Change marks history of Stocks

Change marks history of Stocks

CHAMPAIGN — Maggie McGuire went to work for Stocks Inc. as a Xerox machine operator in 1979.

Thirty-five years later, she owns the company, and it's a drastically different operation from when she first signed on.

Today, Stocks sells office furniture, but when the company was founded by Joe Stocks in 1954, it was a blueprint and photography service.

"What we do today involves not a single thing of what the company did originally," said Stocks' son-in-law, Raymond "Skip" Eissfeldt, who joined the business in 1967 and recently sold it to McGuire. "No drafting supplies, no blueprints, no commercial Xerox machines."

Soon after joining the business, Eissfeldt saw an opportunity in office furniture, and Stocks gave him seed money to pursue that.

"Now Stocks is a $7 million to $8 million company," selling thousands of chairs a year, Eissfeldt said.

Chairs account for about 40 percent of Stocks Inc.'s sales, he added. Office systems — which include panels and desks — account for another 40 percent, and the remaining 20 percent includes individual desks and other products.

McGuire didn't remain a Xerox machine operator for long. In the early to mid-1980s, she convinced Eissfeldt to let her start selling office furniture — and she hasn't stopped since.

"No one will ever outwork Maggie," Eissfeldt said, noting she handled nearly $2 million in sales for the Carle Tower project last year. "She's earned the opportunity (to buy the business) and the respect of the other employees."

A native of Vermont, Ill., in the western part of the state, McGuire moved to Champaign at age 21 with her husband and a new baby. She took the job at Stocks the following year.

McGuire confesses she didn't see herself moving into an ownership role until recent years. But she said she feels good about it, given her experience and the jobs she has mastered.

"It's a natural progression," she said. "I know the operation, and Skip will stay to help for a few years."

Eissfeldt said most of Stocks' business comes from within 75 miles of Champaign. At one time, Stocks had an arrangement with an insurance company to furnish all its agents' offices across the country when they moved to newer, smaller quarters. But that portion of the business has slowed.

When the economic downturn struck in late 2008 and 2009, the office furniture business was hit hard. Eissfeldt said the industry saw sales plummet from $15 billion a year to $8.5 billion a year. Stocks saw its annual revenues drop from about $7 million to $3.5 million, he said.

"We had sold a couple big jobs at the height. But about a year later, we had the same challenges as everyone else," he said.

Each year since then has been a little better, he added.

"Last year was a record year for us," he said, citing the Carle Tower project as a principal contributor. This year, Eissfeldt said he expects Stocks to furnish the new electrical and computer engineering building on the University of Illinois campus.

"The educational markets, the financial (institution) markets and the medical markets are the ones that are the healthiest — the ones with which we're doing the most business," he said. "Banks, insurance companies, Parkland College and the University of Illinois."

Eissfeldt said the office furniture companies is dominated by four major brands — Allsteel, Steelcase, Herman Miller and Haworth — and Stocks represents Allsteel, a division of HON Industries, in East Central Illinois.

The son of a Lutheran minister, Eissfeldt was born in Addison and later moved to Sycamore and Peoria with his family. In 1959, the family relocated to Champaign. Eissfeldt then attended several years of high school and two years of junior college in a pre-ministerial program in the Concordia system, first in Milwaukee and later in Fort Wayne. Eissfeldt then transferred to the University of Illinois where he majored in sociology.

He married Sally Stocks, worked at a local sporting goods store for a year, and then went to work for his father-in-law. Following Mr. Stocks' death in 1970, Eissfeldt ran the business for his mother-in-law. After he and Sally divorced, Eissfeldt continued with the business and eventually bought it. Today, the company has 14 full-time and two part-time employees. Seven of the employees have worked there at least 14 years.

Stocks — known in its early days as Champaign Blue Print and Photography — started out with a store at 65 E. University Ave., C, and moved to 510 N. Neil St., C, in 1959. The business bought Twin City Blue Print at 123 N. Race St., U, in 1961. Stocks remained in downtown Champaign until 1995, when it moved to a new 13,000 square-foot building at Country Fair Drive and University Avenue in Champaign. In 2004, Stocks moved to its current location at 602 S. Country Fair Drive, C.

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