For the second year in a row, Martinsburg, WV-based retailer Orsini’s has been recognized in the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies list. We sat down with Owner PJ Orsini to talk about the honor, how the business has continued to thrive during uncertain times and more.
Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and hop it over to Martinsburg, West Virginia this morning for a podcast with someone we talked to. I went back in into our archives of the podcast. It’s been about two and a half years since we had PJ Orsini on the podcast talking about business out there. And it was a very different world PJ, the last time you were on this podcast. The title of that was How Orsini’s was Staying Afloat during the Coronavirus Crisis. Little did we know, that was like six weeks into the thing and here we are two and a half years later. It’s still part of our conversation, but nice to have you on and be able to dive into some pretty cool stuff today.
PJ Orsini: Definitely appreciate you having me back on. It’s been a while and it’s a whole new world.
Rob Stott: Very different but. Well, let’s start. It has been two and a half years, so we’ll start with, what’s business like today? How is everything going and what’s going well for you guys out there?
PJ Orsini: Well, it’s crazy busy. It’s hard to believe that two and a half years ago, we were talking about what could come of the business, what could come of our economy, where people were going to go, the change in shopping habits of people and how much stuff has come, how much is going, how much is here to stay. It’s pretty wild. We’re fortunate, we’ve been very busy. We had a lot happen when we last spoke. We moved from our 2,400 square foot location to the 18,000 square foot facility. We opened that location in November of ’19. We moved and then the world ended what, February, March of ’20?
Rob Stott: Yeah, four months later.
PJ Orsini: So we’ve never really been able to create a baseline of what our processes here should be because it was running gun, all gas, no brake when it came to the whole COVID situation, the inventory issues. But all in all, it’s kind of shaken itself out good. It’s hard to believe that coming out of all that we’re doing very well, we’re still growing, we’re adding to the team, we’re adding more teams. Everything’s been very good so far. We’re fortunate.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome to hear. And you mentioned some of the things that have evolved over that time. Looking back when we were talking and obviously it was just concern over what product would be available and how customer shopping habits shift, being able to reflect on how things changed, what are you seeing as far as what you think what changes in the shopping sort of cycle or how consumers engage with you that are going to last out of that? What sort of things are you seeing?
PJ Orsini: Well, the shopper is pretty dynamic these days. It’s not like the old days they’d come in and say, “Which washer and dryer do I want, like the old one? They’re a lot more educated. They’re using our website, they’re finding us on their social media platforms a lot better. We’ve really dug into the digital marketing through AdRocket. Our girl in there, Emily, does a really good job of, we meet regularly, we dig down into things deeper where they’re going to be. And I know when all this began, a lot of peers in our group backed off their marketing and we doubled down and continued to push to make sure everyone knew. It was a good decision, I think. We’ll quantify it in another year because who knows what next year is going to be. But a lot of things have changed. We’re not doing the door drop offs anymore. We’re not leaving appliances in a garage. We’re back to business.
Keep in mind, I’m in West Virginia. We’re the last state to test positive because no one just got tested. No one really believed in it here. So we are a suburb of DC, so it’s a little different area, a little different client than let’s say like Charleston, West Virginia, the southern part of the state. But the showroom is big. A lot of things that came out of it. We have a regular, and this will sound simple, but a regular cleaning process here. My staff out front all has something to do every day. People come in and, “Your store looks clean. It smells clean.” That all came out of COVID. We kept the store clean, but now it’s a daily process. We still have, like everyone, hand sanitizers everywhere. My trucks all carry gloves, they all carry masks, they all carry anything they need with them in case that customer, as we’re a guest in their home wants something done, we can accommodate them. There’s good and bad that came out of it, but it seems we’re back to the current version of the new norm.
Rob Stott: Yeah. That was a lot of the message I think we heard in Orlando during prime time recently was that it’s whether it was the economist talking or some of the other areas of the business, it feels like we’re back to ’19, normalizing how things were and which is good to see obviously for sure.
