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193: Spicher’s Shows Security Can Deliver as a Differentiator

Written by Rob Stott

November 14, 2023

Spicher's appliances & security independent thinking podcast

Around in the Hagerstown, Maryland area since the mid-1950s, Spicher’s Appliances took a unique step and expanded into the security category in 2010. Over the past decade plus, Spicher’s has seen that business flourish and prove to be a real differentiator in their market. Callan Spicher, Vice President of the company, joined us to talk about the venture, how the business has evolved over the years and more.


 

Rob Stott: We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and excited. Hagerstown is not too terribly far. We were talking about this beforehand. Maybe, I don’t know, an hour, hour and a half outside of Philly. You’re closer to DC and Baltimore, Callan, but-

Callan Spicher: Yeah. So about an hour and a half outside Baltimore DC area.

Rob Stott: Awesome. So that for me is like a drive out the turnpike and down south 81 a little bit, I think. Does that sound about right?

Callan Spicher: Yeah, it’s 78 to 81, I think that’s what it is.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, Callan Spicher, appreciate you jumping on the Independent Thinking podcast this morning and diving into it with us. So how are you doing, first of all?

Callan Spicher: Good. It is November, so all of the Black Friday craziness kicking off, but another year, it sneaks up every time.

Rob Stott: It really does. No kidding. And getting cold this time of year. We are recording this right after daylight savings kicked in, so I’m sure getting dark early and just a fun time of year all around, right?

Callan Spicher: Yeah, yeah. Mariah Carey broke out of the ice.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, so Spichers Appliance and Security that we’ll get to dive into. But before that, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and we’ll start there.

Callan Spicher: Yeah, sure. So I didn’t really have a choice to go into the appliance industry, being raised around it. My dad is third generation appliance owner business, so I started working at Spichers when I was 15. After college I actually worked at GE Appliances, so I got to work on the other side of the business for a couple of years. It was invaluable experience, really got to learn a lot about what dealers ask for and how to operate and how to merchandise on that kind of level, because I did work in sales, so I started off in Louisville, went to New York City for a couple years, and then my dad decided to be very dramatic and have a heart attack. He’s okay, of course, and doing well, but that kind of inspired me to move back home. So I’ve been working now at Spichers for the past almost five years, which is crazy.

Rob Stott: He could have just asked, right? He could have just asked.

Callan Spicher: I know, right. That’s what I tell him all the time.

Rob Stott: Well, it’s funny you bring that up. I love asking our members, obviously independent retail, a lot of those second, third generation stores that you hear about and my natural follow-up to hearing about your background is like, did you ever have a choice? Did you feel like you could have gone on and done whatever? And you did for a little bit, right? Going to work for GE, but did you feel like, was there always a calling or did you always feel like you’d end up back in the family business?

Callan Spicher: Oh no. I never thought I’d end up back here. I was up and out and I just wanted to see different things and I’m really grateful that I was able to have that experience. I’m one of four, so I’m part of the fourth generation coming in, but I always thought it would be one of my other siblings and it turns out sometimes you’re the most qualified and it’s a good fit too. It makes it sound like I didn’t love coming back because I very much did. You have a lot of skills and you really want to kind of prove what you can do. And sometimes at big corporations, that’s a bit difficult.

Small corporations, you can make a really big difference pretty immediately and I love being able to do that.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome.

Callan Spicher: And not having an email follow up of someone at corporate not responding or something like that. Now I can just walk down the hall and be like, “Hey, what’s going on?”

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. And you talk about those different experiences. I mean Hagerstown to Louisville, to New York, very different towns. So what is it that drew you back to … obviously family and being a part of it, but neat to be able to experience that I’m sure and work in different, not just environments, but different kind of towns too, right? New York to Hagerstown is very, very different for anyone that’s never been to towns of those kind.

Callan Spicher: Yeah, well in New York, the customers are hard. They tell you the truth. They won’t sugarcoat it, but they also love hard too. So when you do something really great, they’re going to shower you with praise too. It’s like you’re the best rep I ever had or I’m trying to do that. I’m not doing it very well, but I’m trying.

Rob Stott: I was going to say, I like that, I appreciate that, that’s awesome.

