2018 Nominee Seven: Coastal Pet Products, Inc.

As children, Jim Stout and his siblings were given pigs by their father. The others quickly sold theirs for a profit at the Wayne County Fair. Jim turned his pig into a breeding business that generated profit for years to come. Some entrepreneurs are just born that way.

Jim Stout has a lot of homespun sayings that define different parts of his remarkable life. About his childhood on a Shreve, Ohio farm, he says, “We were raised so poor we couldn’t pay attention.”

When driving a school bus to make ends meet during Coastal Pet Products early years, he mused, “We didn’t really need the money. I just did it to feed the kids.”

When he split from some early partners, he noted: “Best partnership I ever saw was bad.”

When talking about how he rose from poverty to lead a worldwide pet products empire with his own western Pennsylvania racetrack and a lobby filled with hunting trophies from around the world, he says: “Do what you do well and you’ll be compensated.”

Jim Stout was raised on common sense, but his uncommon business intuition made him a success in the hyper-competitive pet products industry. After working his way through The Ohio State University, Jim was sent to Boston to open Stouffer’s Top Of The Hub restaurant. Meanwhile his brother Tom and a friend started a side business in Alliance, Ohio, making dog leashes and collars out of poly ski rope.

Tired of the restaurant business, Jim made a few sales calls for his brother’s company and soon had contracts with many distributors. Disagreements among the partners led Jim and Tom to start Coastal Pet Products, named after Jim’s love of scuba diving. Jim became sole owner after buying out Tom who died well before his time. Soon the fun began.

Jim always wanted to sell the best, not the cheapest, so he developed a constantly growing line of high quality pet products and bought companies with similar standards. Following lessons learned when his father gave him the pig, Jim sacrificed present comfort for future success and was rewarded with steady, year-after-year growth.

There were bumps along the way, but when it came to customers, banks and vendors, Jim’s instinct was to “never put yourself in a position where they can kill you.” They never did.

A good part of Coastal’s growth was built around flagship items Jim designed. His contoured Kanine Buckle became the industry standard, sold by other pet product companies around the world. Coastal pioneered other innovations in pet products and, in time, became the proverbial “overnight success that took 50 years to build.”

Today, Jim’s daughter Kim is president and his eventual successor. From his new office down the hall, he can see a company built with his own labor, intuition, inventiveness and business acumen. The 400,000 sq. ft., meticulously clean manufacturing facility is built beside a man-made lake. There’s a 372 acre road-racing track north of Pittsburgh and a shiny 18-wheel rig to ferry his own race cars. There are over 450 employees, many who’ve been with him for years, and over 7,500 products sold worldwide.

Despite all this success, Jim always remembers a story told by an early business mentor: A man asked his professor about the secret to success. The professor said, “Jump when opportunity knocks.” When asked how to know when a good opportunity is knocking, he answered: “Just keep jumping.”

For 50 years Jim Stout and Coastal Pet Products have rarely stood still.