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158: Getting Seriously Small Town with Sorenson’s Appliance & TV

Written by Rob Stott

March 7, 2023

dak Sorenson independent thinking podcast retail

Geneva, Minnesota is town of just over 500 residents, and it also happens to be the home of Nationwide Marketing Group Member Sorenson’s Appliance & TV. Co-owner Dak Sorenson and his team have found success by leaning heavily into that small-town mindset in every aspect of the business.


 

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast. If you’re watching the video version, just to let you know we’re doing this safely. Dak is pulled over on the side of the road and he stopped everything he was doing to hop on the Independent Thinking podcast now. Dak Sorenson, co-owner up there of Sorenson’s Appliance and TV in Geneva, Minnesota. I get all that right?

Dak Sorenson: You are correct.

Rob Stott: Awesome. How are you doing today, sir?

Dak Sorenson: I’m well. Yourself?

Rob Stott: Doing all right, thank you. And you’re just in Geneva now? That’s a stone’s throw down I-35 from Minneapolis?

Dak Sorenson: Yeah, we’re about hour and a half south of Minneapolis.

Rob Stott: All right. How is that? You’re in the dead of winter right now out there, so is it like -20 and snow every day? What do you guys got going on?

Dak Sorenson: No, it says 29 on my temperature gauge.

Rob Stott: Okay.

Dak Sorenson: Not bad. We’ve got some snow coming in here tomorrow, I guess. We’ll be fine.

Rob Stott: Awesome. We appreciate you hopping on and diving into you and the business a little bit. We’re excited to have you guys on the podcast and talk about business up there in Minnesota. Before we dive into the business itself, tell us about yourself, your background, and your path into retail.

Dak Sorenson: The path in the retail wasn’t really a path. I’m the third generation. Obviously, through high school, college, worked at the family business, summers, weekends here and there. But, never was really pushed into it by any means whatsoever. After college, I decided to take a teaching degree and I was a physical education teacher. I went to Arizona for two years and taught kickball.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. That’s a background.

Dak Sorenson: I’m a sports fanatic, so that’s what I wanted to do and we tried it. It was a nice little run for a couple years. I coached and everything. But, home is home. Family’s all here. Decided to come back. We talked with my dad and mom and we decided to let’s give it a go. We kicked my dad out of the store and I jumped in.

Rob Stott: That’s the things I always love hearing because dealing with 5000 independent retailers, you hear so many different origin stories of retail. A lot of them it’s, you get a handful that were it was destined to be because of the family business. Others that were pushed or never really thought of anything else. There’s still plenty out there. The backgrounds that are all over the place. But, you still end up that calling back to home. You never felt it. You saying it yourself, you never felt any pressure, but it was just it felt right to come home. Is that what it was?

Dak Sorenson: Yeah, I always knew in the back of my head that Arizona or wherever I would end up after college, I’m glad I did. It wasn’t going to be home, it was just a stopping point. I would tell everyone, get out of here for a year or two and experience life a little bit. Obviously, there’s a lot more out there. Find out what you want to do. I did that and couldn’t be happier.

Rob Stott: Talk about some of that time away. What does that give you a chance to do? You mentioned experiencing other things, but to be able to get away from home and then know that that’s there that you can come back to.

Dak Sorenson: It was a relief. It’s always in the back. I love to travel, I love to do other things. I wanted to try working outside, obviously, the boundaries of home and just to see what that was like. Meet new people, different people around the world, culture. And I still have friends and contacts because of teaching, because of that. And I did my student teaching in Australia for four months, too, as well. I enjoyed every part of it knowing that the business would possibly be there and if it wasn’t, it wasn’t meant to be. It all worked out, I guess, for a purpose. It’s going strong.

Rob Stott: Your teaching degree and retail don’t necessarily align up. What’s it like coming back home and then having to learn the business? Or was it something you always knew because you, as a family member, it was always around, you were around it?

Dak Sorenson: I was always around it, obviously. I delivered. I installed. I still do that today. Engaging with people. A customer calls me up still today and says, “I got something going on with my washer.” “Hold on, stop. Let me transfer you to a service tech because I have no idea.” Still today. It’s just learning a different avenue. I had to learn the teaching, 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 a washer, dryer, a refrigerator. Dealing with employees, which I’m fine dealing with employees because we got great employees. It was all comfortable. I was fine coming back.

Rob Stott: You came back to Sorenson’s Appliance and TV, as we mentioned, up there in Geneva, Minnesota. A third generation owner. You’re co-owner with your uncle, is that right?

Dak Sorenson: Yeah, Uncle Tim Sorenson. He’s second generation. His boy, I’m not going to say how many years, but maybe 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 years, he’ll buy his dad out. He’s working there right now. Great guy. Great guy.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Talk us through what it is, the fabric, the elevator pitch on Sorenson’s and what you guys do. Obviously, appliance and TV, but talk through the store, what you see when you walk in.