But one of the things about that new location, which is awesome that you guys have is, you mentioned the outdoor and the ability to focus on that. The Traeger setup you guys have is one that I know kind gets a lot of attention regularly. As you went through COVID, obviously you guys didn’t really have people in the store necessarily to experience it. So over the last couple months, years, they’ve finally been able to experience it and see it. Has that evolved over the couple of years that you’ve had the space and what you guys are doing there?
PJ Orsini: Absolutely. I’ll tell anyone and the guys on the east group, when we have our meetings, make fun of me. But Traeger changed my company. We brought them in, we’re an appliance store. We would see people once every eight to 10 years when something broke or they would raise hell in between the time because it broke and we had to fix it. Traeger, we have a crowd that we know starting Thursday, Friday going into Saturday that are coming in for pellets, rubs, sauces. We’re selling t-shirts, hats, hoodies, stuff you never thought we would. When we came into this store, we had a smaller offering of add on carry out products like rubs and sauces. I think we counted the other day doing some social media stuff for the store, we have over 200 items in here.
Rob Stott: Wow.
PJ Orsini: We’ve got wives and girlfriends coming in, shopping for husbands and fathers. The pellets are huge. We’re still very loyal to Traeger. I don’t have any other pellet stove in here. They’ve been very good to us. We’ve brought Yeti in, which is a whole nother cult-like customer, like the Traeger stuff is. That’s been a great addition to what we do. And then we’re in the process now of looking into diving deeper into the outdoor living categories. We met with Ashley Furniture at the last primetime show. We’re hoping to make it to furniture market next week. That’s not going to happen. A little too busy to get away here. But we’re going to continue to go into that and we keep diversifying our portfolio, what we offer, and we’re getting more opportunities to get in front of people. And something as simple as like a barbecue sauce, I might only make $3. It’s 30 couple percent margin but it might be 2 or $3. But my customer acquisition cost is now negative and they come back in over and over and over.
This time of year, we make sure the displays are full and we’re doing more live demos. We just did one at a local vineyard Sunday, in Loudoun County, Virginia. Half hour drive for us, but it’s the wealthiest county in the country. So we have a lot of people that didn’t know how close we were and it’s already paying off. We’ve had some customers in from then and calling and buying stuff. So we’re trying to move people from that way to us. And now that the days start getting shorter and colder, we’ll start doing more demos in stores. Nobody wants to be in the store when it’s nice out. So now, as it gets darker and colder, we’ll start doing it.
And then we’ve got our gears moving on our barbecuing demo building, electricians scheduled to be in the next couple weeks. And as long as building supplies drop the way they’re supposed to, hopefully by the end of the year, it’s a 1,200 square foot freestanding building. We’re going to do the new Traeger Timberline XL and they’re built in and then we’re going to have a platform where we can, any product we want to have, we can put in there, whether it’s another Traeger grill or the new griddle coming or whatever we choose to bring in. We’ll have that four seasons building, now to be able to show the product off.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. And you mentioned the social media post and obviously people being able to come inside, they see that display of just all the sauces and rubs and the pellets obviously there as well. You mentioned it, was it a hard adjustment? I’m sure a fun one too to be able to go through. But the different types of customers coming in, getting the word out there that you guys are now making that sort of stuff available but obviously opens up a lot of opportunity to get those people in more regularly and the selection is endless. You could try one new product a week and you’d have a customer for life based on just everything you’ve got in there. So had to be sort of fulfilling to see that space grow in what you’re being able to offer there. But also a different type of door swing every weekend here.
PJ Orsini: Well the next evolution of our marketing here going into Q1 of next year, we’re going to, once again, get through this crazy Q4 like we all have. We’ve got Black November showing up here again, poking its head back into the game in a couple weeks. So we want to get through all the craziest, the end of the year stuff. Get into Q1, we’re going to be looking to hire a graphic designer on the team here. And our plan is to just what you said, create content. We’ve got technology built into the store that we can stream what we’re doing either to a YouTube page or to a Facebook Live and then also stream it to a cloud-based platform where we can take it and turn it into pre-roll stuff for marketing, turn it into little videos, how-to videos, things like that.
