and the customers.”
She says she’s always looking for alignment and identifying where gaps exist — how the company could get a better handle on returns, for example, by understanding what is happening on the transaction side — to keep the bigger picture in view.
Maintenance isn’t dynamic
Helping her acclimate to her presidential responsibilities are the company’s advisory board, reading, mentors she’s found along the way — friendly ears on been-there-done-that vets from a variety of industries willing to be a sounding board and offer perspective — and her father.
The goal, naturally, is to grow Coastal.
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” she says.
The growth goal at Coastal, however, is steady and incremental, with an emphasis on investments, whether in internal systems or people, or external in partnerships and acquisitions.
“You have to set goals to execute goals,” Stout says. “And if you’re not getting to the goals that you and the team set, you really have to be self-reflective. What got us here won’t get us there. So you’ve got to keep an open mind.”
But one thing the organization won’t do — pun intended — is sit.
“You don’t want to be the custodian because maintenance isn’t dynamic,” she says. “But it’s a really good foundation I can leverage. There’s a lot of support that comes from that. It takes years to build that sort of integrity and reputation, but you can’t hold still, either. I’ve got to find the piece that I’m passionate about that’s different to move it forward.”
» Leverage outside expertise to increase speed to-market.
» Adapt to market realities
» Shore up deficiencies to be a more well-rounded leader.