Dak Sorenson: We just moved to a new location here about a year ago. The other location, we were there for 40 years or whatever. It’s been 50 years. We just decided, time is right, let’s move to this new building, add on. Our warehouse is directly behind this new building. This is a perfect opportunity to do it. It’s just a new refresh. Our other store was fairly outdated, a little bit. Carpet from 1970s. This store now was a cabinet flooring place. You walk in and it’s all modern, updated, new plumbing, new electrical. It’s just a reset for the store, you could say.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. I love, too, if you go and browse around your website and specifically the About Us section, there’s a great story about the last time you guys moved. I’ll let you tell that story.

Dak Sorenson: As the story goes, my dad, he was in charge, he wanted to always be in charge. Still to this day, he still wants to be in charge. He gets older, we’re in charge now. Grandpa and grandma went on a vacation as they did every other month. My dad says, “It was time.” When he walked out, jumped in the plane, he 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?” “It just needed to be done, grandpa. Here we are. We’re in our new location.” That was that. No conversation after.

Rob Stott: That’s great. You want to make a decision, just make sure that the owner’s out of the way. You just up and move the business. I can’t imagine that’s how it went down this time around. I’m sure it was a little bit more seamless and all inclusive.

Dak Sorenson: Yeah, yeah. It was like, “Okay, we need to do it. Let’s just do it.” It was a year or two in the making. It just happened.

Rob Stott: That’s a great opportunity, too, because you’re moving into a new store. You get to reimagine the showroom and how you have the floor set up. Were there any big changes or opportunities that you guys took advantage of being able to basically reset your business into a new location?

Dak Sorenson: We did add Cambria Countertops to our business because we were strictly just appliances and slash little TVs here and there. We added Cambria and that’s worked out good for the past year. That’s starting to gain some traction a little bit there. But, the overall appliances, we’re still washers, dryers, and your regular appliances. Sell some TVs on the side. It’s nothing fancy when you walk in. It’s just an open box. Got rows of appliances. It’s who we are. We’re a farming community. We try to be simple-minded and that’s how we go about the whole thing.

Rob Stott: You mentioned that community, too, and I love something else I learned about guys and more so the town you’re out of there in Geneva. 500 is the total population. What’s it like? I’m sitting here, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a couple million in our backyard and slightly larger community. What’s it like living and working in that small of a community? You are, like we said, just about 90 minutes south of Minneapolis, so not too far from a major metropolitan area, but still a really small community that you can get pretty close and tight-knit with.

Dak Sorenson: I live 20 miles away in Albert Lea, that’s a town of 20,000 people. But I grew up in Geneva where our business is at. Still to this day, I don’t say anything bad about any of the towns around us because they’re all great towns. I go to a gymnasium to watch a basketball game or whatever it may be in my hometown, I know everyone. They’re there to watch friends. When you go to these bigger cities and whatnot, you got the people that are just there to watch their kids. Our gymnasiums are packed with parents, friends, grandparents, it doesn’t matter. Growing up in that town of, 500… Let’s back up, that’s 450 people, not 500. We know the cats and the dogs of our neighbors. It’s just home. It’s just comfortable. We have a radius of about 60 miles around us that have towns of 20,000, 30,000 that we, obviously, have to pull from. It works out good. We’re right in the hub of towns all the way around us that have 20, 30,000. We’re not too far out of the jurisdiction of everyone else.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Knowing that you pull from that large of radius, obviously some competition in and around there. What do you think it is that sets Sorenson’s apart from other retailers in your area or that operate around you guys?

Dak Sorenson: 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. We’d love to do business with independent people. But let’s face it, price is still king to a point. You got to be competitive. But, what can you offer though that the box stores can’t? We can always offer service after the sale. We’re never going to get beat on pricing.

I think it’s important that if they have a problem they can call and ask for Dak or Tim or whoever it may be. We’re firsthand going to get them taken care of. All these contractors that I deal with, I give them my cell phone. I say, “Call me on my cell phone if you’re going to have a problem.” Because you know what? There’s going to be a problem and you got to get ahold of someone and here I am. 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.

Rob Stott: That’s, obviously, a critical mindset. You hit the nail on the head. It’s not a major corporate and I think it’s even a line on your website, as well. Every customer, they’re not just another number. You actually get to know them. Do you think that is born out of that small town mentality and something that you guys are just, it’s ingrained in the way you are, not just as business owners but as community members and people that live around you?

