Supplier Entrepreneur of the Year - Richard Firkser

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St Regis CrystalConsider Y2K a boon for St Regis Crystal (asi/84595). The company had recently opened shop – and it had a product on hand that was in high demand when the Year 2000 was being rung in across the world.

"We were very fortunate that we had a hot commodity on our hands in 1999 – it was called the Millennium Flute," says company owner Richard Firkser. "It was a champagne glass that had the year 2000 in the stem. That became quite rare because manufacturers were booked out early in the year in anticipation of the new Millennium."

Fresh from the tabletop dinnerware industry, Firkser and his wife were motivated by the early success. "At the time we were looking to expand our offerings in the tableware business, and we were looking to monogram crystal glasses as an extension of the dinnerware offering," Firkser says. "We came across the deep etching method of decorating, and we decided the corporate gift market would be a good opportunity."

It was a humble beginning. The first St Regis catalog was all of 24 pages, showcasing around 100 products. "Right now our current catalog is 592 pages and probably about four-and-a-half thousand SKUs," Firkser says.

Much of the key, though, to St Regis' recent growth is from acquisitions – in 2006, Firkser made his first purchase, acquiring Martin Company. A recent string of further deals in the past 18 months has allowed St Regis to add on additional suppliers, including Prestige Glass, Waterleaf Studios and R S Owens, the awards manufacturer.

Buying Owens meant becoming the manufacturer of the Oscar awards. "What we came to realize after the fact is that the Oscar is certainly an incredible, recognizable and large brand," he says. "It was a nice side benefit to the acquisition, and as the manufacturer it's very prestigious."

Despite the newfound fame from the Owens purchase, future acquisitions are integral to Firkser's growth plans. "With acquisitions, we've doubled or tripled our business on an annual basis," he says. "Organic national growth has also been 20% to 30% per year."

And while all companies are under the same umbrella, Firkser prefers to keep the individual brand identities. "All the companies that we've purchased… we haven't taken the items and slipped them into our catalog," he says. "We've really continued with their brands, so we maintain their catalogs."

With a strong central hub of operation, St Regis is poised to capitalize on the foundation that Firkser has built since he started his company in the late 1990s. "We've put together a well-organized, efficient logistical situation," Firkser says. "Order management, inventory management, financial management of running our kind of organization – we currently operate four facilities but lots of the functions are centralized. There are a lot of efficiencies and synergies that are created that significantly reduce overhead."

Ever the entrepreneur, Firkser has no plans to sit back and relax. "We're constantly on the lookout for opportunity," he says. "It's a means for us to continue to grow. The economic situation of the last few years has also helped us along in the acquisition trail. I have to say we've been fortunate enough to take advantage of situations." – JH