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154: How Pocatello Electric Became a Community Staple

Written by Rob Stott

February 7, 2023

pocatello electric independent thinking podcast retail

For over 120 years, Pocatello Electric has served the many needs of its local residents in southeast Idaho. That longevity has helped them become the oldest family-owned appliance store in the country. We chat with current-day owner Suzie Vigliaturo about business, what’s worked and how they’ve evolved over the years to remain relevant with their customers.


 

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast and taking a little jaunt out to Pocatello, Idaho. Is that right? So Suzie, we talked about me wanting to pronounce your last name right. Suzie Vigliaturo, the owner of Pocatello Electric. Am I saying the city’s name right?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Yep. Perfect.

Rob Stott: Awesome. So I’m two for two today. I feel that’s a good way to start the day. No. Well, Suzie, we appreciate you taking the time and having availability and interest and courage, I guess if you will, to jump on a podcast with us and chat about business out there.

Suzie Vigliaturo: Okay, let’s go.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, let’s start. How is business? I as a person, have never been to the state of Idaho, so I am coming in blind as for what business is like out there. But tell us what it’s like in your community out there in Pocatello.

Suzie Vigliaturo: Well, business in Pocatello, Idaho is great right now. We have a lot of families as well as retired people moving to Idaho and to Pocatello. They’re trying to escape the big city life, which I don’t blame them. Pocatello is a smaller city and a great safe place to raise a family so I think that’s part of the draw to Pocatello and to Idaho. It’s just a great place to live.

Rob Stott: I know we have some team members, especially our field team that are out there and we hear a lot of great things about it. So it sounds like it’s going to have to be on the tour eventually to get to Idaho and Pocatello, but sounds like a fun area. You mentioned getting away from the big city. Describe the town a little bit. I don’t know if you have specific numbers in front of you on how large the community is, but what kind of town are you working out of out there?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Well, we have Idaho State University. It’s a great place to live if you like the outdoors. We’ve got a local ski hill that’s been around forever. Lots of fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, hunting, tons of outdoors stuff to do here. It is growing like I said. People are moving in. We were probably 58,000. I don’t know what it is right now, but it’s definitely growing.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. No, that’s awesome.

Suzie Vigliaturo: I think COVID probably brought a lot of people to Idaho.

Rob Stott: No, that makes sense for sure. But no, it’s sounds like not quite quaint. A little bigger than quaint, but still quaint I think. I’m talking from Philadelphia over here, so a town of a couple millions. So definitely quaint compared to where I sit, but no, cool to be there. You mentioned some of the things that are coming or things what you do there that have been longstanding, I guess, traditions of that area and one of them has to be Pocatello Electric. You guys celebrated a pretty big milestone and we’ll dive into that in a little bit. But before we get to that, tell us about your background and how you got into the retail business.

Suzie Vigliaturo: Well, I did go to ISU. I’ve always been working in the capacity of an office manager, always in the accounting end of the business. I have three daughters, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. I love to do all the stuff I mentioned that there is to do here. Fishing, skiing, kayaking, hiking. I like to travel. And I got into the business. My husband’s parents owned Pocatello Electric and in 1989 we bought the business from his parents and just have been running the business since then together.

Rob Stott: Wow. You’ve mentioned how long it’s been around, I thought, 120 years. Is that right? That’s the anniversary you guys were celebrating this year at the store?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Yeah, been here since 1902.

Rob Stott: Wow. That’s incredible first of all. So congrats on a longstanding success. Well, despite only having been at the helm since ’89, that’s still a large chunk of the business’s history. And we’ll get into the things that you’ve been doing, that have helped keep the business running for such an extended period of time. You know you talk about the steep history of the community. How does being around for that long, how does that play into what you do on a day-to-day basis? And I guess really, I’m trying to ask how do you lean into that history as a business having been around for that long and people in the community recognizing the name Pocatello Electric?

Suzie Vigliaturo: I think because Pocatello Electric is such an icon in Pocatello, it’s on the historical registry and it’s just basically part of what Pocatello stands for. The people in Pocatello are friendly. They’re always willing to help each other in time of needs. And to me, it’s extremely important that we keep the legacy of Pocatello Electric carrying on for not only the Vigliaturo family, but all of Pocatello, Idaho.

Rob Stott: The registry, that’s a interesting aspect and I don’t think I realized that diving through the website and stuff, but is that something that was recently added?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Well, they have a historical society in Pocatello and downtown Pocatello Electric is on that registry.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. I mean, obviously a cool mark that you can say that you’re a historical mark in the community. Do you have to do anything for that to either maintain that or ensure? I think of real estate and watching those home shows all the time where they’ll come across a building or a home that they’re renovating and they can’t do stuff to the outside because it’s a historical building or anything like that. Do you run into any situations like that?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Oh yeah, definitely. Everything that you do to your building, especially on the outside, you have to have permission in order to paint it or update it, put an awning up. So you have to get permission and that has to definitely be within their guidelines.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. Obviously some obstacles in that sense, but have you noticed any benefits from being marked as a historical building or landmark in the community?