Callan Spicher: But it was a great way to learn a lot really fast. And also growing up in a small town, my last name, a lot of people know it. Living in New York, no one cared. And that was great for me as well where I felt like I could learn without any of that context, which I needed and was really valuable. So coming back here where people are a lot kinder, well, I wouldn’t say maybe the same amount of kind, maybe just not as blunt. It’s really different. But I also learned in that environment, so I’m not afraid to be blunt when necessary.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Being a Philadelphia resident, I get that as well. Kind of that little sister of New York City, very much aligned whether they want to admit it or not. The personality types. I know what it’s like. But how is business today? What’s life like? Three stores? Am I right?

Callan Spicher: Yeah, three stores. Business is doing well. Ever since COVID, things have just been weird. I keep on saying I’m going to stop trying to predict what’s going to happen next, but I still try. Things have been crazy and then they kind of wound down a bit. This year things have been a bit more consistent, but October hit and things got really crazy. So …

Rob Stott: No telling, right? You hear all the … I feel like we’ve been hearing that R word for multiple years at this point and keeps getting kind of kicked down the road, that can, but it’s interesting, you see those quarters where it’s like, takes a little bit of a dip and then comes back up. So it is a weird environment. How do you guys as a business kind of navigate that? Can you plan or how … well, you have to plan, right, as a business, how do you? What are you doing?

Callan Spicher: I think it’s not planning sometimes on exponential growth. Everyone wants to just see those numbers go up every time, but we’re not looking at quarterly earnings and trying to talk to shareholders in that type of way. We’re planning on the long-term. So how can you make decisions that are for the success of the long-term business and making decisions with that in mind rather than what is this Black Friday going to look at? Because for sure I’m going to worry about it, but I also want to make sure we’re good in 10 Black Fridays from now.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. So what is working right now, business, whether that’s product or other areas of the business that you’re focusing on?

Callan Spicher: I think right now we’re really focused on branding and how we’re positioned in the marketplace to make sure we’re differentiating ourselves on our online presence as well. And I think with customers that we already have, it’s pretty obvious how we can make that sales pitch. We’re really dedicated to customer service and service in general. We only service what we sell. So that kind of extends also to the security and appliance side of things. We’re known for being just good people to work with. We might tell it to you straight where you might need a new one or you can fix this one and we’ll work with you. But it’s having those good conversations and making sure we show that online and in our branding as well.

Rob Stott: No, I love that. And you mentioned the word differentiation and that’s the service part has always been a big part of the business for Spichers, right back to when you guys were founded. So it’s awesome to see that that continues. Obviously things can change over time and businesses evolve, but that’s one thing that’s always kind of been there.

Callan Spicher: Yeah, my grandfather, when he started the company with his dad, he worked as a servicer first, so he really knows that side of the business very well. Appliances have changed a lot since then, but our dedication to service has not.

Rob Stott: I don’t think he had to worry about TVs and touchscreens on refrigerators, cameras on the inside, checking expiration dates and things like that.

Callan Spicher: For sure, having computer boards and things like that, it’s just a lot different.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Well another thing you’re doing to differentiate, and you mentioned it briefly, security. Kind of relatively newer to the business. Talk about the dive into security for Spichers.

Callan Spicher: Yeah, it came on like 2009, so actually my dad was at a nationwide primetime event and they were talking about connected appliances and that’s kind of where the industry is going. And my dad had an employee that was doing security services and kind of saw that connected aspect from talking to him as well. He had a side hustle, and it worked out really well. I mean Mike Bowers has been working at Spichers since he was 18 and he’s the one that started the security business. So he kind of got to be enveloped under the Spichers umbrella and take that side hustle into a full-time passion.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. And when you say full-time passion, I mean it’s part of the name, which is cool, but then too you could see that, I mean you guys are really invested in it in the fact that there’s a whole separate website and everything that’s going on. So talk about just that commitment and when you say diving in headfirst, you really have.

Callan Spicher: Yeah, and it’s not something for us that we dabble in, a lot of the security concerns with big corporations, whether that’s the security that you’re putting in or a house, you want to make sure you’re secure. So making sure you’re certified and you have great techs. All of our techs actually, or a lot of our senior techs are former TV technicians, so obviously TVs is something that people don’t generally fix anymore. So getting them cross-certified has been able to keep a lot of them while we’ve been installing security systems.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. And I mean, I see just kind of putzing around the security website for you guys, residential, commercial, you mentioned the smart home solutions on there, so a lot. Medical alerts too, it’s crazy the expansiveness.

Callan Spicher: Yes. If you’ve fallen and can’t get up.