We get questions all the time on the grilling section, “How do you do a brisket, How do you do this?” We’ll be able to take maybe a 30 minute presentation and chop it down to five to show the highlights and roll. And I think the evolution of business and what we do content is going to be king. The days of banner ads and SEM and SEO is great but I think you’re going to see everything.
TikTok, go back three years ago, Frank Sander, we were talking, it was on the Link Leaders group when they had that and we were in a meeting and I kept saying we got to keep an eye on TikTok. And had everyone in there saying, “Well, okay, when my kids start buying stuff, I’ll think about it.” TikTok’s building a platform to rival Amazon now so you can buy live. So that’s kind of the way we’re going. I really think getting into content and creating things and doing things different will make us stand out. So that’s our next evolution of what we’re doing now. We’re laying the groundwork for it. I’m a big Gary Vee kind of guy. I love what he does. We tend to study trends of people and trends of pop culture of what’s going on out there more than just numbers. And so far, we’ve been fortunate. It seems to work, but we’ll see how this experiment goes next.
Rob Stott: I remember thinking back, you took over the business in 2015, right? So that’s when-
PJ Orsini: Yeah, I purchased the business in 2016.
Rob Stott: Now, thinking back to then and what you’re doing now on a day to day, obviously a lot has changed. Did you ever envision, go back to when you purchased the business being at a point where you’re hiring a content creator for your store? Is that something that ever came to the mind?
PJ Orsini: Not at all. I can remember arguing with my grandparents and my father to let me run a insert. “We’re not spending the money on that.” Then it was, let’s run multiple inserts and do the local home shows and things like that. And back then, that’s not what we did. You put an ad in the paper, you do ROP print and a little bit of radio and we’re in 85/15, digital versus traditional company. I don’t believe in much print media. I really don’t believe in the radio. We do a tiny bit right now with election season and stuff coming up just to stay somewhat relevant. But we’re cutting that back even more next year. We’re going to try to get more surgical into the streaming, the digital things.
So many people are cutting the cord of traditional media, cable, things like that. I think that’s where we’re going. But no, I mean absolutely not. He would’ve thought you need that. We have someone that does marketing here. We have multiple people that do it, but it’s like how do we stay on top and in front of these things because if we don’t, our competitors around us are going to.
Rob Stott: Was there a point in time when that switch clicked for you, that you realized that you needed to get out of the traditional advertising spaces or just rethink the way you guys are putting yourself out there? Because you’re everywhere. You can look online and obviously, it’s easy for us to come across the Orsini’s name and see what you guys are doing on social. Was there a moment in time or was it sort just a gradual evolution to realizing that this is of the way the game is moving?
PJ Orsini: It was watching the trends of businesses outside of ours. What are people gravitating towards right now? There’s so many ways to go. I like different types of art. Well, they went from just boring white walls stuff to experience as and activations. And instead of going to, I used to go to Art Basel in Miami sometimes and you would have your great things like SCOPE would do great events where you’re walking through rows and rows of great art, but then you’d go over to another place where there’s only these activations and the arts there, but you’re watching live art, visual arts, sound, everything had a touch point to it and hit a different sense. So when I built the showroom in this store, I wanted it to be a shopping experience. We went around to all the guys around us.
I know my competitors, the local guys are good guys. They’re not really my target. The Lowe’s and the Home Depots and the Best Buys who we go after. But I went into places that weren’t appliance stores, like high-end places. If you go into your Louis Vuittons, your Neiman Marcus. We go around DC and look at their stores and what do people go towards, what do they gravitate towards? The stores have a consistent smell, they have a consistent look. Let’s say if you know someone from Nationwide, Dean, Tom, Doug, John Laing, someone rolls in here, I’d want them to walk in and I don’t want to have to run up there and start cleaning something or picking something up. So we try to do all that here. And remember that TV’s everywhere, so there’s lights or sounds, there’s things you can see, different textures on the walls.