Dak Sorenson: 100%. 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 because it’s a small town. If you do something they know. Good or bad. That word spreads, as well. When I’m doing business, obviously. “Go check out Sorenson’s Appliance.” And they have friends, their friends have friends. It really circulates out. There’s a really good story and I’ll keep this short. About two years ago, I was at Nationwide Buying Show and I was trying to drum up some more business. I need some help. I was talking to someone there. He’s like, “What’s the population of your town?” I said, “Roughly around, just under 500.” “Okay. Here’s your numbers that you do.” Were fairly strong numbers. And I go, “Hold on here. 500 people, not 500,000.” He literally got up and walked away and said, “I can’t help you.” He says, “You’re doing just fine.” We enjoy the small town.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. It’s like you said, it’s that mentality. I’m curious, especially with employees. I love that you guys handle from whether it’s the sale to the service side of things, you’re there at every step of the way for the customer. What is it like sharing that mentality or getting everyone in the company, all your employees to buy into that? Is it, again, because they’re from the area, they get it? Or is it a culture thing that you guys have built over time, as well?

Dak Sorenson: I’ll say I’m probably one of the luckiest guys I know for having the best employees that I could ask for. Yes, I knew them before I hired them. We’d go golfing. We hang out. We’ll go uptown and have a beer or two or a burger. We’re all fairly, tightly close. Just a good group of people. My delivery guys, they all sell. Our sales guys all deliver. If we run short, people are on vacation, we can all fill in. It’s just a nice little home and we all get the job done at day’s end. Which is nice.

Rob Stott: It’s awesome. We’re coming up to PrimeTime again where I know a big theme. This show is going to be all about being customer obsessed and the things that our retailers. How you guys work to make sure the customer is at the center of that experience. Is there anything that you guys, outside of what we’ve already talked about, that you guys think you go above and beyond with to make sure that your customers have that top-notch experience that you’d be willing to share?

Dak Sorenson: 100%. I’m big on going to get contractors. A contractor that builds 100, 200 homes a year. It is a tough one to grab, but if I can get them, that’s just one little thing. Once I got them in the door, I close the sale. Now it’s not up to me anymore. It’s up to my delivery crew that has to deliver their appliance and make sure they’re happy after the sale. My delivery crew is top-notch. When they leave, the floors are clean, garbage is picked up. Nine times out of 10 it’s a callback saying, “I’m going to recommend those two people that were just at my house.” I got six different crews, eight different crews. It’s great to hear that coming back that the customer’s taken care of after I’ve got that customer. It means a lot.

Rob Stott: That comes from, obviously, having the right people in there to do that. It has to be said, something, too, from the top down. Are you going through and training those guys, offering the tips and advice on how to manage that experience? Because it is, it’s the last, but it’s also the most crucial, arguably, touchpoint for the customer.

Dak Sorenson: It really is. I hire them, whatever. I’m not the professional delivery person that knows all the ins and outs. I give him little tricks here on how to sell or whatever. But at day’s end, I hire that guy, I throw him on a truck with a guy that’s been there for quite a few years. He trains them in and away they go the first day. A week later, they’re professional almost does seem like. I’ve always said, “You can always train someone, it’s just a personality.” If they got a good personality and can talk, they’ll be just fine. They’ll just be fine.

Rob Stott: All you people up there in Minnesota, Minneapolis, are fairly, you’re close enough to Canada that it’s like you got that niceness built into you.

Dak Sorenson: Yeah, for the most part, yes.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. You guys got a great operation. Anything else you want to share just about advice that you think is important to for other independents to hear that you know could attribute to your success? 62 years?

Dak Sorenson: 72.

Rob Stott: 72 years.

Dak Sorenson: 72 years. It all trickles down from top, bottom. I’ve always said, thanks for grandma for letting grandpa start this thing. If it wasn’t for her to be able to stay home, raise the family, he won’t be able to do what he did. You got to thank where it starts, from grandpa and grandma. It just comes down the three kids, my dad and his two brothers that kept it going. Business minded. Someone who was always there. You ever had a problem, you call one of the so-called owners up and it’s going to get taken care of. What the best thing about it is, I can leave for a day or two or go on vacation. I don’t have to worry about a thing. Yeah, I’ll have some emails and a bunch of stuff I got to catch up on. It gets taken care of. It’s 100% on the employees. I couldn’t speak good enough on the employees that I have.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. You guys built a good team and have a long-lasting legacy there in a small town, a name that people have come to know and trust. Kudos to the family, the team, and everything that you guys have done to build a successful business up there. Here’s to the next 72 years.

Dak Sorenson: We’ll see.

Rob Stott: Dak, we appreciate the time. I’ll let you get back to hitting the road and getting to where you need to go. This was a lot of fun. Hope to catch up soon, maybe at PrimeTime.

Dak Sorenson: Awesome. Thanks for that. Appreciate your time.

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