Beating Big Box Through Customer Service
by Kathleen Schwartz
More and more locally owned and operated businesses find it difficult to compete with the larger box stores in nearby cities. But, Barlow Appliances & More is celebrating eight years of making the differences between the locally owned independent appliance store and the larger brand stores more attractive. The store owner says his secret is simple.
“A lot of conversation between myself and the customer is involved,” explains Jack Barlow. “I am not here to sell them something. I am here to fill a need. “
“They come in. They need a range. Okay. Now, we’ll fill that need. Let’s figure out what kind of range you need. What suits you best?”
Barlow Appliances & More offers a variety of appliances for the kitchen and laundry. Its brands include Frigidaire, GE, LG, Samsung, and Speed Queen. The store also carries a selection of mattresses.
After fifteen years at Lehman Electronics, Jack was looking for some other type of work. In college, he had always wanted to own a business. The appliance store located in Huntington was closing, and that left a void. Jack and his wife Samantha saw an opportunity. Others were skeptical.
“When we first opened eight years ago, the recession was in full swing,” remembers Jack. “So, we opened in the middle of a recession on April 1st, April Fools Day. Everybody said, ‘That’s a funny joke. What are you really doing?’
“We answered ‘No. That’s what we are doing.’ And it was tough.”
For a while, customers only came into Barlow Appliances & More when things broke down. They were faced with the choice of paying to have the appliance fixed or buying a new unit.
Thankfully, in the last two years, the recession has lessened, and purchases have changed. With new homes being built and kitchens being remodeled, customers are looking more to package purchases. Manufacturers are responding to this trend.
“The manufacturers have given rebates if you buy four pieces. That has helped spur the sales,” Jack says. Package deals allow the customer to purchase that fourth appliance that maybe they weren’t planning on but now can afford.
What determines what type of appliance a customer buys? There are three factors, the first one being the color. If it is a replacement in an existing kitchen, the color is predetermined.
The second factor is the space in which the appliance is going to be put. “Size is always a problem.” warns Jack. “Older houses and newer refrigerators are a tough fit. Nobody is happy when you deliver it, and it doesn’t fit.”
Measuring is important. “Measure your space,” requests Jack. “I know this sounds silly, but don’t measure the refrigerator you have. Measure the opening.
“There have been so many times we have had people come in, and they say they have a refrigerator that is 66 inches tall, but the one they are looking at buying is 68 inches.”
At first, the customer is disappointed. After some thought, the customer remembers there is empty space above the refrigerator, so the larger model might fit. But, a visit to the home to measure is in order.
The last factor that determines the purchase is the desired features. Jack recommends investigating the options before shopping to determine what features are a “must-have” and which are nice, but not required.
Jack and his staff attend national informational and training seminars sponsored by the manufacturers. “We discuss what’s working and what’s not,” he says. “We get extra training that’s better than just reading a manual.
“You get to talk to the engineers who designed an appliance. You spend hours with them and get to pick their brains about what they were thinking when they built something. ”
Delivering the appliances to customers provides its own set of challenges. Most deliveries are straight-forward, but there are some that Jack says are especially memorable.
“We had a big refrigerator we had to take the French doors off, which we normally do, but this refrigerator was so big, we took the door off the house,” he recalls. “We had to actually take off all the parts off the back of the refrigerator.
“And, it took us a good ten minutes to get it through the door. That was the only way it was going into that house. The customers were just as happy as could be.“
Jack and Samantha have plans for expanding their business. At present, Barlow Appliances & More uses local service agents, but very soon, they will offer repairs in their own service department. Jack expects to begin dealing in used appliances at that time, as well.
“I see us being more and more customer friendly. So when they come in here, it’s a one-stop shop,” Jack says. “I see us as a place that will take care of your needs. You won’t have to worry about anything else.”
No matter what appliance or type of bedding the customer is looking for, Jack and Samantha work as a team, each having their own niche.
“Samantha keeps the place running,” Jack affirms. “I do the purchasing and most of the selling, but she runs the numbers. She has stopped me from doing some silly things. We really balance each other out, and she does an extremely good job.
“We strive very hard to make sure people are happy,” says Jack. He figures happy customers are the best way to build his business.
This has proven to be a solid business philosophy, indicated by the number of return and referral customers Jack and Samantha Barlow see daily.
Stop by Barlow Appliances & More for your next appliance or mattress purchase. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.