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10 to watch in 2007: Stephen Knopik

Beall's new CEO is greeted by store stagnation, new competition.

By Mark Albright, Times Staff Writer
Published March 11, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Steven Knopik, Chief Executive Officer of Bealls Inc.

BRADENTON - Stephen Knopik is getting his baptism of fire as the first nonfamily chief executive of closely held Beall's Inc.

"It's going to be a tough year," said Knopik, 51, who was mentored for the job by chairman Robert Beall, 63, the third generation of the Beall family to guide a Florida retailing tradition that goes back to 1915.

Consider: The 86-department store chain's five years of robust sales gains turned tepid this winter. The 486-store Beall's Outlets and Burke's Outlets unit shows signs of stagnation, posting the first-ever monthly declines in stores open more than a year.

The soaring energy costs, taxes and the housing slump that triggered cutbacks in home construction in Beall's stronghold markets in the west coast of Florida are taking a toll at the cash register. Meanwhile, new rivals such as Kohl's are vying for the moderately priced apparel customer by flooding the market with stores, thanks to a shopping-center building spree on the I-75 corridor.

Oh, then there's the disruption of moving to a new headquarters acquired from Tropicana Products Inc. Plus a mind-numbing, attention-sucking conversion of all of Beall's collection of legacy computer systems into a single software platform that's costing more than anyone expected.

For the soft-spoken Knopik, an unflappable, button-down numbers guy, it's just a pause in a business cycle that requires tweaking much of how Beall's does business. After all, when Beall hired him to be the chief financial officer 22 years ago, the company had annual revenues of $84-milion. That has soared to $1.23-billion, with outlets, which account for about 45 percent of Beall's revenues, scattered from California to North Carolina.

"It's going to take a year or two to get the outlets back on track, but I see us doubling revenues again over the next five years," Knopik said.

The CEO hopes to counter the competition, which is trying to get the moderate customer to trade up to slightly pricier goods. Beall's is sticking with its colorful year-round Florida look while stepping up the remodeling and store-building program after a two-year lapse.

Knopik, the guy who caught the touchdown pass to win a state championship for Sarasota Cardinal Mooney High School in 1972, exudes confidence. On the other hand, he also learned about foolish risks after setting his pants on fire playing with matches as a 5-year-old and endured painful skin grafts on a leg.

He is a veteran, behind-the-scenes retail executive who somehow never worked in a store.

The son of a Sarasota aeronautical engineer, Knopik entered the University of Florida in pre-law, but left as an accountant. He spent seven years auditing retailers such as Publix Super Markets for Peat Marwick in Tampa, where his brother, Chris, is a prominent plaintiff's lawyer. He hired on with Beall's at age 28 to be closer to home when his mother was fighting cancer.

A confessed homebody, Knopik cut back on golf to spend more time with wife, Beth, a onetime commercial loan officer, and kids, Leanna, 11, and Rogers, 8. A typical Sunday finds him watching sports on TV while making fancy dinners like osso buco. He's been won over by the family's first pup, a Doberman named Lucy.

The nightly home arrival routine has become: "Lucy! I'm home!"

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

[Last modified March 9, 2007, 20:54:36]


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