We wanted it to be, when you walk in and see things, you’re looking around to see where we have. We brought in a paint company about a year ago and we just decided the other day when they announced their paint of the year, we got one wall, it’s like a bubble looking wall. We’re going to paint it the paint color of the year for the year just to change things and keep it up. This will be our fourth year next month in this location. We’re going to be ripping out some cabinet displays, putting in some new counters.
As trends change, we want to be in front of them because once we got into cabinets and in countertops and flooring in this location, which we never did before, we went into all the local shops around here and they were boring. There were rows of stuff and they were still showing the old stuff that had been on there for 10 or 15 years. I told my designer, we told our vendor partners, we’re going to rip the stuff out as trends change and I expect you to support it. And so far, everyone’s done it. Now the flip side of that is my competitors in the cabinet space, they’ve stepped up their game. They’re doing waterfall edges where they didn’t, they’re doing multi-leveled courts, things that they never did before, which is good for the market. But it was good to see that once we started doing these things, they realized they had to step up. Means we did something right.
Rob Stott: It’s cool to see too. Obviously, we know that you have a website, things change, it evolves, different iterations, things like that. But even in the in-store experience, it is a constant change in evolution and it’s not a set it and forget it, maybe move a couple appliances, reorganize the store, that sort of thing. But you’re actually taking, you’re turning the store into a living, breathing thing that is constantly evolving, which is awesome to see. And being able to do that in a new larger space obviously gives you a lot of flexibility and the ability to rethink how you’re doing things. So I think that’s an important message for any retailer, independent retailer to hear is that, you have the ability, it’s just being free of thought really. Right? And having the ideas and getting to express the retail experience in a different way and not being afraid to do that sort of stuff.
PJ Orsini: Well, we all know what we like and we all know what we don’t like. And I have some friends that are builders, people like that, that would come in here and I’m like, “Tear me apart. What don’t you, what doesn’t feel good? What do you think is a different direction it needs to be?” Sometimes we’ll just shift our laundry lineup, we’ll move the way that they’re sitting. They’re still in the same physical spot, but they’re in a different order, bring the newest collar out, move things around so that even though you walk in and it’s the same stuff, it looks a little different. Just anything to keep your eyes looking. Now that we’re getting these customers in on the outdoor accessories that we’re adding. And then there’s a ton of different things, solo stove, anything else we can do to bring people in, they come in and they’re looking and the design of the showroom, my sales center is in the middle of it, the store on one side. So they have to walk past over half of the store to pay for something and we go out and greet them and all that.
But the design was to make people move and walk through and look at things and so far it’s worked. And we keep tweaking little things just to keep feet moving, keep people going back through and see what works and what doesn’t work. I like to say we’re relatively good if something doesn’t work, pulling the plug and changing it. Some things we drag out, like other places do, try to figure out a way to fight and make them work. I’m not a sensitive person. If it doesn’t work, we dump it and move on to something else.
Rob Stott: Well, that kind of mindset too, we buried the lead here on the episode, but it kind of lends to that way of thinking and how it can allow a business to thrive and grow. If you’re watching the video version of this right above your head, there’s a couple of little plaques there that say Inc. 5,000 and that’s something you guys were honored this year and last year, two years running now on the list of fastest growing businesses? And coming in there this year, 2860, so right in the middle of that list. Cool to hear, when you get to say that Orsini’s is on a list of the fastest growing businesses in the country and not even just on the list, but moved up a bit this year as well. So growing 191%, the running three your growth. So impressive figures and stuff like that. But talk about being a part of that program and just what it means to be able to say that about your company.
PJ Orsini: It was great. When we decided to move into the store, the guys at the leadership at Nationwide hooked me up with guys like Mike Walker at Han and Joe Oakes, Brian Scarfe one of our close neighbors, Paul Sherman. I wanted to talk to the guys that were doing very big things that were bigger than us and pick their brains. What’s so cool about Nationwide is everyone you talk to there we’re all helping each other. It’s like, “Hey, I found this land mine, don’t step in it. You can do this.” Everyone’s been great to talk to. So once we got this place up and running and in the spot I thought it was good, I’ve always seen this Inc. 5,000 thing and why would I throw our home store into it and I thought, “What the hell, let’s do it.”