Rob Stott: Oh man, that commercial, we might have to play that over top of this as we’re putting this together. Core memory unlocked right there. But I mean it is kind of a vast segment, a lot of ins and outs to what goes on in not just security, but it kind of ties into the rest of the smart home. So whether it’s you or other employees at Spicher, how are you guys staying on top of the trends and what goes on in this category?

Callan Spicher: Yeah, I think we started off with more thinking it would be a more residential type of business just because we’re already in a lot of homes with appliances, but it’s turned out to be a much more commercial enterprise.

So then you’re talking about different types of scanners going in and out of doors, fingerprint scanners, all of that kind of stuff has really taken off as well. So staying on top of it has been really interesting. But they have different buying groups just like appliances do. It’s a little bit different industry. I think the entrance of SimpliSafe and Ring has definitely been a huge shift within the industry. I would liken it to probably when LG and Samsung came into the appliance industry and really shook things up. GE and Whirlpool had to figure things out and it was a struggle for those companies for a couple years.

And I think in my opinion, security is kind of going through that same type of function, at least on the residential side where I think those legacy companies are trying to figure out a new way to go to business.

Rob Stott: Yeah, no, that’s an interesting point for sure. And when you see, I even think you think about an Amazon that has, I believe they own Ring, and then they have their own product as well with Blink and everything that goes in there. So it’s becoming more consumerized, it’s something they’re making it cool and flashy again.

Callan Spicher: Yeah, and a lot easier point of entry. I mean I can get into the quality and also the different hacking things now if you want me to. Should I go ahead?

Rob Stott: Yeah. Well, so you bring up a good point because as it becomes more attainable by consumers, so there’s a couple ways you can go, there’s the door that it opens to consumers trying to put their own systems in place and they’re not certified like a Spichers tech would be and creating issues there. And then also just the idea that you are putting more technology in your home and it’s age-old, as old as technology is, there’s kind of the thought that there are bad actors out there. So are you seeing raised concerns around consumers as they put these products in their home, kind of what they’re opening themselves up to?

Callan Spicher: Yeah. And there’s two different parts of having cameras. You can have cameras in your house, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily monitored, which means that they’ll call the cops if something happens. So you can watch someone break into your house in HD camera, but as most people use this product, it’s really just to watch someone ring the doorbell to let your kids into the house. Mine is a kennelcam to watch my dog. All of the important things too, which is like 99% of what people are using it for.

The hacking is definitely a concern. There’s different levels of certification for these products. So we sell, everything is UL certified for us. So we do not actually sell Ring or SimpliSafe because they’re not UL certified, just because it just means basically that they’re easier to hack. And also I feel like because there’s such a big name that that information might be out there a little bit easier. So it’s part of the reason why we don’t sell it.

At the end of the day, all products can be hacked. I think it’s just more of if you have an easier way to get in, who is that hacker going to go for? So something just another level of complicated might mean they’re going to the next day or the next door.

Rob Stott: And it’s interesting, I mean nationwide, it’s a conversation we’ve been having with retailers about protecting their own businesses, and then it kind of turns that conversation around as like, well consumers need to have the same sort of level of concern. And I think your point about the different level of how secure something is and whether it’s recognized, and I’m not sure if you’ve seen or following, but I know think it was a few months ago, the government announced that it was launching a cyber trust mark. So something that’ll look at product and similar to you think of Energy Star in the appliance world and what that’s done for helping consumers that want to navigate this vast world of appliances and find the most energy efficient product.

Callan Spicher: Yeah.

Rob Stott: Well, they’re going to launch a mark that does the same for cybersecurity. So whatever those standards are, I’m sure they’re still being figured out and discussed and things like that, but whatever those standards end up being, that determine whether a product is safe and secure, it’ll get that mark as a cyber trust certified product of sorts.

Callan Spicher: Yeah. Right now with the UL certified, it’s at least something. It is quite expensive to do that. So at this point in the game it’s kind of like you get what you pay for, unfortunately, where it just might be easier to hack Ring and SimpliSafe are something more than nothing, but their price point is just easier, more easily hackable.

Rob Stott: What are those conversations like with consumers? Because I’m sure they’re big names, they recognize those names and the fact that you’re like, “Well listen, here’s the real deal.” How are you having those conversations or handling customers that come to you asking that sort of stuff?

Callan Spicher: Yeah, I think it’s complicated. I think a lot of people find it overwhelming to say the least, and then it just becomes, well, isn’t everything hackable? And it’s like, “Well yes, but there’s levels.”

