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Hammering out a business: Stone County Ironworks hopes to expand European sales.

David Mathews of Stone County Ironworks always is looking for new markets.

These days, Mathews is looking to Europe.

Mathews, the founder and chief executive officer of the Mountain View iron products company, spent last week on a marketing expedition to Germany. He says he wanted "a knowledge of their markets and their interests."

Mathews is a member of the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America's board.

He was accompanied to Germany by the company's marketing director, Alice Strack.

"We're in Japan and Canada, and we have an English connection," says Mathews, 38, who is exploring possible partnerships with Russian blacksmiths.

In November, Stone County Ironworks was named to Inc. magazine's list of the country's 500 fastest-growing privately held companies. It was the only Arkansas company to make the list.

The rankings were based on percentage increases in sales from 1986 through 1990. Companies had to show at least $100,000 but no more than $25 million in sales for 1986. They also had to register a sales increase between 1989 and 1990. Regulated banks and utilities were not eligible.

Stone County Ironworks traces its roots to 1973.

Mathews, the son of an Alabama aerospace engineer, says he "grew up as one of those disillusioned youths."

Moving to Stone County in 1973 in a Volkswagen bus, Mathews purchased 40 acres for $111 an acre. Mathews, who was 19 at the time, managed to make a living from odd jobs such as cutting firewood and surveying land.

"It was so far out in the woods that we couldn't get electricity run out to us," says Mathews, who used a gas generator to provide power for his home.

Mathews took a job in the blacksmith shop at the Ozark Folk Center near Mountain View in 1976. He had begun work at the state facility a year earlier, mowing grass and cleaning rest rooms.

In the blacksmith shop, Mathews discovered his calling.

A grant from the Committee of 100, a non-profit service organization, allowed Mathews to study his craft. Soon afterward, he began his own business in an abandoned service station.

Stone County Ironworks, incorporated in 1983, grew out of Mathews' travels to craft fairs and trade shows throughout the region. He was convinced by his participation in such events to diversify his product line and change his marketing strategy from retail sales to wholesale.

Variety Of Products

Stone County Ironworks, with annual sales of almost $3 million, is now one of the largest employers in the county of 10,000 people. The company produces beds, tables, baker's racks, candelabra, decorative accessories and gift items.

Mathews is involved in the design of all products to maintain "a sense of continuity."

"We have an eclectic line of items," he says. "Some have a country feel, some have a Southwestern feel."

Mathews' products can be purchased at upscale department stores such as Bloomingdale's and Neiman-Marcus. They also can be found at The Ironworks, a retail outlet owned by Mathews in the recently revived downtown area of Mountain View.

"We have puppet shows and blacksmith demonstrations," Mathews says of the downtown outlet.

The firm maintains wholesale showrooms in Atlanta and High Point, N.C.
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Title Annotation:Across Arkansas: Southwest; Stone County Ironworks Co.
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Mar 29, 1992
Words:528
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