Sure, you could buy appliances online or at a big-box store, but do you really know what you’re getting? That’s just part of the reason people still turn to locally owned dealers.
People who are accustomed to shopping at the big-box warehouse or a smartphone app are sure to notice something’s different the minute they walk into an independent appliance store. Friendly faces, knowledgeable staff and a deep experience with these products are just the start. Through every step of the way, the customer experience is different – refreshing, even, some might say.
“It’s personal service, all across the board,” says Mike Gulgren, co-owner of Gulgren Appliance, 424 W. Terra Cotta Ave., in Crystal Lake. “It’s like it used to be, not like it is at most places now.”
It starts at the top. Gulgren and his brother-in-law, business co-owner Greg Danielson, are hands-on owners who regularly meet with customers. Danielson oversees the service department and makes house calls. Gulgren rolls up his sleeves and helps with deliveries. The pair have been doing this since their high school years, when the store was owned by Gulgren’s father and uncle, Gene and Leroy.
They’re joined by a staff of nearly a dozen who handle everything from office management and sales to parts and service.
“Everything here is done in-house,” says Danielson. “So, our sales staff works directly for us. Delivery guys work directly for us and service guys work directly for us. You don’t have to call that 800 number and deal with all the headaches that come with a service call from the box store.”
The showroom is filled with shiny new appliances from a variety of top-quality brands, including General Electric, the Whirlpool family and higher-end names like Wolf, Sub-Zero, Bosch and Thermador. Not every brand makes the cut. Gulgren believes that serves the customer best.
“We stay away from some brands because the manufacturer won’t stand behind their product or it’s hard to get parts,” he adds. “We work with companies that will help us to take care of our customers. You get what you want, and if there’s a question or a problem it can be solved.”
Gary Dinelli has been working the sales floor for 20 years, and that alone distinguishes him from his big-box competitors – not to mention the online shops where human help is nonexistent.
“Our sales team wasn’t working in the lumber section two minutes ago,” he says. “At the big-box hardware store they’re constantly moving around. They don’t know all of the details.”
By contrast, Dinelli knows products well enough to educate consumers as they see, touch and explore the products in front of them. While many customers have done their research online and may have an idea of what they like, salesmen like Dinelli know details you won’t find online.
“They might ask me about a certain product and I’ll tell them, ‘You don’t want that,’” says Dinelli. “They might try to argue it, but what I’ll do is share with them the track record of those products. I know they’re going to have problems, and when they do they’re going to blame us. So, we walk them through what they’re buying.”
It may be tempting to compare appliance retailers on price alone, but you get what you pay for, says Gulgren. That’s because locally owned retailers are generally competitive on this measure.
“In the appliance industry, independent stores like ours have buying groups,” he says. “What this does is it gives us the buying power of a Home Depot because we might have 2,500 independent stores working together to negotiate prices with manufacturers. This helps us to remain very cost-competitive.”
Once they’ve signed on the dotted line, customers can expect another part of the Gulgren team to deliver their new appliances. These technicians are factory-trained and well-educated in their work, Gulgren says. And, because Gulgren Appliance works mostly around McHenry County, the team can offer a high degree of precision on its arrival time.
“We’ll try to accommodate you on your time, not our time,” Gulgren says. “And, we will give a 2- or 3-hour window to help you, so you’re not waiting around all day. People love it.”
What’s more, Gulgren manages the delivery schedule himself, writing it out by hand every morning. As the pink invoices cross his desk, he notes down addresses and phone numbers, so customers are easy to reach.
“If tomorrow these people have questions they can call right back to our store,” he says. “They’ll be talking with the same people who put it in. It’s not an 800 number and it’s not some part-time worker. We are going to have answers, we’re going to know what we did, and we’re going to care about helping you.”
Danielson promises the same approach when it comes to servicing and repairing appliances – another key difference between locally owned stores and their competitors. Gulgren Appliance services most major appliance brands, even if they didn’t sell the product. What’s more, customers don’t have to call an 800 number for help. A friendly person is always on the line.
“We can sometimes solve their problem right on the phone,” says Danielson. “This happens every day. You don’t need a service call. We’ll just talk to you and guide you through. We’re honest and fair and help them understand what’s best.”
Just beyond the store’s front desk, Danielson pulls up a computer screen and types in an address. Within a few clicks, he can pull up every service call he’s made to the home over the past 25 years – regardless of who owns it today. In a flash, he can compare the customer’s current need with previous work on that appliance.
Technicians typically deploy the same day and have the problem fixed in one visit, says Danielson. In part, this is because of his team’s extensive inventory of replacement parts.
“You’d have to go way into Cook County or South Elgin, or into Wisconsin and Rockford, to get anyone who has as many parts as we do,” he says. “We try to take care of our customers. We go out to the house and we kind of have an idea of what we need. We’ll bring some parts with us so our trucks are stocked and we can get you up and running right away.”
While most repairs can be made in a single visit, Danielson says, customers can expect to see the same technician on any follow-up calls. In fact, some customers specifically request their favorite technician.
“A lot of these big stores, you really don’t know who’s coming to your house,” says Gulgren. “One guy might come out to diagnose the problem with your washer and say it needs a part. Then they order the part and another guy comes out to put the part in. But, he doesn’t really know what the first guy did. Our guy is the same guy who comes back, so there’s no confusion.”
When it’s time to replace that worn-out appliance, there’s a familiar face greeting customers at the door.
“We’re at the point where generation after generation has been doing business with us,” says Danielson. “The grandparents came here, their kids came here, and now their grandkids are coming here. That’s pretty cool.”
For Gulgren and Danielson, such loyalty comes down to quality products and top-notch service – the way it’s supposed to be.
“We treat our customers like family,” says Gulgren. “That’s why we’ll go out of our way for people. When we go into someone’s house it’s like we’re serving our own family.”