Suzie Vigliaturo: I think just because I guess the benefit is just the fact that you’ve been here and you’ve been here for so long and people say, “Pocatello Electric,” and everybody knows where it’s at, that there’s only been four families that have ever owned Pocatello Electric. That speaks volumes as well. It’s not like it’s being sold over and over and over again. Mike and I are the fourth ones to own it.

Rob Stott: Yeah. It’s cool to see that. I mean, we only know of so many members within Nationwide. I think the last year or so, I talk about some of the conversations we’ve had a retailer being a hundred years. I think there’s a home furnishing store that was 135. But I know obviously the appliance side, you guys are one of the oldest appliance outfits in the country which is really cool to hear. To last for that long, to be in business for that long, obviously a lot of evolution has to occur and business has to adapt and changes have to be made. Maybe not necessarily to the outside of the building, so you don’t get yourselves in trouble with the historical society. But what sort of changes have you been a part of since taking over the business that you think have contributed to that sustained success?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Well, when we bought the business, we had to do a lot of changes. We brought on new lines, we remodeled the store, we cut overhead to make our profit margins better and we updated signage and basically we just had to catch up with the times because Mike’s father was older and he kind of didn’t believe in doing all this stuff. It was just wasting money and wasn’t necessary. So yeah, we had a lot of work to do that took us quite a while. But the biggest change and probably the most important thing that we did was joining the Buying Group because that helped us immensely, not only with the better buying power, but just everything that they do with the learning academies, the connections that you make going to the meetings. So yeah, that was probably the biggest, most important thing that we did to evolve into the next century.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome to hear always, of course. I think that we can’t do what we’re able to do if it’s not for an awesome collection of members across the country that bring a lot to the table as well. It’s always awesome to hear from the different members and your stories and backgrounds because I think it shows that there’s no cookie cutter way to do business. You guys are all figuring out how to make it work in your communities. Here with tools and some expertise to provide along the way, but we learn so much from you guys and what you do out in the community. You talk about the changes you’ve made to the business after taking over. What are the things that are … Well, two-part question, the things that are going well that you think you’re doing really well at at Pocatello and what areas are there that you still need to evolve in do you think?

Suzie Vigliaturo: I think we do a super, super job taking care of our customers. We always go the extra mile. We make phone calls after phone calls to get product taken care of that maybe broke down and are waiting for parts or just replacing product and then trying to deal with it on our end of getting it repaired or replaced or whatever just to keep the customer satisfied and in business with their appliances. I think that’s our probably strongest point. There’s always things that you can improve on.

Right now we’re working on trying to get a better delivery schedule so we’re going to go with a program that will help us do that through Nationwide. The other thing that I think we need to do is utilize more of the tools that Nationwide provides and has to offer. We’re also working on using more of the tools with our point of sales system as far as what we can do with that to make our business better with communication with customers, streamline some of the stuff that we have to do in our everyday business. So yeah, we just keep moving forward.

Rob Stott: I gotcha. I mean, obviously having been involved with the business since 1989, you see a lot of changes to how retail’s done. I think of selling product on a website in 1989. Not necessarily something that was even a possibility at that point, obviously, but to fast forward to 2022. You mentioned the group obviously. Are there any other contributors or big changes or shifts in the way you guys have done business in that time that you think would be some of the most important or reasons for that like we said, that sustained success?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Yeah, just keeping up with the time and the changes. Like you said, in 1989 you didn’t buy your appliances on a website. But yeah, just having your website, having your social media, keeping the community involved in your social media by doing different things. Like for this 120-year celebration, we based everything on 120 days. So we’ve been doing drawings every week and we post it on Facebook. I think you just have to be out there in the community. You have to be active. We used to do a lot of newspaper advertising, but everything we do mostly is on social media, billboards. So, yeah just keeping up with time and changing.

Rob Stott: No, it all makes sense. It’s something, and not to pick on your in-laws I guess, but you mentioned earlier that the idea of change was not something that was easy to come by with the previous owners. Thinking about how you’ve since taken over the business and where it’s come to today and all the changes you’ve had to make, what’s it take from your perspective, from your seat, to be open to that change and wanting to try new things and adapt to new ways of doing business?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Well, I think everybody has a hard time with change. I think you just have to present it in a way to make them see that we need to change this because it will make our business better. It’ll make us more profitable. So you just have to have an open mind and be willing to give it a try.

