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Business & Politics in Arkansas VOLUME 3, ISSUE 2 ~ Q2 2010








The State’s Political Primary Season Begins





the Polit

What’s Rising To The Surface Among Arkansas Voters?

Bringing It All Together At The Butler Center

l a ic

i n U

George’s Majestic Lounge Need We Say More? Private Colleges Respond To The Recession

jay howard, 29 Contemporary Thinker I.O. Metro CEO Bentonville By Sandra McGrew TBQ Staff Writer

It started out as a part-time venture and within 5 years turned into 16 successful furniture stores in the central United States. Not bad, considering the current recession put thousands of people out of a job and shut retail doors across the country. I.O. Metro CEO Jay Howard is 29 years old and if you’ve ever been in one of his stores, you’ve probably wanted to leave with everything in sight. Animal print chair. Buddha candleholder. Wall of Mirrors. Galley table from a Renaissance ship. The stores offer a mix of modern and eclectic furniture, quality items Howard says you won’t find in other name-brand furniture stores. I.O. Metro is a swanky store by all appearances with a huge emphasis on customer service. An irresistible inventory combined with hard work and a loyal employee base is Howard’s secret sauce for a growing business during tough economic times. Howard grew up in Helena, Arkansas and graduated from Westminster College in 2003 with a degree in Business Finance. He began his career as a National Sales Manager at J. Hunt Lighting in Jonesboro where he was responsible for product development, importing and account management for the Target Corp. account. He then worked at Lebanon Seaboard Corp. in Rogers serving as national account manager for Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. In 2005, Howard saw an opportunity that he didn’t even know would turn a part-time gig into something much more. “We were looking to fill a vacancy in a retail strip center that I was a partner in. I had knowledge of home furnishings and thought that was a good temporary idea,” said Howard. Howard opened his first store in Bentonville, under the name Interior Outlet (I.O.). It was a huge success that turned Howard’s


TBQ • Q2 2010

temporary idea into a booming business. “It quickly made me realize it wasn’t going to be a second job, it was going to be all consuming,” Howard said. Howard credits his success in part to his loyal employees. “[It’s a] huge part of it, not only for retail, but furniture retail specifically. We have a very low turnover rate and even more so in management.” He said his stores have been able to maintain sales during the recession with increased services and product offerings. “The reason we haven’t seen it on a sales level is, in the couple of years and months leading up to the real hint of the recession, we had done a lot of things to continuously improve our business including product offering, quality, and in-store experience.” Howard stays heavily involved in the product development and sourcing side of the business. He just traveled to China to view samples for his store. “Its important for vendors to see me and know I’m behind the product, behind the business, behind what we’re buying from them.” Overall, it’s been “quite a ride,” he adds. And, that ride looks like it might get wilder as Howard plans to open five additional stores in Missouri and Georgia before the end of this year. Also on the horizon this year, Howard said the company will begin to focus on e-commerce, spreading business opportunities beyond the store walls. While Howard says the message of I.O. Metro will continue to spread throughout the U.S., he may have another venture adventure up his sleeve. This contemporary thinker hopes to launch a second retail concept store this year. Wonder where that will take him? TBQ

“It’s been quite a ride.”

photograph By STEVEN JONES

TBQ • Q2 2010


Young Guns - Talk Business Quarterly, April 2010  

Jay Howard, Contemporary Thinker