So it’s like usually if you can get in front of people and have that conversation about … because we don’t have that cheaper product, our stuff is just more expensive. So explaining why it’s more expensive and with Ring, some of employees from Ring, were watching different cameras so we can promise none of that is happening here. So it’s those types of conversations and honestly the news around Ring has made it easier for us to have those conversations given the context of why the security that we sell is better. It is more expensive, but you’re getting something out of it.

Rob Stott: I love what that shows too about you guys and your decision to carry a product because easy to get kind of caught up in like, “Oh, well everyone’s going to know this so it’ll be easier to sell this,” but you’re actually taking, I mean call it a stand if you will, that you want to ensure that customers that come and shop through you, they’re getting that not only a good experience just in general, but the product at the end of the day that they’re getting something they’ll be able to trust that you trust.

Callan Spicher: Yeah.

Rob Stott: It kind of puts you as that thought … not even just a thought leader, but just someone that they can turn to for advice in this world and on these products and it’s pretty cool.

Callan Spicher: Yeah. Well, thank you. We hope so.

Rob Stott: No, it is, and it’s neat to see, and I mean, how is it … kind of backing out of the cybersecurity talk, but just the world of security in general? You’ve gotten to see it firsthand since the addition of it to the business and what it’s done. Circling back to that differentiator, so what has it done? Have you seen a big impact on business because of it or the fact that you guys have this? It’s like you don’t often see appliance and security. That’s not the tag you see on a retail business. It’s usually appliance and TV or appliance and furniture, not appliance and security. So it’s definitely different.

Callan Spicher: Yeah. And I think because we have a lot of relationships within the community and things like that, it’s interesting now too where some people do know us from our security side of the business rather than the appliance side. I would say most people obviously still know us from appliances, but those are great relationships that we’ve built over time.

Right now we’re doing the city of Hagerstown for a bunch of cameras, which uses AI to help track people. It’s very interesting, a little bit scary how things change. I was just watching an old Jason Bourne movie where they had to watch all of the cameras to find Jason Bourne in over 50 cameras, but now there’s AI technology that be able to say that he’s wearing a certain thing. So that scene completely changes now, given the technology,

Rob Stott: I think that whole movie, that whole concept, he’d be found in a second. There wouldn’t need to be three movies. Matt Damon would be easily identified today, just crazy.

Callan Spicher: Yeah. It is crazy and I don’t know, it’s just one of those things, a little scary, but at the same time, the city is putting in these cameras and-

Rob Stott: You get to play a role in it.

Callan Spicher: The money is there.

Rob Stott: Yeah, for sure. Well, the other thing too, and not even just from the security side, but the way of thinking as a business, the fact that you went after a market or a category rather, that someone was interested in, it is just kind of taking an idea and seeing how viable I am sure there was a lot of work done behind the scenes to make sure it’s something you wanted to do, a category you wanted to get involved in, but that mindset of being willing and open to taking on a new and different venture for the business I think is something that a lot of businesses could learn from.

Callan Spicher: Yeah. I don’t think it was easy and sometimes it’s always fun things where security and appliances and sometimes they get at odds with different things as well. Our appliances is much more, I don’t say we overly focus on luxury, where the security is, as I said before, since we’re much more focused on the quality of product, we are more focused on, I would say the luxury equivalent in security. So sometimes that can be at odds in terms of messaging, but I think it’s getting in front of people and making that sales pitch and explaining why we are that way is really important. And having dedicated employees that worked at as well is invaluable.

Rob Stott: Yeah, absolutely.

Callan Spicher: I think it became an easy transition because Mike Bowers is passionate, and he’s led that division now for a long time.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, a cool story to follow and one I know we’ll continue to, and knowing that you’re a stone’s throw, I’ll keep an eye on it as well.

Callan Spicher: Yeah.

Rob Stott: We appreciate the time Callan, and awesome to talk to you and catch up and learn a little bit about Spichers and what you guys are doing. So it’s keep rocking it in that Hagerstown and other market, PA, it’s the Tri-State, right? Like PA, Virginia and Maryland, is that right?

Callan Spicher: It’s down the 81 corridor, so it is yeah.

Rob Stott: It’s right through all three.

Callan Spicher: Yeah.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Cool. Well, we appreciate the time and look forward to catching up again in the future, maybe in Vegas before we know it, if you’re there with us.

Callan Spicher: Yeah. Yes.

Rob Stott: Awesome.

Callan Spicher: At the Venetian.

Rob Stott: We’ll be there.

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