What does it mean to be a local, Independent business owner? Sure, it bestows upon you the pleasure of wearing many different hats throughout the day. It also involves juggling the concerns over your bottom line with how you’re expected to compete against larger national chains and the continuing flood of e-commerce shops out there.
But there’s another side to this rhetorical question that perhaps more accurately paints a picture of the positive impact local business owners can have in their communities. And it all starts with truly leaning in on that aspect of being a local business.
It’s that exact way of thinking that has helped Mrs. G Appliances become a staple in the Lawrence Township, New Jersey, community and throughout the surrounding portions of Pennsylvania and New York that the retailer services. More than simply a way of thinking, though, Mrs. G’s has embedded the concept of local into the company’s culture. And it’s been that way for more than 80 years.
Mrs. G’s first opened in 1935 and was run by, of course, Mrs. G, Beatrice Greenberg, and her husband, Abe. What started as a plumbing company eventually evolved into an appliance retail location in the early years, selling iceboxes and stoves. Today, Mrs. G’s is still in the Greenberg family, run by third-generation owner Debbie Schaeffer, who took over from her mom and grandmother nearly two decades ago. The business has evolved beyond iceboxes and stoves to include all major appliances, with a touch of outdoor appliances as well.
The new Mrs. G location, which opened just a handful of years ago, features some 50 appliance brands across more than 25,000 square feet of retail and warehouse space.
Despite being a relatively new location, though, Schaeffer has managed to maintain so much of what has helped Mrs. G become a wildly successful local appliance shop in this corner of the country. And she’s done that by leveraging so many local ties. Schaeffer regularly hosts events in the Mrs. G showroom for local nonprofits, she actively engages with the local Chamber of Commerce, she makes herself available to groups like Independent We Stand and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and she constantly opens her doors for other types of functions — including hosting a No Child Hungry meal-packing event during Nationwide’s Week of Giving in November 2019.
“Back in the day, my grandmother, when she first started the business, she was out on the floor. She knew what was going on around town. She read all the newspapers and did a lot of events in the store. So, we brought all of that back. It’s just a new generation. But we have to make a connection, one-on-one,” Schaeffer says. “Building that kind of a relationship within the community is just so important.”
For Schaeffer, that level of commitment stretches very far, including opting to work with a local paper supply company rather than go with a big-box competitor who might be able to offer better pricing.
“All of us, as a family business, as an Independent, we have to tell the customer the great stories that we have, and why it’s important to keep the money local and support the local businesses. Because the money stays in the community,” she says. “When you buy from a big-box store, some of it stays in the community, but not as much as when you buy from us. And if you buy online, forget it. But as owners, what’s important is that we not only talk the talk, but we walk the walk as well.”
And Mrs. G is doing that to the Nth degree.
It’s almost hard to believe, then, that this is a career path that was not necessarily in the cards for Schaeffer.
“I graduated from the University of Michigan with a civil engineering degree,” Schaeffer explains. “I went to New York City, and I was in the construction business. I have a construction management degree with the civil engineering degree.”
She decided to take some time off from work after having twins — Leah and Samantha — up until they were ready to go into kindergarten. When the time came, Schaeffer’s grandmother, Mrs. G, invited her to dip her toe in the family business.
“She knew exactly what she was doing,” Schaeffer says. “She didn’t put a lot of pressure on me, but at the time, there was concern with the Walmart effect. We’re talking some 20 years ago, when Walmart came in. And then, of course, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Best
Buy — and all within a mile of the store. And it took a lot of the market share.”
Mrs. G took advantage of competitive pricing offered by being a Member of Nationwide Marketing Group, but Schaeffer was looking for more ways to differentiate the business beyond just price. She turned to luxury appliances, which big-box stores didn’t carry at the time she entered the business. And now, as big box transitions toward offering higher-end builds, Schaeffer has resorted back to the company’s longstanding tradition of being a local operation.
“We still have to connect with our community differently than how the big-box stores do it,” she says.
Looking toward the future, Schaeffer says she hopes to keep the family business in the family — one of her twin daughters was bitten with the retail bug. But Schaeffer says she will take a similar, no-pressure type of approach like her grandmother did with her. “When the time’s right, she’ll know, and our door will always be open,” she says with an eyewink.