It’s a paid thing to get into and it’s a lot of work. You have to answer a lot of questions. The accountant has to back up your numbers and sign off on them and all that. So you send everything in and it’s like, let’s just see where we come into. And the first year we were 2,923 out of 5,000, which right in the middle of the pack. I didn’t expect to even make it, let alone get there. So we thought, great, let’s do it. Last year’s tournament, I’m sorry not tournament, but I guess competition, we finished at 2,860. So we were a little ahead of where we were. We were the only retailer in West Virginia that got on it. We were one of seven in the state in all categories. So pretty good. We’re in a pretty competitive area. We’re the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, so 13 miles north, I’m in Maryland, 14 miles south, I’m in Virginia. You go about 18 miles west. I’m in Loudoun County, Virginia, and then I’m an hour and a half outside of DC. So the sprawl was working its way from DC to us.
But I just want to see where we were against other people in the country and in all industries and see where we were. And the first year just to make the list, I got excited. Then of course, I’m extremely competitive with myself. I wanted to see how we would do this year and we did a little better. Just making it again would’ve been a big achievement because the market changed and the game changed so much. Just even hitting it was good. Then last year, I think we’re number 80 in the regionals. So this year’s regional competition hasn’t gone yet. We’ll run it again, see what happens and where it goes. But I just want to know where we are at and then I’ll take the information from this list and look at who’s on it and if there’s someone I can reach out to or check out their webpage, check out their socials. What they always say? The best artist steal, right? We want to see what they’re doing well and take ideas from that and see how we can bring this into the fold of what we do.
Rob Stott: It’s awesome. You mentioned the proximity to DC, something I thought about too. They’re expanding that silver line. It got to Dulles. Maybe it makes its way up to Martinsburg eventually, get some people from DC to get up. I know it’s a far ways away.
PJ Orsini: We have the MARC Train right here in Martinsburg. You got the MARC Train that runs into DC and then the metro I think is already to Frederick, Maryland now, which is 35, 40 minutes away. So it’s not too far of a stretch. I don’t think it’s going to be immediate. But with everything going on in this area, Procter & Gamble built a monster plant here a few weeks ago. We have a ribbon cutting tomorrow for Clorox here. There’s so much coming because of our proximity and the growth is just, with the recession that we all feel is coming, we’re fortunate to maybe be a little bit more sheltered than other parts of the country just because of the industrial growth that’s coming our way.
Rob Stott: Right. You mentioned, not even the fact of making the list but the moving up as well. You look at these 5,000 companies that are on here and the fact that there’s growth too over the last couple of years. This is, you got to remember, three year growth is what they do it off of. Right? So you’re talking about ’19, ’20, well ’20, ’21 and ’22. Well, no, the three complete years. So it’d be ’19, ’20, and ’21, right?
PJ Orsini: Yes.
Rob Stott: So you’re talking about a period of time where everything was kind of thrown up in the air and you don’t know what to expect. So not even just making the list, but making the list during a period of so much influx and uncertainty and things like that. That has to be reassuring and then also a very good feeling for you guys to be able to say that you grew at that kind of a rate.
PJ Orsini: Absolutely. Looking at the names on this list, these are monster companies that we don’t belong in the same conversation with when you look at what they do. And they’re all over the country. Some of these companies, you’re number one in this, their growth is astronomical. They’re 245000% growth. So that’s financial services. You look at some of what they do, but it’s kind of try to find like companies who we are and like things we can relate to. It’s a cool list, you can do stuff with it. But I just really wanted to see where we were, how we were doing, based on everything else. Yeah, and it’s a cool metric for your community. We put it out there for them.
When it was announcing it, we had my sales team, the ones that didn’t have a customer at the time up at their workstation, they all have computers up there, monitors at their desk. I’m like, watch it as they released it. And then some of them don’t quite know why you do it or what you do it. So we’re going over with them telling them how cool it is and what it was. And out of all the companies that apply, we’re right there in the middle of the pack trying to build that culture of we’re a damn good place to be a part of. And thanks to you all, you all are the ones that are out there dealing with customers, doing all that, you guys are as responsible for this as any of us are.