Rob Stott: No, I love that. Another thing you mentioned too was just how one of the things you’re doing really well at right now is the focus and attention to the customer. I know looking ahead to primetime, we’ve been batting around this idea, this theme of customer obsessed and making sure that the services or whether it’s the products. The in-store experience is very much customer-focused. You mentioned delivery and things like that, what’s it, again from your perspective, how does a business ensure that they are making it about the customer? What are some of those things that you’re doing? You mentioned a couple of examples of being there for them if they have a product that breaks, an appliance that needs some service. What are some of those unique things that you think you guys do that show that you care, go above and beyond to show care for your customers?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Well, the difference is if you go buy something from a big box store and you have a problem with it, they just tell you, call the manufacturer, call Whirlpool, call Frigidaire, call LG, whatever. They don’t pick up the phone. They’re not going to pick up the phone. They’re not going to be on the phone for hours. They’re not going to have a rep that you can call and say, “Hey, you got to help us out with this. This is what’s going on with it?” You know, you just have to have that connection and you have to be willing to spend a lot of time batting for those customers and trying to get them taken care of.

Unfortunately, we end up with a lot of product that we have to try to get repaired after it’s been to the customer’s home. Had a problem with refrigeration, but you can’t let the customer go months and months and months without a refrigerator because that’s how long it takes to get a part or compressor or what have you. But yeah, I mean that separates us from all those big box stores is just communication with your customers, communication with your vendors, with your rep. Everybody has to be on the same page. Everybody has to be willing to work for that customer because they bought a $2,000 refrigerator and it doesn’t work. They’re not happy.

Rob Stott: No.

Suzie Vigliaturo: So I deal with that every day.

Rob Stott: Yeah, stressful for sure, but I think that it speaks to the fact that you guys are doing well with it and able to address those issues as they arise and provide that level of service. Not to say this answers the next question that I wanted to ask, but you talk about contributing factors to sustained success and being able to be in business for 120 years. I mean, relationships are a big part of that. And having strong ones within the community and being able to, like you said, take your words, but communicate with your customers and be there for them. I think easy to say that that’s probably how you could go about answering that is that you guys have been able to have strong relationships in the community and be there for them on the service aspect, I guess. Would you agree or are there other things that you think have allowed Pocatello Electric to be in business for 120 years?

Suzie Vigliaturo: Well, I think that the other thing is your salespeople have to be respectful. When somebody comes in, they’re not always happy that they have to replace their refrigerator or their whole kitchen or whatever. I think appliances used to be like, ooh, fun, fun. But now with the economy and everything that’s going on, people aren’t so excited to be putting that much money especially now because they’re so expensive, into an appliance. So you have to be patient with your customers. You have to be kind, friendly, and you have to know the product so that you can educate your customers. It starts when they walk in the door and it ends when they get their delivery.

I think delivery is also a key factor, that you have to have a really good delivery people because there’s a last impression that the customer gets of your store. That’s pretty key also is to have them be the same courteous and friendly and respectful and just do a good job. We’ve got a super, super delivery crew right now and I’m very thankful that we do because I know nationwide it’s pretty tough right now to get people to be dedicated and to even show up to work. As far as my organization, I’m very fortunate. We’ve had people that have been here 30 years.

Rob Stott: Yeah. That’s awesome.

Suzie Vigliaturo: Yeah, I’m very fortunate.

Rob Stott: No, that’s incredible, and I think the fact that you’re able to maintain not just the business but the team that you guys have, it’s reciprocal. Having a strong team means the business is going to thrive and do well and see you guys have lasting success and speaks to the generations of people that have come through, whether that’s customers or team members. So awesome to see. Like I said at the top, I think it’s awesome to hear a lot of those specifically stories like yours where things are going well and you guys have a formula and you’re sticking to it, but you’re willing to adjust like any good, I guess mathematician who are willing to adjust their formulas and figure out what works. The environment changes, the economy changes, but you’re able and willing to adapt and speaks to the kind of retail store you guys are running and why you’re able to celebrate 120 years in business right now.

Suzie, I appreciate you sharing your story. It’s been a lot of fun getting to dive into Pocatello Electric and learn a little bit about you guys and what you’re doing out there and making me want to visit Idaho and bring some skis and other hiking equipment to get out there and have some fun. So maybe someday before we know it.

Suzie Vigliaturo: Well, when you come, just come to Pocatello Electric and we’ll show you around, show you a good time.

Rob Stott: Awesome. I appreciate it. Well, thank you again for taking the time and we’ll certainly catch up again soon.

Suzie Vigliaturo: Okay. Thank you.

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