After nearly two decades as owner of A&B Accessories in West Fork, Arkansas, John Olson is retiring. With no plans for further business ventures, Olson says his only goal for this new act in his life is to catch up with friends and family all over the country. Olson says telling customers he was moving on was difficult: “I felt like I was breaking up over and over again when I was calling customers to tell them about retiring and it was really, really tough,” he says, “but I also know that it’s time.”
Olson sold A&B to Ryan Landwehr in September, making Landwehr the third owner of the company since its inception in 1988. Olson and Landwehr had worked together for about seven years on an accessories line for Endless Pools, a division of Watkins Wellness in Vista, California, where Landwehr had been director of aquatic fitness sales and marketing until May 2021.
Having a relationship with the person who’s selling was hugely helpful. It wasn’t some random person who I couldn’t trust.
Ryan Landwehr, A&B Accessories
“Having a relationship with the person who’s selling was hugely helpful,” Landwehr says. “It wasn’t some random person who I couldn’t trust. We each had our own agenda, there’s no doubt about that — but the relationship helps bridge the unknowns or the disagreements.”
Olson conveys his relief knowing not only that his customers are in good hands, but that his team will be taken care of as well. “I think the bigger thing is my employees — I feel very comfortable in their future,” he says. Many A&B employees have been with the company for more than 10 years, and Olson says Landwehr’s background and knowledge of the business will enable him to lead the team into the future.
Yevette Robinson, office manager for A&B Accessories, started working with Olson briefly in 2005 but went on to other jobs and to get a college degree in accounting. Robinson worked in the corporate world for about eight years, then one day got a call from Olson asking her if she knew anyone looking for an administrative assistant position. “My response was, ‘What are you paying?’ ” she recalls.
Robinson came back to A&B in September 2019 and credits Olson’s leadership for her motivation to join the team again. “One of the reasons I returned to work with John is the exceptional teamwork he has cultivated among the entire staff,” Robinson explains. “That teamwork was there the first time I worked with John, and it has continued since. It’s an unusual breath of fresh air, especially after leaving the corporate world.”
One of the reasons I returned to work with John is the exceptional teamwork he has cultivated among the entire staff. That teamwork was there the first time I worked with John, and it has continued since. It’s an unusual breath of fresh air, especially after leaving the corporate world.Yevette Robinson, A & B Accessories
A desire to leave the corporate hustle and grind is also what brought Olson to A&B Accessories in 2003. After spending 25 years in building material manufacturing and distribution, Olson was ready for change. “I was a corporate guy,” he recalls, “and I got tired of that.”
A&B Accessories was about 15 years old when Olson became its owner. At the time, the company was making its products out of redwood. Olson’s years of experience in the lumber business meant he was comfortable and familiar in this realm. “[That] building material, manufacturing and distribution — that was my life,” Olson explains.
Redwood was the king of outdoor products until limitations on harvesting techniques began producing lower-quality material. “I had ideas when I bought the company to transition into synthetic,” Olson recalls. “The quality of the redwood we were buying was diminishing as well as the limitation on the finishes we could put on the product, so it was becoming problematic.” Redwood products weren’t lasting as long and needed more maintenance than synthetic-based ones. Being associated with brands whose hot tubs were outlasting wood-based accessories was also a motivation to switch material. “Those hot tubs last a long time, and so we needed something that would last a long time too, without maintenance,” Olson says.
It took A&B around four years to decide what material they would use, but they landed on recyclable, high-density polyethylene. By 2016, A&B had completely transitioned away from redwood, and the switch allowed them to develop a wider range of products. Today, the company’s products are 100% made in the U.S. and sold worldwide through a network of 4,877 retail dealers.
“It’s just been great to work with the crew and develop new products,” Olson says. “It’s been an absolute privilege and an honor to work with the people that I have.”
While he hopes he’s leaving the industry and the company better than he found it, he admits his goal for the immediate future will be to stay out of cell phone range. “I’ve said my goodbyes, so it’s time to go unplug for awhile. I’ve got a lot of invites and a lot of rain checks to cash in.”