Rob Stott: You kind of alluded to what I was going to ask next. And that’s obviously there’s the public aspect of this, of being able to go out in your market, even the wider market, the region, and talk about the fact that you’re on a list of the fastest growing companies. But then the internal aspect, right? You get to turn around and use it as a way to cultivate a culture and just boost morale really of a team of people that contributed to this. So that has to be something, the last couple of years that to be able to say that and a recruitment tool as well too, to find new people and, “Hey, you want to come work for one of the fastest growing companies? We’re here, we’re in your backyard.” So that has to be something as well, that you guys are finding ways to leverage.
PJ Orsini: And it’s just the experience of it. Who the hell ever woke up and said, “I want to install refrigerators or sell washers?” Who does that? So you take what you’re doing and you elevate it. You’re showing people yeah, that is what you’re doing, you’re providing a service to people that are in need and we’re doing it better than others. And, oh by the way, you’re the 2,860 biggest company doing this in this list. And it’s more than 5,000 of course that apply for it. But it just lets everyone kind of feel you’re not just a washer installer, you’re not just a delivery guy, you’re part of a team that’s doing big things.
And we try to push that to everyone. I never say employee, it’s always a team member. I work for them more than they work for me. Trying to make sure they all know it and get it. But when this came out was very cool, letting everybody know about it. We got some stuff planned for a holiday party we’re going to do this year, kind of make sure everyone recognizes what it was and understands what it is and push the expectation. Next year we need to keep growing.
Rob Stott: Hey, a challenge too. So there’s that. You’ve moved up now, so you got to keep that mentality going of needing to grow faster. So that’s awesome. PJ, this was a lot of fun. You guys got a lot of great things going on, obviously. Recognition, you’ve been recognized for it. And just great to be able to talk to you about all the things you guys are doing out there in Martinsburg. And like I said, the last time we talked was during the start of a pandemic, stone’s throw from me, not too far from Philly and I got to get back down to DC anyway. And you guys aren’t that far, maybe there’s a visit in the future to do a podcast in person. But this was a lot of fun and certainly, we won’t wait two and a half years to catch up again.
PJ Orsini: No, it’s always good. We can’t say enough when we go to these shows. Nationwide makes a lot of stuff easier for us. To think about where we were back before we were in a group. We didn’t have financing, we would’ve never had a website the way we do. It’s a great assist to have a partner that makes these things easier. When we brought in another manufacturer earlier this year and no one at Nationwide said, “Go here,” but they would say, “Here’s the numbers, look at it.” When I had a question, I was pointed in the direction to make a great decision and Dean Hanby, John Laing, Doug Wrede, Derek, Tom, everyone was a phone call away when I needed it. And it was a scary damn decision to make at the time. It’s been a great one for us, I wouldn’t dare complain. But they gave us the tools to make the decision.
No one said, “This is what I would do.” It was more of, “Well, here’s the data, here’s what you’re looking at, here’s what we’re seeing across the board.” And it made my decision a lot easier. So it’s great having that asset behind you to keep it going and then continue to grow and evolve what we’re doing. And I called Doug Wrede about probably once every other week, just bouncing crazy ideas off of him or thinking of a thought I have is way out in left field. And even if it is, he’s like, “Oh, it’s not.” He likes to bring it back down. But great guys, great help. All that really makes our job easier and we wouldn’t be where we were without this and here being my team then we feel the same way about everyone in there. It makes things easier for us and we can get answers we need, continue to grow with it. So it’s been a great partnership.
Rob Stott: We are spoiled with some smart individuals here for sure. And that only goes to show that we’re also spoiled with some pretty awesome members as well. So we appreciate the kind words and certainly a partnership and one that we very much look forward to seeing grow. And you guys move up the list even further next year. I got faith.
PJ Orsini: I think so. I’m going to put it on the team out there and see if we can make that happen.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well, we appreciate it and we’ll catch up again soon.
PJ Orsini: Absolutely. Let’s do it.