STERLING Furniture Group has launched a search for a new chief executive during a landmark year for the business, after long-standing boss Gordon Mearns decided to step down.

The Tillicoultry-based retailer has declared that it is seeking a “dynamic new CEO with strong retail, data and digital expertise to take our family’s business to the next level”.

The change comes in the year Sterling, which now has 600 staff working in 10 branches across Scotland, celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Mr Mearns will retire after 20 years in the role and nearly four decades with the firm, and will remain in post until a new chief executive is appointed. He rose through the ranks at Sterling after joining in 1984, rising to become finance director and then managing director in 2003 following the death of George Knowles Jr, son of founder George Knowles Sr, at the age of 41.

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In addition to hiring a new chief executive, a trio of third generation family members are to be appointed as directors of the company. Murray and Euan Graham, sons of Lesley Graham, buying director and daughter of George Knowles Sr, will join the board, alongside Ms Graham’s nephew, George Knowles.

Ms Graham, who will continue in her current role, paid tribute to the contribution made by Mr Mearns to the company. She said: “On behalf of the family I want to extend our thanks to Gordon for his years of service and stewardship at Sterling Furniture Group and wish him all the best for the future.

“He became managing director under difficult circumstances and has led the growth of our business for more than two decades, including our acquisition of Forrest Furnishings in 2016.

“Gordon has set us on an exciting course by spearheading our rebrand to Sterling Home – as well as streamlining many of our systems and processes behind the scenes.

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“As we prepare to mark our 50th anniversary, we’ve already begun a significant investment in our Sterling Home stores and our online shop, and now we’re actively recruiting a dynamic new CEO with strong retail, data, and digital expertise to take our family’s business to the next level.

“More immediately, as part of our focus on business continuity, we are working on a company-wide employee engagement process to gauge staff views and recommendations.

“Our staff are the beating heart of our business, so it’s vital they can share their thoughts and ideas as we take the company forward into its next chapter.”

Asked whether the company had any plans to promote a family member to the chief executive role, Ms Graham told The Herald: “The family, board and company are keen to benefit from the expertise, experience and sector knowledge an external candidate will bring to the business as we enter this exciting new chapter to deliver our ambition for business longevity.

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“Sterling Furniture Group remains a family company, and I look forward to working with the new CEO as they mentor the next generation of family business leaders.”

Sterling was founded by entrepreneur George Knowles Snr in 1973, in response to the growing popularity of out-of-town retail parks in the US.

He opened the first Sterling furniture store after converting a former mill in Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire into a retail outlet.

The company was then thrust into the mainstream consciousness by a series of television adverts starring Scottish broadcaster Dougie Donnelly, and expanded beyond the central belt after the leadership was taken on by George Knowles Jr.

Mr Mearns recently presided over a major rebranding that will see the majority of the stores trade under the new Sterling Home brand.

The new name is already being used on the company’s online store.

The most recent accounts for Sterling showed the company made a pre-tax profit of £4.15 million for the year ended February 28, 2022, up from £2.6m. That came as turnover surged to £55.5m from £40m.

The directors state in the accounts: “The difficulties and challenges brought about by the pandemic have remained and have been added to with the impact of war in Ukraine.

“The Group continued its progress of converting stores to the Sterling Home format with the conversion of a further two stores in Glasgow and Edinburgh. These stores have traded well since reopening.

“Despite the challenges referenced above the business has traded well having benefited from the pent-up demand from lockdowns and from the investment in the new format stores.”

Sterling said yesterday that it expects its financial position to be stable in the year ahead, against a backdrop of uncertain trading conditions for the retail industry.