Jim Broda bought Rebennack’s Appliance store three years ago and recently moved it to Wyoming Avenue in Kingston, near where it first opened 75 years ago.FRED ADAMS PHOTOS/THE TIMES LEADER
KINGSTON – Jim Broda might qualify as a business prodigy. He made his first real estate purchase at age 20 and built a house at 24. A year later he mortgaged everything to buy Rebennack’s Appliance store, which had a 75-year pedigree but shrinking sales.
In the three years since, he has revived the store, doubling sales twice over. This year is running more than 30 percent ahead of 2006.
But things didn’t start out that way. Broda recalled that his first day’s sales amounted to one used refrigerator. Discouraged, he called a friend in the business as he left the store to ask if he thought the previous owner might give his money back.
“When I first bought them out it was tough,” he said. The store’s inventory was out-of-date so over the next several months he cleared it out – often below cost – to make room for new models.
He cleaned the rented space, replaced lighting, painted and landscaped around the entrance.
“It was more time than money,” Broda said.
He also lengthened the hours, boosted customer service and became more aggressive with pricing.
Within three months Broda began to feel better about his plunge into retail. Manufacturers had pushed him to buy about $25,000 worth of washers, dryers and refrigerators so that customers would see fresh stock on the sales floor. While reluctant to take on even more debt, he listened to one of the store’s 20-year-experienced salesmen, who advised selling outdated appliances for whatever he could get to make room for products people would want to buy.
Today he’s proud to say that everything is current and business continues to boom in the new showroom on Wyoming Avenue, where Rebennack’s moved on August 1.
Having new stock has become more important as consumers increasingly seek energy efficiency.
“A lot of people come into the store looking for Energy Star products,” Broda said. That concern and growing interest in quality have inspired him to plan a new display of high-end appliances, which tend to be more efficient.
“More higher end stuff is selling,” he said. Broda now sells one high-end clothes washer for every two conventional models, even though the price can triple from an entry level of about $300.
Broda had been a representative for a local appliance distributor for several years and Rebennack’s was a customer. He had watched the store that opened in 1932 as Rebennack & Covert stagnate at its Market Street location, but knew it still had a recognizable name and good reputation.
Broda, now 28, bought it from Tom Roberts, who had run the business for more than two decades.
“In a roundabout way (he) asked if I would be interested,” Broda said.
Rebennack’s is a lot bigger business than it was when Broda bought it, but it still demands a lot of his time. He often starts his day at 5:30 a.m., heading to a warehouse in Gouldsboro to pick up products. He gets to the store in time to open the doors at 8. Then he can be on the sales floor or at his desk until well after closing time.
“I put a lot of time into this place,” he acknowledged. That doesn’t leave much room for a 20-something’s social life, but Broda says his girlfriend is understanding.
“By the time you get done you don’t want to do anything else.”
He has some help in the store, with two full-timers and two part-timers doing delivery and installation, a service technician and some part-time sales help. “Sales and paperwork” is how he describes his own role.
It’s logical to assume that a small store going up against national chains with huge advertising budgets would be bound to lose. But Broda hasn’t had any problem competing because he emphasizes service both in the showroom and after the sale as well as not being shy about price.
“No matter what the price is we deliver and remove for free,” he said. And his delivery staff can connect gas lines, saving customers an extra charge.
“We have technicians working here; they have college kids,” he said.
Broda moved the store to 255 Wyoming Ave. on Aug.1. The Market Street building where Rebennack’s had rented space for many years was torn down last week.
“(The store) originally started a couple of doors down from where we are now,” Broda said.
“This move (to Wyoming Avenue) might have been a blessing,” he said, since people driving to a new Lowe’s store in Edwardsville pass by his store. On clear days he displays appliances on the sidewalk to capture their attention.
“Actually, we got busier” after the big-box home improvement store opened, he said.
After the initial shock of financing inventory passed, Broda took an unusual approach to paying for the several dozen appliances in his 2,500 square-foot showroom.
“I actually own everything I have,” he said, rather than making payments until the appliances sell. He tried that traditional method at first, but found he was spending too much time keeping track of invoices, interest costs and payments.
“It really consumed a lot of my day,” he said. Eventually he would have to lock himself in his office and “try to figure out the floor plan.”
After a few months he decided that simply buying the inventory not only freed up time for sales, now, “I control my own stock.”
Broda didn’t go into business with a formal plan and he doesn’t have one now, other than to keep sales growing.
“I don’t want to get too big,” he said, and keeping the business under control allows him to get into other things.
“I dabble in real estate,” said the Pittston native who now lives in Plains. Both ventures are a long way from respiratory therapy, the field he began to study in college before realizing he was cut out for other things.
“I was in the wrong field.”
His customers and suppliers would probably agree.
What: Rebennack’s Appliance
Where: 255 Wyoming Ave., Kingston
Ownership: Jim Broda, Plains
Revenue: Not disclosed
History: Established in 1932 as Rebennack & Covert
Hours: Mon., Tues., Thurs., 8-7; Wed., Fri., 8-6; Sat., 9-2; Sun. 9-1.
“A lot of people come into the store looking for Energy Star products … More higher end stuff is selling.”