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Member Spotlight: DeWaard & Bode

Written by Rob Stott

March 5, 2024

There are a number of reasons why Independent retail continues to not only survive but put up one hell of a fight in the face of so many challenges. Whether it’s having to compete on price with the nearby Big Box store, attract shoppers who are battling 8-second attention spans or maintain a positive outlook despite constant gloomy economic expectations — this industry remains resilient.

But, if we had to put our finger on one of the more important reasons why Independent retailers are able to constantly swing back at those outside pressures, we’d say it’s because of their ability to create deep connections with their customers and in their local communities. And while it’s never easy to compete on price with those faceless corporations down the street, but price isn’t all that matters to today’s shoppers. And they regularly prove that to be a fact.

A recent consumer study found that nearly 9-in-10 customers expect a seamless shopping experience, both in store and online, from the retailers they shop. Done right, that customer has proven that they’re willing to commit their business to you moving forward. In fact, 73 percent say that experience is one of the most important factors in their purchasing decisions, and 87 percent will be more likely to shop your store again when they’ve had a positive experience.

Up in the Pacific Northwest, there’s a tremendous example of an Independent retailer who’s found numerous ways to keep their customers coming back over the years — DeWaard & Bode.

FROM AUTOS TO APPLIANCES

First opened in 1941 in Lynden, Washington, as Kredit DeWaard, the business was best known for selling car tires alongside some of the first home appliances introduced in Whatcom County. Over the years, the company shifted to focus solely on selling and servicing major appliances, quickly becoming the leading retailer in the area. And that doesn’t happen by accident.

“I would say what’s the most unique about our company today is that we have done a fantastic job being balanced,” Jordan Roorda, marketing manager at DeWaard & Bode, said during a recent Independent Thinking Podcast interview. “What I mean by that is, we’re good at trying some things and failing from time to time, but really still keeping in the core of what we’re awesome at. It’s critical as a company to evolve and adapt over time, and we’re doing that, don’t get me wrong. But change can be hard, and there are plenty of things we still need to get better at. But we’ll always remain true to who we are at our core, and that’s a business that understands the needs of our customers and how to make sure they’re getting the best experience possible.”

And Roorda, whose family took over the DeWaard & Bode business in the early 2000s, says his family has remained true to that vision by constantly leaning on, and learning from, the people around them.

“There’s this great saying, ’We is smarter than me,’” he says. “You’ve got to surround yourself with the right people who are going to bring you their ideas on how you can continue to get better as a business. That’s one of the greatest things about Independent retail — no matter the size of your business, you have the ability to listen, adapt and pivot, unlike those bigger competitors.”

AN OPEN HOUSE

One of the great ideas that was brought to DeWaard & Bode was to open their business to welcome members of the community into their store for a day of connecting and giving back. Started just a handful of years ago as a way to celebrate their anniversary each fall, the company invites customers to come to the store for — of course — special offers only available in—person. But the day is really about bringing the community together to hang out, connect with other local families and give back.

“It all started as a private-letter sales event to celebrate our anniversary,” Roorda says. “The real hook, though, is the giveback portion of the event. We’ve developed a real affinity over the years for our local food banks, and so we’ve turned this event into a way to raise support for a local charity, do some meal packing and just make it a feel—good atmosphere for everyone involved.”

And this past fall, the feel-good vibes helped attendees come together and raise $15,000 for the local Bellingham Food Bank. In addition, DeWaard & Bode had No Child Hungry on hand to allow attendees to help pack thousands of meals that were then shipped out to Maui in the wake of the wildfires.

What’s important about the event, in addition to the giveback efforts, Roorda says, is that it’s an opportunity for DeWaard & Bode to showcase itself as a true friend of the community. When they open their doors to their business, they treat it like opening the front door of their home. “We’re welcoming people into our living room, and we have to make sure we treat them well,” he explains. In the few years they’ve been running the annual event, it’s grown to a gathering of a few hundred customers and their families.

“We’re excited about the direction this event is heading,” Roorda says. “We know through conversations we’ve had with other Nationwide Members at PrimeTime and other events we’ve been to throughout the year that this is is something that we can really build steam around. The businesses that’ve found ways to leverage their showrooms — their living rooms — in meaningful ways, they’re the ones building meaningful connections within their communities. They’re creating customers for life.”

And that mindset and approach is something that really permeates throughout each and every aspect of DeWaard & Bode as a business. They’ve set up the experience so that, every time you walk into one of their stores, you feel like you’re at home. It’s a true hallmark of the company, allowing them to develop those deep connections with not only their customers but the community as a whole. They understand that being a successful business is about far more than simply completing the sale. It’s about building those lasting relationships.

FINDING THE HOOK

For DeWaard & Bode, the meaningful connection that they found was the desire to help hungry families in their area. Folding that passion into an event is what helped the experience become something more genuine for the customers who attend, but also the employees involved and the broader community. For a retailer in a different corner of the country, that “hook” could be something similar. Or, more likely, there’s another cause that they’ve supported. Whatever it is, Roorda says, you’ll know it when you find it.

“You’ve just got to start somewhere. And keep practicing at it so you and your business can build that muscle memory and make it your thing,” he says. “You can’t let the fear of failure stop you from being you.”

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