The first time I met the Steller Floors team, they were looking for a new home for their quickly growing business. It was in those heady days before COVID restrictions, at an after-hours entrepreneurial meetup in a coffee shop, where the business ideas ranged from kombucha to farm-fresh ice cream to a regional magazine. After growing from four employees to 15, the company is investing in its home base to customers around the globe.
Husband and wife team Evan Stover and Britta Teller shared the Steller story. They’d met as biology students in college. Evan’s father, Lee, had spent his career in wood products and Evan joined him in the industry when they started a consulting company. They spent a lot of time looking at malfunctioning hardwood floors in people’s homes and realized the need for a product that worked with the wood’s natural properties, not against it. Britta was working on her PhD in plant science and soon caught the wood products bug as they invented their Steller product: wood flooring that clicks together to form a floating floor, requiring no special installation and, best of all, it can be uninstalled and removed to be used again and again. They applied for a patent on the weekend they got married and launched Steller Floors in 2018.
At the 2019 meetup, this was all fairly recent news. They talked about their company like parents talk about a new baby — breathless with excitement, exhausted at the never-ending work and planning for the future. Instead of baby pictures, they passed around a piece of the interlocking wood panels, so simple it was ingenious, and the sample could be heard clicking around the room as people played with it.
When I saw their name in a press release about startups that recently received funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners, my interest was piqued. What happened in those months after their first meteoric rise? Where did they move? What’s next for the little startup that was sending wood flooring to every state from Maine to California?
Starting up backwards … with a viral video
“I remember that event,” Britta says when I tell her where I’d first heard the Steller story. “It was our first ‘sighted in public’ moment,” she says with a laugh. “We were in this video from a trade show — our very first trade show — and it went viral. Guys from that Lewistown entrepreneurial meet-up recognized us. They ended up visiting our plant and then buying flooring for a downtown Lewistown office building.”
And while she says they were “blown away” by the entrepreneurial spirit of small towns scattered across central Pennsylvania, from Lewistown to Clearfield to Bedford, they ultimately decided to ‘firmly commit’ to the small town of Tyrone, a short drive south on I-99 from State College, where they’d started their journey.
“We decided to expand our footprint right where we started,” she says. “We’ve been able to create sustainable employment in Tyrone. When lawyers from Minnesota install a floor, more Tyrone families go on vacation, more kids go to camp, more entrepreneurs grow. You have to plug in to the local community and we have. Ultimately, the more we invest, the more our own son has a better community to grow up in.”
“Welcome to Phase Two of Steller Floors!”
As for the rest of their growth? “Welcome to Phase Two of Steller Floors!” Britta says.
“We did everything backwards by accident. We booked a trade show, threw together a brand name that combined our last names (Teller + Stover), got caught on a YouTube channel and went viral. Yes, we launched, but it was all homegrown. Ben Franklin helped us renovate our webpage, develop a logo — a whole heavy lift. For a small company, there isn’t always pocket cash for a branded launch while you’re paying employees and leasing space, but they helped us invest in doing it right.”
Ben Franklin’s expertise went far beyond branding with support in HR, accounting and, ultimately, leadership. “They said that when we got overwhelmed we could lean on them, and we said, ‘How hard?’ We hired their Entrepreneur-in-Residence Scott Johnson to serve as our CEO, starting in July. It’s essentially been a 2+ year job interview, and we got very lucky to find someone with this much expertise in resource economics, manufacturing, employment issues and advice on how to expand. It’s a really great step forward.”
“We’ve had our first truly great month that will lead to a profitable quarter, with a goal of a profitable year,” adds Britta. After a COVID year setback, company growth has exploded, going from four employees to 15, with plans for more hires in coming months.
“We are super-excited about the path we’re on,” Britta says, “And our customer responses have been so much fun, honestly.” Each floor sale comes with a complementary Zoom call with Evan and Britta. A few weeks ago, a Grammy Award-winning violinist was installing a floor in her living room in her downtime and used her Zoom call to get advice on how to transition the floor into her bathroom. “People enjoy being able to work with their hands.”
“We’re in the next phase of growth,” Britta says. “The metamorphosis stage — looking to add more employees, do a physical buildout and look to expand our reach internationally. It’s really fantastic.”