Origin stories in the Independent retail channel come in all shapes and sizes. There’s no cookie cutter way to predict how someone will get into this industry. That said, at the core of nearly all Independent retail business owners is a passion and desire to stand out in their local community and provide top-notch service for your neighbors. Because, after all, you shop at the same grocery stores, pump gas at the same corner and perhaps even worship under the same roof. It’s that connection to community that ultimately lead Dak Sorenson back to his hometown of Geneva, Minnesota, to take up the family business at Sorenson’s Appliance & TV.
“My path into retail wasn’t really a straight path,” he explains. “Obviously, through high school, and college, I worked at the family business, summers, weekends here and there. But I never was really pushed into it by any means whatsoever. After college, I decided to take my teaching degree and I was a physical education teacher down in Arizona for two years. But home is home. The family’s all here. I decided to come back, talked with my dad and mom and we decided to let’s give it a go.” Fast forward to today, Dak co-owns the 72-year-old business alongside his uncle Tim Sorenson. And that transition from teaching to retail, which seems like a far jump, was really not a big deal for him.
“I grew up around the business, I delivered, I installed, and I still do those things today,” he says. “It’s just learning a different avenue. I had to learn how to teach. In the back of my mind, I always knew I could engage with people. I was comfortable meeting people, so I wasn’t afraid to do that. Now, it’s just learning the ins and outs of a washer, a dryer, a refrigerator. And then managing our employees, which is easy because we’ve got great employees. It was all a very comfortable transition back into the business and back into the community.”
Geneva, located about 90 miles due south of Minneapolis, is a town that couldn’t be any more different from the twin cities that are just up I-35. Whereas Minneapolis and its 425,000 residents rank in the top-50 largest cities in the country, fewer than 500 people call Geneva home.
“We know the cats and the dogs of our neighbors. It’s just home,” Sorenson says. “We have a radius of about 60 miles around us that have towns of 20,000 and 30,000 that we, obviously, have to pull from, and that works out great for us. But when I go to a gymnasium to watch a basketball game, I know everyone. They’re there to watch friends. When you go to these bigger cities, you got the people that are just there to watch their kids. It’s just a different vibe in Geneva, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
And that local mindset is what’s enabled Sorenson’s Appliance & TV to really develop a strong connection with not only the residents of Geneva, but the wider region as well.
Though they know that price is, to an extent, still king to the customer, the Sorenson’s team knows they can lean on their reliability and dependability to differentiate themselves.
“I’ve always said I’m going to do business with an independent person whether I’m buying a vehicle, whatever I’m buying a cabinets or top flooring. I think that’s the mindset of most people,” says Dak. “I think it’s important that if the customer has a problem they know that they can call and ask for Dak or Tim and know that we’re going to get them taken care of. We’re not going to be any different I don’t think a whole lot than another independent dealer. I hope not. We’re going to try as hard as we can. We’re going to give them the personal touch before, during, and after sale.”
That desire to provide such a personal experience to the customer — to the point of giving his cell phone number to everyone who walks through the door and every contractor they work with — goes back to the smalltown mindset.
“I go up to the bank, I go to the coffee store, I go to the bar and grill. I know everyone in there and they know me obviously as well,” says Dak. “If you do something, good or bad, they know. That word spreads like wildfire. And while that mentality is set at the top of the business, Dak still gives a majority of the credit to the rest of his team and how they interact with customers at every point of the shopping experience.
“Once we get them into the store, it’s more often than not out of my hands at that point,” he says. “We’ve got a great and knowledgeable sales team that takes care of them during the purchase process. Then it’s up to my delivery crew who has to deliver their appliance and make sure that they’re happy after the sale. And then if something goes wrong with the piece, we have our service team who helps them throughout that process. We’re blessed to have incredible and respectful professionals throughout our whole team, and we wouldn’t be where we are without their passion and dedication to their work. It’s 100 percent on the employees. I couldn’t speak good enough on them.”
Growing and Moving
The Sorenson’s background is a unique and rather entertaining one to dive into. The business was first started in 1951 by Dak’s grandfather Warren and operated as a gas station. The move into appliances only happened because one day he happened to be pumping gas for a customer who was a rep for a washer/dryer company. That rep, doing his job, suggested that Warren set up a washer-dryer pair in his back room. Warren took his advice, and the business took off from there.
By 1980, Warren’s three children, Mark, Scott and Tim, took over the business from their father. And, as proof that they were now in charge, the sons decided to move the business from its original location to a corner of Main Street in Geneva — while their father and mother were away on vacation.
“Grandpa and grandma went on a vacation as they did every other month. And my dad, who lived to be in charge — still loves to be in charge to this day — says, ‘It was time,’” Dak explains. “When they jumped in the plane, my dad got the whole crew from Sorenson’s and they moved four blocks up to this new store that was already purchased. Grandpa grandma came back and they’re like, ‘What’s going on here?’ They told him it just needed to be done, grandpa. Here we are. We’re in our new location. And that was that. No conversation after.”
The Sorenson’s team completed their second move just last year, though, this one was a lot less secretive. “That second location, we were there for nearly 50 years, so we decided that time was right again to move,” Dak says. “Our warehouse is directly behind this new building. It was a perfect opportunity to do it. It’s just a new refresh. The other store was fairly outdated, carpet from 1970s. This store now was a cabinet and flooring place, so you walk in and it’s all modern, updated, new plumbing, new electrical. It’s just a reset for the store, you could say, and we’re excited for the opportunity this presents to the business.”
The move has already allowed Sorenson’s to grow in a number of ways including adding new categories, expanding the retail showroom and more. But the heart of the business, Dak says, remains the same.
“Overall, we’re still washers, dryers, and your regular appliances. Sell some TVs on the side. It’s nothing fancy when you walk in,” he says. “It’s who we are. We try to be simple-minded, and that’s how we go about the whole thing.”
Rob is the corporate communications manager for Nationwide Marketing Group.